On February 19, 1942, 75 years ago, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, the directive that empowered federal authorities to remove Japanese Americans from their homes and place them in federal internment camps. Approximately 70 percent of the more than 120,000 individuals interned in camps during World War II were U.S. citizens, born in America, and more would have been citizens if not for immigration laws restricting the naturalization of Asians.
This tragic policy served no legitimate military purpose. “There was not a single American of Japanese descent, alien or citizen, charged with espionage or sabotage during the war,” according to Richard Reeves, author of .
The story contains many victims but sadly too few heroes. The president, his close advisers, key military leaders, judges, ambitious office seekers and the press all failed to ensure that wartime policies balanced security and civil liberties, resulting in one of the worst violations of rights in our nation’s history.
After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, a debate ensued inside and outside of government about Japanese Americans. Two high-ranking U.S. military officers in the Western Defense Command advocated for and later implemented the internment policy, Lt. Gen. John DeWitt and Col. Karl Bendetsen, whose 1944 entry boasted that he “conceived the method, formulated the details, and directed the evacuation of 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry from military areas.” (“Military areas” were defined, in effect, as the West Coast of the United States.)
California Attorney General Earl Warren, later a Supreme Court justice, advocated for the internment and used it to help win the election for Governor in 1942. Many white business and land owners capitalized on the situation to urge the removal of their Japanese American competitors, with a Salinas Valley agricultural leader conceding in the : “We’re charged with wanting to get rid of the Japanese for selfish reasons. We might as well be honest. We do. It’s a question of whether the white man lives on the Pacific Coast or the brown man.”
Unlike many others, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt showed great concern about protecting civil liberties. She not only met with women of Japanese descent in public but, following a trip to California, wrote in her syndicated column: “If we cannot meet the challenge of fairness to our citizens of every nationality, of really believing in the Bill of Rights and making it a reality for all loyal American citizens, regardless of race, creed, or color, if we cannot keep in check anti-Semitism, anti-racial feelings, as well as anti-religious feelings, then we shall have removed the one real hope for the future on which all humanity must now rely.”
Richard Reeves credits an inflammatory piece by the well-known columnist Walter Lippmann with pushing President Roosevelt into giving military authorities on the West Coast a free hand to round up and imprison Americans of Japanese descent. Without offering evidence of his assertion, Lippmann wrote, “The Pacific Coast is in imminent danger of a combined attack from within and without.”
Gen. DeWitt, Col. Bendetsen and Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy were the primary drafters of the executive order signed by President Roosevelt on February 19, 1942. John McCloy and Secretary of War Henry Stimson briefed Roosevelt on the alleged military necessity of signing the order based on information provided by DeWitt and Bendetsen, illustrating the risk of a president relying on information from questionable sources.
On March 18, 1942, Roosevelt signed a second executive order (9102) establishing the War Relocation Authority “
The removal or “evacuation” as organized by Gen. DeWitt and Col. Bendetsen respected few limits. “Deeming them all to be potential traitors, Bendetsen wanted all American Japanese removed from western states,” writes Reeves. In practice, that included elderly men and women in hospitals, children in orphanages and infants, including those adopted by white parents. “I am determined that if they have one drop of Japanese blood in them, they must go to a camp,” Bendetsen told a priest in charge of an orphanage in Los Angeles.
The irony is that many Americans of Japanese descent contributed greatly to the war effort, while Bendetsen both violated people’s rights and prevented individuals from making military contributions by locking them away in camps. When given the opportunity, an estimated 26,000 Nisei (American-born children of Japanese immigrants) served in the U.S. military during World War II, including over 4,000 Americans of Japanese descent with valuable language and other skills who worked in military intelligence.
The 100 Infantry Battalion later became part of the 442 Regimental Combat Team, which included many Japanese Americans who volunteered to fight even after being imprisoned in internment camps. The soldiers of the battalion and combat team received 9,486 Purple Hearts, 4,000 Bronze Stars, 560 Silver Stars, 52 Distinguished Service Crosses and one Medal of Honor.
I once interviewed Joseph Ichiuji, who fought in Italy and Germany and helped to liberate Jewish prisoners from Dachau as part of the 442Regimental Combat Team. Although forced to live in an internment camp, he joined the war effort when provided the opportunity. “My father supported my decision to volunteer,” said Ichiuji. “He told me, ‘This is your country and you should fight for your country.’”
Many newspapers supported the internment policies and the judicial branch proved a woeful defender of civil liberties. It was not until 1944 that the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case of Fred T. Korematsu, an American born to Japanese immigrant parents, who challenged the constitutionality of the FBI arresting him (he was later convicted) for not reporting for relocation to an internment camp in 1942. In a 6-3 decision, the court upheld the conviction in .
In a blistering dissent, Supreme Court Justice Frank Murphy ridiculed a report by Gen. DeWitt that justified the need for the internment on the grounds of race. Murphy noted that DeWitt issued a report based on the concept of “racial guilt” by referring to all people of Japanese descent as “subversive” and belonging to “an enemy race” without providing any “reliable evidence . . . such individuals were generally disloyal,” wrote Murphy.
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Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 that resulted in a formal U.S. government apology for imprisoning Japanese Americans during World War II. The law provided reparations of $20,000 each to approximately 80,000 individuals who were forced to live in the internment camps.
In a stirring piece in USA Today, internment camp survivor George Takei, known, among other things, for his role on Star Trek and the play Allegiance, writes, “I remember that day when American soldiers came to our home, carrying rifles with shiny bayonets, and ordered our family out. I was 5 years old . . . I remember the barbed wire fence of the internment camp, the tall sentry towers with machine guns pointed down at us . . . I could see the barbed wire fence and the sentry tower right outside my schoolhouse window as I recited the words ‘with liberty and justice for all’ – too young to feel the stinging irony in those words.”
After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Franklin Roosevelt called December 7, 1941, “a date which will live in infamy.” On February 19, 1942, Franklin Roosevelt signed the order that resulted in the federal government imprisoning more than 100,000 people of Japanese descent without due process, depriving these individuals of both property and liberty. That date, too, will live in infamy.
This article was sourced from http://globalnewsrelease.com