Day of Remembrance

February 19, 2017, is the 75th anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066. February 19 is the Day of Remembrance in the Japanese-American community to remember the internment (imprisonment) of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

For more information follow @Densho on Twitter; Densho, George Takei, Day of Remembrance, and Allegiance on Facebook. These are just a start; there are many other good resources such as the Japanese American National Museum, Japanese American Service Committee of Chicago, and Densho.

I am sharing a speech I gave at the Tom Carroll Torch Club in Lincoln, Nebraska, on January 18, 2016. It was written as a speech so I left out all my citations. Please know that I did a lot of research for this paper and apologize for the lack of citations as I share this online.


About six months ago I read a short essay by Neil Gaiman. It was written as part of Chipotle’s cultivating culture series where they place short essays on their drinking cups. Here is that essay:

“I am thinking about the fragility of civilization. Look around you, at the building you are in, the road you travel on. What you see was made by people who agreed that they would get up in the morning and go to work and nobody would shoot at them or fire mortars at them; there would not be checkpoints at which they could be taken out and never seen again; that there would be food in the shops, and water in the taps, and shoes to buy and to wear. People who believed that the place you go to sleep tonight will be here tomorrow.

There are now fifty million refugees in the world today, more than at any time since the end of the second World War. And at some point, for each one of those people, the world shifted. Their world, solid and predictable, erupted or dissolved into chaos or danger or pain. They realized that they had to run.

You have two minutes to pack. You can only take what you can carry easily. You are going to have to walk a long way. You hope that somewhere, someone is going to take you in. I have started to think of humanity as family: a family that quarrels, but which must, when things get hard, put aside old arguments and divisions, and care for each other. Sometimes someone needs somebody to take them in, and that’s the function of family. It’s time to care.

You have two minutes to run. What will you take with you?”

Recently politicians have irresponsibly advocated barring Syrian refuges from the United States and rounding up Muslims and Muslim-Americans and placing them in internment camps. When I first began hearing that, I thought, “What? Did I hear that right? Have we as a country learned nothing, absolutely nothing from our past?”

Let’s go back in history – it is December 7, 1941. Pearl Harbor has just been bombed.

That same day agents of the FBI swept through Japanese-American communities in California, Oregon and Washington, arresting leaders who were identified as “potential threats” to the security of the west coast. Those arrested were leaders of Japanese-American community organizations, ministers of churches, teachers at language and martial arts schools, and editors of Japanese-American vernacular newspapers. Despite never having been accused of any crime or acts of treason, and without trial or representation, they were taken away to United States Department of Justice detention centers, many for the duration of the war. Their families did not know where they were taken or if they would ever see them again.

On December 7, 1941, Rev. Hiram Kano had just said mass at the Church of Our Saviour Episcopal Church in North Platte, Nebraska. He was 180 miles from his wife and children at their Scottsbluff, Nebraska, home. But that morning he was arrested by the local police, taken to the police station, and dressed as a prisoner. He was not allowed to notify his family of his detention, but was sent to Omaha, Nebraska, to be dealt with by the district attorney. Rev. Kano spent the remainder of the war incarcerated with military prisoners, including soldiers who had been charged with crimes.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Presidential proclamations 2525, 2526, and 2527 to authorize the United States to detain allegedly potentially dangerous enemy aliens. The FBI and other law enforcement agencies arrested thousands of suspected enemy aliens, mostly individuals of German, Italian, or Japanese ancestry, living throughout the United States.

The Department of Justice oversaw the processing of the cases and the internment program. Although many were released or paroled after hearings before a local alien enemy hearing board, for many the adversarial hearings resulted in internment that, in a few cases, lasted beyond the end of World War II. Of those interned, there was evidence that some had pro-axis sympathies. Many others were interned based on weak evidence or unsubstantiated accusations of which they were never told or had little power to refute. Often families, including naturalized or American-born spouses and children, of those interned voluntarily joined them in internment.

By the end of the war, over 31,000 suspected enemy aliens and their families, including a few Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, had been interned at Immigration and Naturalization Services internment camps and military facilities throughout the United States.

These Presidential proclamations only addressed aliens or non-citizens. The 1870 naturalization act prohibited Japanese immigrants from naturalized citizenship. The 1907 Gentlemen’s Agreement between Japan and the United States halted immigration of unskilled workers from Japan. The Immigration Act of 1924 banned almost all immigration from Japan. Therefore, almost all Japanese citizens affected by this proclamation had been living in the United States most of their adult lives.

Anti-Japanese sentiment spread throughout the western United States, especially in California.

On December 16, 1941, J. Franklin Carter, a former news reporter and part of President Roosevelt’s informal intelligence network wrote to the President telling him that there was no substantial danger of fifth column activities by the Japanese and that he needed to reassure loyal Japanese and Japanese-Americans.

Assistant to the Attorney General, James H. Rowe, Jr. wrote that internment of Japanese citizens and their Japanese-American family members would require suspension of habeas corpus. He wrote that it was not the solution to the anti-Japanese hysteria in California.

In a meeting on February 1, 1942, Attorney General Francis Biddle stated that the Department of Justice would have nothing whatever to do with any interference with citizens or with a suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.

On February 4, 1942, before a Congressional subcommittee, Gen. Mark Clark, the Army’s Deputy Chief of Staff, said that he thought the Pacific states were unduly alarmed. While both he and Admiral Harold Stark agreed that the west coast defenses were not adequate to prevent the enemy from attacking, they also agreed that the chance of any sustained attack or of an invasion was-as General Clark put it-nil.

“In fact, no proved instances of sabotage or of espionage after Pearl Harbor among the west coast Japanese population were ever uncovered. “

“There were better if less tangible grounds for suspecting that some of the Japanese people-citizens as well as aliens-might become disloyal in the event of a Japanese invasion. The Navy report mentioned above indicated that a small but significant minority of the west coast Japanese could be expected to be highly undependable in a crisis; and subsequently the war relocation authority concluded that for this reason ‘a selective evacuation of people of Japanese descent from the west coast military area was justified and administratively feasible in the spring of 1942,’ although it concluded also that a mass evacuation such as was actually carried out was never justified.”

Within this setting Colonel Karl Bendetsen on February 4, 1942, wrote a long memorandum to General Allen Gullion that stated at the outset his conclusion that an enemy alien evacuation “would accomplish little as a measure of safety,” since the alien Japanese were mostly elderly people who could do little harm if they would. Furthermore, their removal would inevitably antagonize large numbers of their relatives among the American-born Japanese. After considering the various alternatives that had been suggested for dealing with citizens, Colonel Bendetsen recommended the designation of military areas from which all persons who did not have permission to enter and remain would be excluded as a measure of military necessity. In his opinion, this plan was clearly legal and he recommended that it be executed by three steps: first, the issuance of an Executive Order by the President authorizing the Secretary of War to designate military areas; second, the designation of military areas upon the recommendation of General Dewitt; and, third, the immediate evacuation from areas so designated of all persons to whom it was not proposed to issue permits to re-enter or remain. Colonel Bendetsen assumed that, if military areas were established on the west coast in place of the restricted areas thus far recommended by General Dewitt, about 30,000 people would have to be evacuated.”

Note that this called for evacuation only, not internment

The widely-read columnist Walter Lippmann publicized accusations of sabotage on the part of Japanese Americans in his syndicated column on February 12, 1942, titled “the fifth column on the coast”. These unfounded accusations fueled the California hysteria.

In a February 17, 1942, letter to President Roosevelt, U.S. Attorney General Francis Biddle said that over 60,000 of the Japanese-Americans are U.S. citizens . “My last advice from the war department is that there is no evidence of imminent attack and from the FBI that there is no evidence of planned sabotage”.

The Justice Department initially resisted any relocation order, questioning both its military necessity and its constitutionality. The Attorney General acquiesced after the war department relieved the justice department of any responsibility for implementation of the internment.

FBI director J. Edgar Hoover described the demands for internment as a “capitulation to hysteria” and told [treasury secretary] Morganthau that arrests should not be made “unless there were sufficient facts [probable cause] upon which to justify the arrests” He contended that the rights of American citizens should be protected, and protested the dragnet procedures. He was overridden.

On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the forced removal and incarceration of more than 110,000 Japanese-Americans from the west coast. Families who were evacuated could only take what they could carry.

No martial law was ever declared, and there was never a suspension of habeas corpus.

Under the authority of Executive Order 9066, the western portions of California, Washington and Oregon were declared as military zones, and in April 1942, the military imposed a curfew and travel restrictions on Japanese-Americans. Singled out by race alone, Japanese-Americans became the target of racial policies that deprived them of their rights as American citizens. Soon after the curfew, the military posted notices in all Japanese-American communities, ordering all citizens and resident aliens of Japanese ancestry to abruptly leave their homes, schools and businesses and report to assembly areas, bringing with them only what they could carry. The government euphemistically referred to this program as an “evacuation” to “relocation centers,” when in fact it was the forced removal and incarceration of American citizens into concentration camps.

Under direction of armed police and the military, Japanese immigrants and Americans of Japanese ancestry were herded onto buses and trains for the forced journey to government detention camps. Without regard for due process or basic constitutional guarantees, over 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry, two-thirds of whom were American citizens, (the issei – or first generation – were ineligible for citizenship due to discriminatory naturalization laws) were imprisoned in ten concentration camps located in remote, desolate areas in California, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming and Arkansas. Approximately 10,000 people were imprisoned in each camp surrounded by barbed wire and armed military guards.

There has been recent speculation on why President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 after receiving information from both the Army and the FBI that the Japanese and Japanese-Americans did not pose a credible threat.

In a column written by the President for the Macon Telegraph on April 30, 1925, he wrote:

“Californians have properly objected on the sound basic ground that Japanese immigrants are not capable of assimilation into the American population.”

And “anyone who has traveled in the far east knows that the mingling of Asiatic blood with European or American blood produces, in nine cases out of ten, the most unfortunate results.”

This column may have shown some bias on the future President’s part.

In January 1943, the United States Department of War announced that Japanese American volunteers would be accepted for military combat duty in Europe. Most of the volunteers came from Hawaii, but there were also those who volunteered from within the concentration camps on the mainland. Japanese-American citizens were also drafted. The draftees and volunteers were assigned to a segregated Japanese American unit – the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. For its size and length of service, the 442nd eventually became the most decorated American unit in United States military history. In 2010 a Congressional gold medal was awarded to the 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service (MIS).

There is a much more complex story of resistance from individuals drafted from the internment camps and the requirements for internees to sign loyalty oaths, but that is a story for another day.

In 1943, the US Supreme Court upheld the convictions of Gordon Hirabayashi and Minoru Yasui for violation of a curfew against Japanese-Americans, both were us citizens.

On December 18, 1944, the US Supreme Court upheld the conviction of Fred Korematsu, a Japanese-American man and a US citizen who refused to submit to the exclusion order.

On December 18, 1944, the same date as the Korematsu decision, the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of Misuye Endo, a Japanese American woman and US citizen. This case was brought as a habeas corpus proceeding, and the court unanimously ruled that the United States government could not continue to detain a citizen who was “concededly loyal” to the United States. This case led to the end of the internment of all Japanese and Japanese-Americans.

In 1948 Congress passed the Japanese-American evacuation claims act. Internees could claim real and personal property losses that occurred as a consequence of the exclusion and evacuation. It did not allow for claims for lost income or for pain and suffering. Approximately $37 million was paid in claims, this amount was far below full and fair compensaton for actual economic losses because elaborate proof of loss was required and incentives for settling claims below their full value was built into the act.

In 1972 the Social Security Act was amended so that internees over the age of eighteen during their internment would be deemed to have earned and contributed to Social Security during their detention.

The Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians was established by an act of Congress in 1980. This Commission was directed to accomplish three tasks: (1) review the facts and circumstances surrounding Executive Order numbered 9066, issued February 19, 1942, and the impact of such Executive Order on American citizens and permanent resident aliens; (2) review directives of United States military forces requiring the relocation and, in some cases, detention in internment camps of American citizens, including Aleut civilians, and permanent resident aliens of the Aleutian and Ribilof islands, and (3) recommend appropriate remedies.

Recommendations were published by the Commission in June 1983 in a report called “personal justice denied”. The report found:

“In sum, Executive Order 9066 was not justified by military necessity, and the decisions that followed from it – exclusion, detention, the ending of detention and the ending of exclusion—were not founded upon military considerations. The broad historical causes that shaped these decisions were race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership. Widespread ignorance about Americans of Japanese descent contributed to a policy conceived in hate and executed in an atmosphere of fear and anger at Japan. A grave personal injustice was done to the American citizens and resident aliens of Japanese ancestry who, without individual review or any probative evidence against them, were excluded, removed and detained by the United States during World War II.”

It is estimated that, as a result of the exclusion and detention, in 1945 dollars the internees lost between $108 and $164 million in income and between $41 and $206 million in property for which no compensation was made after the war under the terms of the Japanese-American evacuation claims act. Adjusting these figures to account for inflation alone, the total losses of income and property fall between $810 million and $2 billion in 1983 dollars. It has not been possible to calculate the effects upon human capital of lost education, job training and the like.”

“Less tangibly, the ethnic Japanese suffered the injury of unjustified stigma that marked the excluded. There were physical illnesses and injuries directly related to the detention, but the deprivation of liberty is no less injurious because it wounds the spirit rather than the body. Evacuation and relocation brought psychological pain, and the weakening of a traditionally strong family structure under pressure of separation and camp conditions. No price can be placed on these deprivations.”

“[O]ur nation’s ability to honor democratic values even in times of stress depends largely upon our collective memory of lapses from our constitutional commitment to liberty and due process. Nations that forget or ignore injustices are more likely to repeat them.”

“The governmental decisions of 1942 were not the work of a few men driven by animus, but decisions supported or accepted by public servants from nearly every part of the political spectrum. Nor did sustained or vocal opposition come from the American public. The wartime events produced an unjust result that visited great suffering upon an entire group of citizens, and upon resident aliens whom the constitution also protects.”

“The belief that we Americans are exceptional often threatens our freedom by allowing us to look complacently at evil-doing elsewhere and to insist that ‘it can’t happen here.’ recalling the events of exclusion and detention, ensuring that later generations of Americans know this history, is critical immunization against infection by the virus of prejudice and the emotion of wartime struggle. ‘It did happen here’ is a message that must be transmitted, not as an exercise in self-laceration but as an admonition for the future. Among our strengths as a nation is our willingness to acknowledge imperfection as well as to struggle for a more just society.”

On February 1, 1983, Minoru Yasui petitioned the Oregon Federal District Court for a writ of error coram nobis due to the discovery of the falsehoods promulgated by the Department of Justice. This writ is only available to people who have already completed their imprisonment, and can only be used to challenge factual errors from the case. Yasui claimed in his writ that the government withheld evidence at the original trial concerning the threat of a Japanese attack on the United States mainland. The court dismissed the original indictment and conviction against Yasui, as well as the petition for the writ on request by the government.

Fred Korematsu’s conviction for evading internment was overturned on November 10, 1983, after Korematsu challenged the earlier decision by filing for a writ of coram nobis. In a ruling by Judge Marilyn Hall Patel, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California granted the writ (that is, it voided Korematsu’s original conviction) because in Korematsu’s original case, the government had knowingly submitted false information to the Supreme Court that had a material effect on the Supreme Court’s decision.

In 1986 and 1987, Gordon Hirabayashi’s convictions for curfew violation and refusal to submit to the internment order were overturned by the U.S. District Court in Seattle and the federal appeals court, because evidence arose that the Solicitor General’s office (led by Charles H. Fahy) had cited examples of Japanese American sabotage in its 1943-44 Supreme Court arguments, despite having researched and debunked all the rumored incidents.

The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 awarded $20,000 to each individual interned during World War II. Payments began in 1990 and went first to the oldest individuals. Only those who were alive at the time the act was passed were eligible for the payments. The legislation stated that government actions were based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership” as opposed to legitimate security reasons. A total of 82,219 individuals received redress checks from 1990 through 1993.

In 2009 the University of California system decided to offer honorary degrees to the approximately 700 Japanese American students who were forced to withdraw from school because of the internment. This included schools at Davis, Berkley, Los Angeles and San Francisco. John Kashiki from my father’s army unit received his honorary degree from UC-Davis, and someone many of you may know, Kim Hachiya, accepted an honorary degree on behalf of her father Keay from UCLA. Her Uncle George Hachiya received his honorary degree from Berkley.

In 2011, acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Kumar Katyal publicly confessed his department’s ethical lapses in regard to the Japanese-American internment. In speaking of the internment, Katyal stated: “the solicitor general was largely responsible for the defense of those policies.”

“By the time the cases of Gordon Hirabayashi and Fred Korematsu reached the Supreme Court, the Solicitor General had learned of a key intelligence report that undermined the rationale behind the internment. The Ringle report, from the Office of Naval Intelligence, found that only a small percentage of Japanese Americans posed a potential security threat, and that the most dangerous were already known or in custody. But the Solicitor General did not inform the court of the report, despite warnings from Department of Justice attorneys that failing to alert the court ‘might approximate the suppression of evidence.’ Instead, he argued that it was impossible to segregate loyal Japanese Americans from disloyal ones. Nor did he inform the court that a key set of allegations used to justify the internment, that Japanese Americans were using radio transmitters to communicate with enemy submarines off the west coast, had been discredited by the FBI and FCC. And to make matters worse, he relied on gross generalizations about Japanese Americans, such as that they were disloyal and motivated by ‘racial solidarity.’”

“The Supreme Court upheld Hirabayashi’s and Korematsu’s convictions. And it took nearly a half century for courts to overturn these decisions. One court decision in the 1980s that did so highlighted the role played by the Solicitor General, emphasizing that the Supreme Court gave ‘special credence’ to the Solicitor General’s representations. The court thought it unlikely that the Supreme Court would have ruled the same way had the Solicitor General exhibited complete candor. Yet those decisions still stand today as a reminder of the mistakes of that era.”

It is highly unlikely that any of these remedies would have occurred without the relentless work of dedicated civil rights attorneys, and the sons and daughters (nisei) and grandsons and daughters (sensei) of Japanese-American internees who would not give up on these cases.

February 19 is the day of remembrance, an annual event held by the Japanese American community to commemorate the signing by President Roosevelt of Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, which authorized the forced removal and incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans from the west coast during World War II.

And a new generation of Japanese-Americans is working hard to make sure we never forget what happened in 1942.

In 2012, ninth grader Matthew Shimura’s video the constitution and the camps: due process and the Japanese American internment won C-Span’s Studentcam Video Documentary Grand Prize. It is an excellent video and can be viewed on C-Span’s website.

Girl Scout Lauren Wong has created a special Girl Scout patch program for the Japanese American National Museum. She created an educational tool called experience the past, available in three separate worksheets geared toward elementary school students, middle school students, and high school students/adults. The worksheets, which can be requested at the Japanese American national museum’s front desk, are designed to accompany a visit to the museum’s core exhibition, common ground: the heart of community. They pose questions and suggest exercises that are designed to help visitors identify with the exhibition, think more deeply about what they’re seeing, connect it with aspects of contemporary life, and converse with others about their experience.

At the end of their visit, participants who complete a worksheet earn a custom patch that she created.

This patch is a reflection of the Japanese American community’s ties to girl scouting. According to a blog dedicated to chronicling Girl Scout history, Girl Scouts university, there were 743 Girl Scouts registered in the Topaz, Utah and Manzanar, California, concentration camps by December 1943.

However, in an interview with Densho, internee Shimako “Sally” Kitano recalled trying to rejoin a Bainbridge Island, Washington, Girl Scout troop upon her return but being told, “the kids are too far advanced now so I don’t think that you would fit in.”

Chief Justice Earl Warren, the architect of Brown v. Board of Education & other key civil rights decisions, was the Attorney General of California in 1941. He was an advocate of the internment. And in 1943, as Governor of California, he opposed the early release of Japanese Americans from internment, even though there was emerging sentiment for closure of the camps.

However, in his memoirs, Justice Warren voiced his regrets for his part in the internment. It is important to note that Warren voiced very few regrets about other parts of his career and was known as a man who never admitted he had been wrong.

Warren wrote that he had “since deeply regretted the removal order and my own testimony advocating it, because it was not in keeping with our American concept of freedom and the rights of citizens.” He then articulated his guilt feelings in terms that, for a father of six and a devoted family man, were vividly personal: “whenever I thought of the innocent little children who were torn from home, school friends, and congenial surroundings, I was conscience stricken.” On reflection, Warren believed that “[i]t was wrong to react so impulsively, without positive evidence of disloyalty. . . .”

So I leave you with the two questions we started with tonight – have we learned anything from our past? – and you have two minutes to run. What will you take with you?



Author: bachigirl

I am a lawyer, a knitter, a crocheter, a neophyte weaver, a very mediocre golfer, a native Nebraskan, and a reader.

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