Today, January 30, is Fred Korematsu Day in California, Hawaii, Virginia and Florida.
Who is Fred Korematsu, you ask? He was a 23 year old Japanese-American man who defied Executive Order 9066 in 1942. On December 18, 1944, the US Supreme Court upheld the conviction of Mr. Korematsu, a US citizen who refused to submit to the exclusion order. Mr. Korematsu’s conviction for evading internment was overturned on November 10, 1983, after Mr. 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 Mr. Korematsu’s original conviction) because in Mr. 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. Mr. Korematsu was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998.
It is highly unlikely that his conviction would have been overturned without the relentless work of dedicated civil rights attorneys, and the sons and daughters (nisei) and grandsons and granddaughters (sansei) of Japanese-American internees who would not give up on this case.
Google is honoring him today. He would have been 98 years old today.
The Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians was established by an act of Congress in 1980 to investigate the Japanese-American internment. Their 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.”
If this sounds familiar to you, it is because it is. Current events relating to the exclusion of refugees and holders of green cards, visas, and passports based solely upon their country of origin or their religion is an eerie echo of 1942. This time we must all speak up!
Someone who has spoken up today is Former Acting Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates. Yates ordered the Justice Department not to defend Trump’s Executive Order “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States”, saying “At present, I am not convinced that the defense of the executive order is consistent with these responsibilities [of the Department of Justice], nor am I convinced that the executive order is lawful”. She was almost immediately fired by President Trump. Her resistance put a smile on my face today and made an otherwise trying day a little brighter.
So at least today, we are all Fred Korematsu!*
*If you think that sounds familiar, it is because you remember the movie Spartacus.