I’m forwarding to you an article I found in today’s New York Times which may be of interest. Its focus, generally, is on the Supreme Court case of Fred Korematsu, who was 23 when he was arrested on a street corner in San Leandro, Calif., in May 1942, for being a Japanese-American.
I am somewhat familiar with the circumstances surrounding the arrest and relocation of Korematsu and the other Japanese-Americans in the United States, as it is a subject that I discuss in my class on the evolution of American intelligence as well as in the book I’m currently writing on that subject.
There were actually two national programs to arrest and intern Japanese, Germans and Italians in the United States after Pearl Harbor. The first program was run by the FBI; had long been planned; was based upon lists that were prepared ahead of time containing the names of diplomats, business men and women, and students in the United States; and was completed with the detention of 5000+ of those on the “A List” of foreign nationals in these categories in the first 72 hours after Pearl Harbor by FBI Special Agents in every field office in the Bureau in which they resided.
This first program focused exclusively on foreign nationals/enemy aliens in the United States and those detained were held in hotels and resorts, like the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia, until they could be traded for our diplomats, business men and students in those countries with which we were at war.
The second program was run by the United States Army, approved by Pres. Roosevelt, but objected to by both the Atty. Gen. and director of the FBI who argued that the internment of Japanese-American citizens, because they were American citizens, was illegal without affording them the due process of the federal courts. Despite these objections the program proceeded and Japanese-American citizens were detained and transported to detention facilities all over the United States.
More than 100,000 Japanese Americans were relocated from the Western Defensive Zone of California, Oregon and Washington state. It should be noted that if it was fear of sabotage by Japanese-Americans that prompted the relocation, none were relocated from the Territory of Hawaii, which was arguably the most sensitive military and naval area at that time.
This was a dark day for the rule of law and the Constitution. It contains arguably an overreaction to the unsubstantiated reports of sabotage by Japanese in Hawaii and on the West Coast by our senior military commanders and the President of the United States. There was no sabotage by either Japanese enemy aliens or Japanese-Americans in Hawaii or on the West Coast after Pearl Harbor. There is also a problematical ruling by the Supreme Court in their support of the president’s decision.
National programs like this make it important that every decade or so we remind ourselves that is easy to make mistakes when fear and rumor are allowed to cloud our judgment. History tends to repeat itself when it is forgotten, and some of our views/fears today, relative to more recently arrived immigrant groups, should be viewed, perhaps, in light of the lessons to be learned from this case.
Relocation of Japanese-Americans in WWII - A Discredited Supreme Court Ruling That Still, Technically, Stands