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On 73rd Anniversary of the Korematsu Decision: A Brief History of Japanese Internment

by Countable | 12.20.17

What’s the story?

"Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it."

― Edmund Burke

This week marks the 73rd anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that allowed for the exclusion and internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Korematsu v. United States was filed in response to Executive Order 9066, signed in 1942 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, which declared huge swaths of the Western United States "military zones" from which Japanese immigrants and Japanese-Americans were excluded from residing.

The executive order set the stage for the detention in internment camps of between 110,000 and 120,000 individuals of Japanese descent, two-thirds of them U.S. citizens, from 1942 to 1946.

In the 1944 Korematsu v. United States decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the exclusion of citizens and immigrants from declared "military zones" was constitutional, but made no official decision about their incarceration, which allowed the internment to continue.

The dissent, written by Justice Murphy, marks the first time that the word "racism" was used in a Supreme Court decision:

"I dissent, therefore, from this legalization of racism. Racial discrimination in any form and in any degree has no justifiable part whatever in our democratic way of life. It is unattractive in any setting, but it is utterly revolting among a free people who have embraced the principles set forth in the Constitution of the United States. All residents of this nation are kin in some way by blood or culture to a foreign land. Yet they are primarily and necessarily a part of the new and distinct civilization of the United States. They must, accordingly, be treated at all times as the heirs of the American experiment, and as entitled to all the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution.”

The Korematsu v. United States ruling did not happen in a vacuum, however. It followed years of racist and xenophobic policies regarding Japanese immigrants and their American born descendants. The Immigration Act of 1924 banned any Japanese immigrant who arrived in the U.S. prior to that year from ever becoming a U.S. citizen, regardless of how long they had lived in the U.S. They were barred from ever owning property, voting or running for political office.

Starting in 1936 President Roosevelt authorized U.S. intelligence officials to conduct surveillance on Japanese-American communities to compile a list of those who would be the first to be placed in an internment camp in the event of conflict.

The Alien Enemies Act, dating from 1798, was used as justification for three presidential proclamations in 1941 proclaiming all Japanese, German and Italian immigrants "enemy aliens" who could be apprehended, restrained and secured. Japanese immigrants were required to report any changes of residence, employment or name to the FBI.

Japanese-American communities were subject to curfews and Japanese-American military inductees were expected to take specialized loyalty oaths.

Despite multiple government reports conducted by 1942 testifying to the "extreme loyalty" of the Japanese immigrant community and their descendants, President Roosevelt chose to heed the most xenophobic and racist members of his administration. Lieutenant General John L. Dewitt, head of the Western Command, testified to Congress at the time:

"I don't want any of them [persons of Japanese ancestry] here. They are a dangerous element. There is no way to determine their loyalty… It makes no difference whether he is an American citizen, he is still a Japanese. American citizenship does not necessarily determine loyalty… But we must worry about the Japanese all the time until he is wiped off the map."

Census records were used to locate both Japanese immigrants and Japanese-American citizens, in order to round them up and ship them to the camps starting in 1942.

In the 1980’s federal investigations into the camps began. A government commission concluded that the internment had been motivated almost entirely by racism. In 1988 President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act, which formally apologized to those interned and authorized that reparations be paid.

President George H. W. Bush, in signing an amendment to the Civil Liberties Act in 1992, reminded America to be mindful, always, of history:

"In remembering, it is important to come to grips with the past. No nation can fully understand itself or find its place in the world if it does not look with clear eyes at all the glories and disgraces of its past. We in the United States acknowledge such an injustice in our history. The internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry was a great injustice, and it will never be repeated."

What do you think?

Did you know this history? Do you think there are similarities between that time in U.S. history and now? What can this history teach us in the present moment?

Tell us in the comments what you think, then use the Take Action button to tell your reps!

— Asha Sanaker

(Photo Credit.: Wikipedia / Creative Commons)

Countable

Written by Countable

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(9)
  • RadicalModerate
    12/20/2017
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    Please end imprisonment of non-violent seed keepers, shamans, medicine providers and all other cannabis enthusiasts. Stop the discrimination.

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  • Michael.J.L
    12/20/2017
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    Amazing what fear will drive people and Government to do isn't it?

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  • Sheryl
    12/20/2017
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    Japanese-American CITIZENS were interred, BIG DIFFERENCE. As a result of the deportation of many unskilled ILLEGAL aliens the past 9 years, wages have gone up for American laborers. Simple economics.

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  • Andy1
    12/20/2017
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    Sure there are contextual differences between then and now, but it is fundamentally the same xenophobia and fascism then that there is now. In the 1940s we had a war to hide those poor choice behind, now there is only our bigotry.

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  • Karan
    12/20/2017
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    Are you liberals in the comments going to mention how it was FDR who locked up innocent Japanese Americans?

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  • PLD
    12/21/2017
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    It’s a shame in American history from which we should learn and aim to never repeat! Stop the current racist trend embodied by the current administration!

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  • Azrael
    12/20/2017
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    And in honor of this tragic event, the United States government will now inter Hispanics, Muslims All those of color They haven’t learned a friggin thing

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  • Sean
    12/30/2017
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    One of our nation’s lowest moral times in History

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  • Sheryl
    12/20/2017
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    The US is already among 3rd world countries as being over-populated, a density that Stephen Hawking has warned is unsustainable. So WHY would we support uncontrolled immigration into our country? As it stands now we must continue to decrease our population in order to be self-sufficient. Otherwise we must continue to invade other countries for precious resources.

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