NATIONAL JAPANESE AMERICAN HISTORICAL SOCIETY’S STATEMENT IN RESPONSE TO JAPANESE AMERICAN INCARCERATION “PRECEDENT”
Last week Carl Higbie, a spokesman for a pro-Trump super PAC appearing on an interview with Megyn Kelly on Fox News, cited the Japanese American internment as justification for a registry of immigrants from Muslim countries. “We did it during World War II with the Japanese,” Higbie stated to a stunned Kelly, citing the incarceration as precedent for implementing the registration.
The National Japanese American Historical Society strongly denounces this assertion as the basis for singling out Muslims for discriminatory treatment. According to historical record from the findings of the coram nobis petition case of Fred Korematsu in 1983 in Federal District Court in San Francisco, Judge Marilyn Hall-Patel reversed Fred Korematsu’s 1944 conviction on the grounds of governmental misconduct. During World War II, 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry were incarcerated without due process due to hysteria and fear.
With evidence that surfaced from the National Archives, (discovered by researcher Aiko Herzig Yoshinaga and UC San Diego Law Professor Peter Irons, and submitted by a group of San Francisco attorneys led by Dale Minami and the Asian Law Caucus), the US District Court found that there were no grounds to incarcerate 120,000 Japanese Americans, two-thirds of them American by birth based on the government’s rationale of “military necessity.” Despite the FBI’s, Naval Intelligence and Federal Communications Commission reports determining that Japanese Americans posed no threat to the U.S. and remained loyal to America, the military led by Gen. DeWitt, ignored the evidence and continued to purport a prejudicial opinion based on race. The findings revealed that there was no credible evidence presented by the government to justify the exclusion and incarceration of Japanese Americans. There was suppression and destruction of evidence, and fraud upon the Supreme Court. That finding remains true today.
A report issued by a presidential Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians in 1983 on the causes of the Japanese American incarceration, stated there was no basis for military necessity; rather it was motivated by “war hysteria, race prejudice and failure of political leadership.” As a result of the Commission’s recommendations, the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 signed by President Ronald Reagan acknowledged the injustice perpetrated against Japanese Americans with an apology and restitution to the survivors.
There were no acts of espionage or sabotage committed by Japanese Americans on the continental U.S. Nearly 33,000 rose above their incarceration to serve in the U.S. Army and demonstrated their loyalty and patriotism at a time when the country doubted their loyalty. In fact, there were some 4,000 Japanese Americans (Nisei) serving in the United States armed forces prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, including a distinct group of 58 Japanese Americans secretly training at the first U.S. army intelligence language school at the Presidio of San Francisco one month prior to Pearl Harbor. (http://www.presidio.gov/places/military-intelligence-service-historic-learning-center). These Japanese American soldier linguists grew to 5,000 and were credited by Gen. Charles Willoughby, chief of military intelligence for Gen. Douglas MacArthur, for saving countless lives, and helped shorten the Pacific War by two years. This MIS language school was the genesis for today’s renown Defense Language Institute and Foreign Language Center at the Presidio of Monterey. Japanese Americans also served from Hawaii in the100th Infantry Battalion, and from behind barbed wire in the segregated 442nd Regimental Combat Team, in addition to the Military Intelligence Service. They fought loyally for the United States in spite of their treatment. The 100th and 442nd Regimental Combat Team became the most decorated unit in U.S. military history for its size and length of service. In 2000, some 22 Asian Americans, a majority of them Japanese Americans, were awarded the Medal of Honor for service in fighting and dying for the United States in Europe, Asia and the South Pacific during WWII. In 2011, the Congressional Gold Medal, our nation’s highest honor, was awarded by a bipartisan Congress to the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Japanese Americans of Military Intelligence Service at Constitution Hall at the Capitol.
As Judge Patel put it:
“Korematsu remains on the pages of our legal and political history. As a legal precedent it is now recognized as having very limited application. As historical precedent it stands as a constant caution that in times of war or declared military necessity our institutions must be vigilant in protecting constitutional guarantees. It stands as a caution that in times of distress the shield of military necessity and national security must not be used to protect governmental actions from close scrutiny and accountability. It stands as a caution that in times of international hostility and antagonisms our institutions, legislative, executive and judicial, must be prepared to exercise their authority to protect all citizens from the petty fears and prejudices that are so easily aroused.”
We urge all public officials and their advisors to learn from the lessons of history, to uphold the integrity of their offices to the highest standards, and defend the constitutional rights of all people, especially now.
The National Japanese American Historical Society, Inc. is dedicated to the collection, preservation, authentic interpretation, and sharing of historical information of the Japanese American experience for the diverse broader national and global community.