n February 19, 53 years ago, President Franklin–the man our current president likes to compare himself to–issued an executive order that rescinded the civil rights of tens of thousands of Japanese Americans. That would be people who were born and raised in the US, most of whom had never even been to Japan.
Claiming that there was a real threat from Japanese Americans, Roosevelt allowed the internment of all those of Japanese descent living on the West coast of the continental United States. My father and relatives and friends were among those affected. Fortunately, my father had the option of going to Idaho where he was born. He had friends who were “American”, that is, White American.
While President Roosevelt declared the attack on Pearl Harbor a day that will live in infamy, I wonder if he had ever considered the possibility that Executive Order 9066 would be just as infamous, if not more so. Attacking a country seen as a threat is one thing. Attacking one’s own citizens out of fear, hysteria, and plain old racial discrimination cannot be deemed better, more justifiable. Indeed, the Order was considered such a stain on America that in 1976, President Gerald Ford signed Proclamation 4417, “Confirming the Termination of the Executive Order Authorizing Japanese-American Internment During World War II.” In it, President Ford states:
February 19th is the anniversary of a sad day in American history…. We now know what we should have known then–not only was that evacuation wrong, but Japanese-Americans were and are loyal Americans. On the battlefield and at home, Japanese-Americans . . . have been and continue to be written in our history for the sacrifices and the contributions they have made to the well-being and security of this, our common Nation.
Indeed, my cousin was one of of those who sacrificed his life, his name etched into the Japanese American 442 Memorial having died in Europe in WWII in service of his country, OUR country.
Perhaps most importantly, the Proclamation makes clear that while this injustice can never be undone, the best way to respond to it is to ensure that it will never happen again.
I call upon the American people to affirm with me this American Promise — that we have learned from the tragedy of that long-ago experience forever to treasure liberty and justice for each individual American, and resolve that this kind of action shall never again be repeated.
Executive Order 9066 directly affected those who are family and friend to me. And it is a painful scenario that did not have to happen. I pray that Secretaries Rumsfelds and Rice, Attorney General Gonzales, and of course our very own President Bush, will remember this day and the words of President Ford when they create future policies regarding homeland security and the possible ramifications on Arab-Americans and Americans practicing the Muslim faith. After learning of what happend at Abu Ghraib and the detention center at Guantanamo, as well as this administrations creative interpretation of what constitutes American civil rights–ours and war prisoners–those of you who voted for Bush should pray even harder…
It’s 63 years ago, not 53. I can’t count, damn it! What can I say. That’s why I teach literature.
Also, go check Taku’s site. He has an interesting entry that he wrote for the Hardboiled, the Asian American voice on the UC Berkeley Campus in 1999. And be sure to give him props.