A Day of Infamy

O

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years ago, President Franklin–the man our current president likes to compare himself to–issued an executive order that rescinded the civil rights of tens of thousands of Japanese Americans.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.

EXECUTIVE ORDER NO. 9066

FEBRUARY 19, 1942

Authorizing the Secretary of War to Prescribe Military Areas

Whereas, The successful prosecution of the war requires every possible protection against espionage and against sabotage to national defense material, national defense premises and national defense utilities as defined in Section 4, Act of April 20, 1918, 40 Stat. 533 as amended by the Act of November 30, 1940, 54 Stat. 1220. and the Act of August 21, 1941. 55 Stat. 655 (U.S.C., Title 50, Sec. 104):

Now, therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me as President of the United States, and Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, l hereby authorized and direct the Secretary of War, and the Military Commanders whom he may from time to time designate, whenever he or any designated Commander deem such action necessary or desirable to prescribe military areas in such places and of such extent as he or the appropriate Military Commander may determine, from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restriction the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion. The Secretary of War is hereby authorized to provide for residents of any such area who are excluded therefrom. such transportation, food, shelter, and other accommodations as may be necessary, in the judgment of the Secretary of War or the said Military Commander and until other arrangements are made, to accomplish the purpose of this order. The designation of military areas in any region or locality shall supersede designation of prohibited and restricted areas by the Attorney General under the Proclamation of December 7 and 8, 1941, and shall supersede the responsibility and authority of the Attorney General under the said Proclamationin respect of such prohibited and restricted areas.

I hereby further authorize and direct the Secretary of War and the said Military Commanders to take such other steps as he or the appropriate Military Commander may deem advisable to enforce compliance with the restrictions applicable to each Military area herein above authorized to be designated. including the use of Federal troops and other Federal Agencies, with authority to accept assistance of state and local agencies.

I hereby further authorize and direct all Executive Department, independent establishments and other Federal Agencies, to assist the Secretary of War or the said Military Commanders in carrying out this Executive Order, including the furnishing of medical aid, hospitalization, food, clothing, transportation, use of land, shelter, and other supplies, equipment, utilities, facilities and service.

This order shall not be construed as modifying or limiting in any way the authority granted under Executive Order 8972. dated December 12.1941, nor shall it be construed as limiting or modifying the duty and responsibility of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with response to the investigation of alleged acts of sabotage or duty and responsibility of the Attorney General and the Department of Justice under the Proclamation of December 7 and 8, 1941, prescribing regulations for the conduct and control of alien enemies, except as such duty and responsibility is superseded by the designation of military areas thereunder.

Franklin D. Roosevelt
The White House, February 19,1942.

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…

Update:
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.

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