This is a very black week in the history of a country that prides itself on protecting the rights of its citizens. On Feb. 19, 1942, more than 120,000 Americans lost theirs, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066.
The order directed the United States military to remove every person of Japanese ancestry from within 100 miles of the west coast of the U.S. The military then moved them to 10 “internment camps” and kept them there for the duration of World War II.
Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt, who directed the operation, testified before Congress, “I don’t want any of them here. They are a dangerous element. There is no way to determine their loyalty…. We must worry about the Japanese all the time until he is wiped off the map.” They even rounded up orphaned infants; Gen. DeWitt said his target was anyone “with one drop of Japanese blood.”
One of the country’s fiercest conservatives, J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), testified against the measure. But a famous liberal, California Governor (and later Supreme Court Chief Justice) Earl Warren defended the mass incarcerations. Hoover said the Japanese Americans posed no significant threat to the country’s security. Supporting his position is the fact that the government never charged a single detainee with spying for Japan, or doing anything else to support our wartime enemy.
In 1944, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the exclusion, removal and detention of tens of thousands of Japanese, without permitting them any legal appeals or procedures. The court stated (in a ruling that has never been overturned) that it is permissible to curtail the civil rights of a racial group when there is “a pressing public concern.”
In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed legislation apologizing to detainees on behalf of the U.S. Government. And in 1990, some reparations were paid to some survivors of the camps. Can you say “too little, too late”?