American-Japanese Internment Camps – How did this happen and can it happen again?

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I will never forget when I first learned about this in middle school and the sinking feeling it gave me of betrayal! Hearing the atrocities of other countries and the mass ill-treatment of groups of people I had believed that we in America had risen above that and were beyond reproach. Remaining discriminatory practices against race, disability, gender, etc.were simply the residual remnant of the past and would easily be overcome with awareness and time. The new knowledge of American-Japanese (I am deliberately placing the word ‘American’ in front) internment camps created a paradigm shift that opened my eyes to the complexities and contradictions that occurred not only abroad in far away places, but here at home. And worse, many of the adults I spoke to about this after class affirmed the government’s action!

Taking this opportunity to review the case file of Korematsu v. United States, (Korematsu v. United States, 584 F. Supp. 1406, 1984 U.S. Dist.) the circumstances of Executive Order 9066, and particularly the 1984 US Supreme court grant of a Coram Nobis writ (writ of error post-conviction) to understand not only how this happened but whether it could happen again I was disappointed with what I found.

The case quotes the commission created by Congress in 1980, Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians: “”broad historical causes which shaped these decisions [exclusion and detention] were race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership.” As a result, “a grave injustice was done to American citizens and resident aliens of Japanese ancestry.”  (Korematsu, 584, F Supp. 1406, 1417.) I feel it is imperative to note that while damages were awarded throughout the years following and up until the 1980’s, for many it was too late and too little.

Executive Order 9066,was granted with no evidence and when the case was initially brought before the US Supreme Court in 1944 this information was omitted. “The Commission found that military necessity did not warrant the exclusion and detention of ethnic Japanese.” (Korematsu, 584, F Supp. 1406, 1417.) Therefore, in short, yes, this could happen again by Executive Order. 

Our US Constitution states in Amendment XIV, “…nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of the law.” Being an Executive Order, however, this was beyond state jurisdiction and it fell under Article II of the US Constitution which allows considerable sway in determining the specific permissions of the Executive Chief. The US Supreme court has upheld that all Executive Orders are constitutional. 

So while I’ve laid out the clear path of how this vicious order was enacted lawfully, it was also overturned in 1984 and deemed an injustice (albeit largely due to the original Executive Order 9066 being granted with no evidence). Agreeing with this overturning, it is an injustice for the reasons I’ve implied above: civil liberties, civil rights, Amendment XIV and the Due Process of Law clause, Amendment IV, V-VI (specific trial processes), and Amendment IX, “the enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.“ It is for these very same reasons that today the same principle should never again happen

Amendment I protects those practicing the Muslim religion with a right to privacy as well as freedom to practice. The Equal Protection Clause of the XIV Amendment protects “all persons”, not only citizens.  I do fear, however, that in the “rational and legitimate interest of government(American Government 2e, 2019.) the justification for violating the Equal Protection Clause of the XIV Amendment may come into play at such a time. If that would happen, what would the limit be, where would the line be drawn to protect us? Would any group be safe? If the government is able to do this we may be living a complete illusionary experience like I did until middle school, believing America faultless. Without freedom, what are we? As Alai Stevenson said, “My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular.”

Summing up my thoughts on this from a 2017 Washington Post article about this historical event: “’Watching the leadership and the politics that go on now it’s a little disconcerting to think that it’s potentially going to happen again,’ Marutani added, ‘Disregard the Constitution, it’s just a piece of paper.’”

References:

Civil Liberties, American Government 2e, OpenStax, Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International, 2 ed., 2019, ch.4.

Korematsu v. United States, 584 F. Supp. 1406, 1984 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17410, 16 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. (Callaghan) 1231 (United States District Court for the Northern District of California April 19, 1984 ). Retrieved from https://advance-lexis-com.egcc.ohionet.org/api/document?collection=cases&id=urn:contentItem:3S4N-FDM0-0054-53K2-00000-00&context=1516831.

(USCS, Constitution, Amendments, I, XIV.)

Muyskens, John; Steckelberg, Aaron, The Washington Post, “Incarceration by Executive Order.” Feb 19 2017, WashingtonPost.com, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/national/incarceration-executive-order/, Sep 3 2019.

“7 Inspiring Quotes about Freedom and Independence,” Goodnet: Gateway to Doing Good, Arison, Jul 2 2013, http://www.goodnet.org/articles/ 7-inspiring-quotes-about-freedom-independence, Sep 3 2019.

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