from the Internment of Japanese Americans
By Abdus Sattar Ghazali
On February 19 1942 President
Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Executive Order
9066 that led to the incarceration of over 120,000
persons of Japanese origin in concentration camps
during World War II. Over the years, the Day of
Remembrance has come to represent a special time
for the Japanese-American community and others to
honor past internees, remember this history of collective
guilt victims and educate the public so that this
does not happen for any other community.
In the post-9/11 era, the Day of Remembrance has
also become a time to express solidarity with the
Arab and Muslim communities who have now become
victims of guilt by association, similar to what
Japanese Americans experienced over 60 years ago.
Throughout World War II, much of the West Coast,
particularly California, had a long history of anti-Asian
sentiment, culminating in the denial of citizenship
to Asians upheld by the US Supreme Court in Ozawa
v. US in 1922 and the Immigration Act of 1924 which
created a permanent quota system.
Not surprisingly, many Americans reacted with fear
and anger when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec.
7, 1941. False reports of spying and sabotage by
Japanese Americans in Hawaii and on the West Coast
were combined with the already existing racial prejudices
to inflame feelings of hatred against all people
of Japanese ancestry, i.e. Issei, the first Japanese
immigrant generation and Nisei, the second generation.
Within 48 hours of the attack on Pearl Harbor, 1,291
Japanese American men were arrested, most of whom
were incarcerated for the entire four-year duration
of the war and separated from their families.
General John L. DeWitt was responsible for the defense
of the West Coast whose famous quotes included:
“A Jap’s a Jap. It makes no difference
whether he is an American citizen or not. I don’t
want any of them . . .
On Feb. 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt,
acting on Gen. Dewitt’s recommendation, signed
the Executive Order 9066 that authorized the military
to exclude persons of Japanese ancestry from designated
military areas. By June 1942, more than 110,000
Japanese persons, more than 70 percent of them American
citizens, had been forced from their homes into
temporary “assembly centers”. From there,
the Japanese were moved to ten internment camps
scattered in the more inhospitable desert regions
of the West where many of them would live until
the end of the war.
FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, in a February 1942
memo to Attorney General Francis Biddle, wrote,
that the decision to evacuate the Japanese Americans
was based primarily on public and political pressures
rather than factual data.
The Japanese-Americans were allowed to return to
their homes only at the end of the war. However,
it was not until 1952 that the McCarran Immigration
and Naturalization Act finally allowed Japanese
It was not until Feb. 19, 1976, the thirty-fourth
anniversary of Roosevelt’s Executive Order
9066, that President Gerald Ford, through Presidential
Proclamation 4417, declared that the Japanese American
internment was a national mistake and described
the February 19th anniversary a sad day in American
About four years later, in June 1980, President
Carter signed a bill establishing "the Commission
on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians,"
which determined that the major cause of the mass
incarceration was racism, opportunism and the failure
of political leadership. In its report issued in
1983, the Commission recommended that the former
inmates be given an official government apology,
given $20,000 compensation to each surviving internee
and establish an educational trust fund.
President Ronald Reagan, on August 10, 1988, signed
into law the federal Civil Liberties Act of 1988
that included an apology. In this act the Congress
recognized that a grave injustice was done to both
citizens and permanent residents of Japanese ancestry
by the evacuation, relocation, and internment of
civilians during World War II. “… For
these fundamental violations of the basic civil
liberties and constitutional rights of these individuals
of Japanese ancestry, the Congress apologizes on
behalf of the Nation."
However, 15 years after President Reagan’s
apology some newcons are giving a new twist to the
unfortunate episode of internment. In the current
Anti-Arab and Anti-Muslim climate prevailing in
America, Michelle Malkin, in her book “In
Defense of Internment,” is applauding the
roundup and imprisonment of the Japanese. She argues
that civil liberties are not sacrosanct.
In the words of the University of Colorado law professor,
Paul Campos, “Malkin's book is an odious exercise
in revisionist history, with a distinctly fascist
tinge ... using arguments that are often absurd
on their face.”
Another neocon, Daniel Pipes, taking advantage of
this hyper climate, is suggesting that the wholesale
relocation of American Muslims in internment camps
might be a good idea.
To quote Prof. Campos again, this is a dangerous
argument. “After all, none of the 9/11 hijackers
was American - unlike, for example, Tim McVeigh
and Terry Nichols. It would be far more efficient
to engage in what Malkin calls "threat profiling"
by setting up internment camps for members of far-right
political groups than for American Muslims,”
It will not be too much to say that the newcons
are now bent on distorting the history of Japanese
Americans’ internment in a bid to foment hatred
against certain ethnic and religious communities.
People of Japanese ancestry were sent to internment
camps without any real evidence. Ironically, the
American Arabs and Muslims are being profiled and
harassed without any real evidence and for them
the Patriot Act and other government measures have
converted the whole country into a virtual internment