Sunday, February 19, 2017

DAY OF REMEMBRANCE 2017: The 75th Anniversary of the Executive Order that Authorized Japanese Internment

On behalf of the ACLU of Northern California and the California Historical Society, we join in honoring the Day of Remembrance. This year marks three-quarters of a century since President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 (EO9066) on February 19, 1942.

Under the guise of national security during wartime against enemy forces, President Roosevelt authorized the Secretary of War to declare arbitrary military zones. With scant Congressional debate, Roosevelt signed the Executive Order, which led to harsh and swift enforcement. The United States government forcibly evicted approximately 120,000 men, women, and children of Japanese ethnicity and ancestry and relocated them to internment camps scattered throughout the rural West.

Building on decades of racially-motivated hatred and fear that Japanese Americans and other Asians in the U.S. had long suffered, the Japanese American communities especially of California bore the brunt of this outright discrimination and unwarranted punishment. Astoundingly, roughly 70,000, or over two-thirds, of the internees were American citizens. Significantly, no Japanese American citizen or Japanese national residing in the United States was ever found guilty of sabotage or espionage.

This anniversary has a powerful place for both our organizations. The ACLU of Northern California represented brave resisters like Fred Korematsu, the Japanese-American draftsman who refused to leave his home in San Leandro. He was arrested, jailed and found guilty in federal court for his bold denial. Taking his case all the way to the United States Supreme Court, the ACLU’s attorneys argued that the exclusion and detention laws violated basic constitutional rights that apply to citizens and non-citizens alike. The Supreme Court upheld Korematsu’s conviction and deemed the war measures constitutional in 1944. It was not until 1983 that Mr. Korematsu’s conviction was overturned, and finally in 1988, the United States government apologized and gave modest reparations to the impacted.

The ACLU-NC’s Korematsu case archives are housed at the California Historical Society. As historian Charles Wollenberg said: “Since its founding in the 1930s, the ACLU of Northern California has been involved in virtually every important struggle for social and economic justice, civil rights and civil liberties, and free speech and free expression in the Bay Area and northern California. Its archive at CHS is an irreplaceable resource, providing invaluable perspective and insight into the heart of the region's social and cultural history and its special regional character and identity.” Additional historical archives related to Japanese Internment can be found at the National Japanese American Historical Society in San Francisco.

The incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II was a grave injustice, and the solemn marking of the 75th Anniversary of Executive Order 9066 provides us an opportunity to say very clearly to our fellow Americans that we will never let this happen again. We will not forget, and we will remember and fight to preserve our Constitutional rights and liberties.

Abdi Soltani is the Executive Director of the ACLU of Northern California and Anthea M. Hartig, PhD is the Executive Director and CEO of the California Historical Society. 

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