We Must Not Treat Muslims as We Treated the Japanese
The terrorist attacks on 9-11 have frequently been analogized to Pearl Harbor. In many ways, the analogy is apt. Just as that attack launched us into World War II, the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have launched us into a new kind of war, against terrorism. But waging this sort of borderless war poses great risks, not only to the soldiers commanded to fight but also to core American values. In this way, Pearl Harbor raises other disturbing memories, those of the internment.
Like the recent explosions on the East Coast, the bombing of Pearl Harbor on 12-7, shattered our feeling of national security. How could this have happened? Ordinary individuals, prominent journalists, and government officials soon started pointing the finger at the Japanese in America. Viewing these "Orientals" as incurably foreign, speaking foreign languages, perpetuating foreign cultures, practicing foreign religions (Shinto, Buddhism), American society could not distinguish between the Empire of Japan and Americans of Japanese descent. As General DeWitt, in charge of the Western Defense Command, put it, "A Jap's a Jap." In testimony, he elaborated: "[R]racial affinities are not severed by migration. The Japanese race is an enemy race and while many second and third generation Japanese born on United States soil, possessed of United States citizenship have become 'Americanized' the racial strains are undiluted." As government reports rushed to the conclusion that Japanese Americans aided and abetted the attack, the wheels of the internment machinery began turning.
On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which authorized military commanders in the Western U.S. to issue whatever orders were necessary for national security. Although prompted by DeWitt's ominously titled "Final Recommendation" for mass internment, the Order conveniently made no mention of race or ethnicity. In March, Congress criminalized disobedience of military regulations issued pursuant to the executive order. By December, an efficient, empowered military had concentrated nearly all Japanese on the West Coast into ten desolate camps, surrounded by barbed wire and armed sentries. All this without the declaration of martial law. All this without any individualized determinations of guilt or disloyalty.
The internment was challenged in courts of law, but the Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of the curfew and exclusion orders in the 1943 and 1944 cases of Hirabayashi, Yasui, and Korematsu. While protesting loudly that racial prejudice should trigger the highest scrutiny, the Court nevertheless deferred to the government's vague claims of military necessity. Was the internment in fact justified as a matter of military necessity? A Congressionally appointed blue ribbon commission concluded in 1982 that the "broad historical causes which...