Tuesday, June 17, 2008

"They all look alike to a person not a Jap"*: The Legacy of Korematsu at OSU

*Justice Hugo Black, author of the opinion in Korematsu, on the fears many white Americans had about Japanese American citizens during World War II.

This past weekend, Oregon State had its annual commencement ceremony. What was unusual about this year was that OSU decided to correct a massive historical injustice. Forty-two former students of Japanese descent, who had been forced to an internment camp after the federal order in 1942, were given honorary degrees in place of the ones they were not allowed to complete. (You can read the OSU press release here. I'm proud to say that I know one of the students, Andy Kiyuna, who got this process started. Though I can't take any credit for inspiring him to get this underway. From what I understand, that honor goes to my colleague, Lani Roberts)

The internment camps were justified by the Supreme Court in the 1944 case of Korematsu--a case that is widely reviled. Over 100,000 American citizens were stripped of their civil liberties and their dignity by the government's decision. What is even more shocking is that the government supressed evidence that could have been used by the Supreme Court to rule against the executive order.

In Korematsu, the court essentially said that the internment camps were justifed because military leaders had testified to their need for national security purposes. They said that there was evidence of "disloyalty" among Japanese American citizens that suggested that sabotage was possible along the West Coast. As it turns out, the Justice Department had reviewed many different intelligence reports and found the military reports to be unsubstantiated. In fact, the Justice Department told the Solicitor General, Charles Fahey, that he ought to present these intelligence reports in his argument before the court. He ignored these requests and, instead, testfied that everything in the military reports (that the Japanese Americans along the West Coast were not to be trusted because there was good evidence of conspiracy and treachery among them) was accurate. The Supreme Court then deferred to the military leaders and cited their report in the legal opinion.

And we are still picking up the pieces of this injustice here in Oregon...

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1 Comments:

At 9:35 AM , Anonymous Lani said...

I'm glad you wrote on this JAO. My very first awareness of racism was when I was about 10 or 11 years old when I rode with my dad while he was taking our TV to Harry Morioka's Radio and TV Shop in my hometown. (This was the (mid-1950s.) On the way there, my dad became all choked up and emotional and told me how ashamed he was for what happened to the Japanese kids and their families with whom he had gone to school. Then he told me about the internment. Harry Morioka's family was victim of the internment. I couldn't believe it but the experience did make me aware at a fairly young age that we humans can be so very cruel to one another. I think my dad also taught me an appropriate response - grief.

 

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