Why Citing the Japanese Internment as a ‘Precedent’ for a Muslim Registry Is So Alarming | TIME
2016/11/19 Leave a comment
Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it:
It did not take very long after the war for the internment of Japanese-Americans to go from being seen as a necessity to what TIME in 1961 called“an ugly footnote in American history,” given the admirable service of many Japanese-Americans who fought for the U.S. during the war and the complete lack of concrete evidence that the population posed any actual danger.
In 1980, the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians was established by Congress in an attempt to come to terms with what had happened. The hearings conducted by the commission gave those who had endured the camps a chance to tell the nation what they had lived through: poor medical care and malnutrition, the separation of families, and the total loss of an estimated $400 million in property—of which they were repaid only $38.5 million by the government.
The commission also examined a question with an answer that was only too obviously racial: if the reason for the camps was wartime necessity, why hadn’t Italians and Germans received the same treatment?
In 1983, the commission issued its report, stating for the record that:
“The broad historical causes which shaped these decisions were race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership. Widespread ignorance of Japanese-Americans contributed to a policy conceived in haste and executed in an atmosphere of fear and anger at Japan.
A grave injustice was done to American citizens and resident aliens of Japanese ancestry who, without individual review or any probative evidence against them, were excluded, removed and detained by the United States during World War II.”
And, shortly after, Fred Korematsu was officially cleared. Using materials from a Freedom of Information Act request—documents that showed that the FBI knew there was no serious evidence that the Japanese population of the U.S. was helping the enemy—he had returned to court. (Later, in 2011, the Solicitor General’s office confessed confessed to having erred in withholding information that would suggest that there was no real threat.) The Justice Department did not specifically admit having done wrong, but decided to support Korematsu’s claim that his original conviction should be overturned.
As TIME pointed out, the Supreme Court precedent would still stand, but the judge who cleared Korematsu’s conviction declared in her ruling that, in the words of the report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation, “Korematsu lies overruled in the court of history.”
“As historical precedent it stands as a constant caution that in times of war or declared military necessity our institutions must be vigilant in protecting constitutional guarantees. It stands as a caution that in times of distress the shield of military necessity and national security must not be used to protect governmental actions from close scrutiny and accountability. It stands as a caution that in times of international hostility and antagonisms our institutions, legislative, executive and judicial, must be prepared to exercise their authority to protect all citizens from the petty fears and prejudices that are so easily aroused.”
In 1988, President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act, which offered an official apology and provided restitution of $20,000 to every survivor. “No payment can make up for those lost years,” Reagan said during his remarksabout the bill. “Here, we admit a wrong.”
Last December, Donald Trump told TIME that he could not say whether he would have supported the internment of Japanese-Americans. Though he said he did not like the idea, he was not sure what he would have done at the time, given that, as he said then, “war is tough.”