Redress Essay, Research Paper
In December 1982, the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWIRC) concluded that the evacuation and incarceration of 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry during World War II were the result of racism, war hysteria, and a failure of the nation s leadership . Six months later, the commission recommended that the U.S. government offer a national apology and payments of $20,000 to the surviving internees as a form of redress. On August 10, 1988, those recommendations became law when President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. This paper will attempt to examine how and why redress passed, the most significant factors involved as well the arguments for and against the bills.
On December 7, 1941, Japan s military dropped bombs on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor. The next day the United Stated declared war on Japan. The first month of the war was relatively calm. There were few cases of public panic or hysteria occurring, and Japanese Americans were treated no differently than they had been before war began. There have been newspaper accounts showing that there was a vast majority of American citizens that were sympathetic to the Japanese s plight of looking like the enemy but being loyal citizens. There were also some government officials that were advising the public not to blame the Japanese in America for the war. The sympathy was not persistent and it didn t last long. There was a majority of people that had always harbored a feeling of resentment and abhorrence towards the Japanese. With the advent of the war, they plunged into an all-out hate campaign. In some areas, a few cases of violence against the Japanese, including shootings and killings, occurred. These attacks on the Japanese were used as a justification for confining and relocating them: it was for their own good, to protect them against racist violence.
As the exclusion movement began to gain more force, Congressman John H. Tolan from California called for the creation of the Select Committee Investigating National Defense Migration of the House of Representatives. The purpose of the committee was to make an effort to determine the facts and the arguments for and against the proposed exclusion. On February 11, ten days before their first meeting, President Roosevelt had given Secretary of War Stimson his approval to start formulating plans for a mass evacuation of all persons of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast.
Executive Order 9066 and its Repercussions
On February 12, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 that set the stage for the forced evacuation of over 120,000 aliens and citizens from California, Oregon, Arizona, and Washington. The order declared, The successful prosecution of the war requires every possible protection against espionage and against sabotage to national-defense material, national-defense premises and national-defense utilities. The bill was signed amongst strong opposition from many high named officials such as FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. He went on record stating that the demand for the removal of all Japanese Americans on the West Coast was not justified on national security grounds. He said the plan was not based on factual evidence, but on public and political pressure.
With the backing of Congress and the President, General John L. DeWitt issued a series of civilian exclusion orders and public proclamations that extended to travel restrictions, curfews, and contraband regulations to all Japanese Americans, regardless of citizenship. Eventually, his orders called for all persons of Japanese ancestry in California and parts of Arizona, Washington, and Oregon to turn themselves in at temporary detention centers near their homes. The evacuation took a total of eight months, from March 24 to November 3.
Most of the Japanese Americans obeyed the military orders as a way of demonstrating their loyalty to the United States, but there were some individuals who challenged the constitutionality of the evacuation and internment orders. Fred Korematsu was charged with refusing evacuation, Minoru Yasui with violating curfew, and Gordon Hirabayashi with violating curfew and failing to report for detention. All three were convicted in the federal courts for disobeying military orders and appealed their cases to the U. S. Supreme Court. These three cases are considered to be criminal cases because they were direct violations of law. A fourth case by Mitsuye Endo was filed against the United States in 1942. As that she broke no laws and complied with the military orders, her case was considered a civil suit. She challenged the government s right to imprison an American citizen without charge or trial. A year later the decision denying her release was announced, and she appealed to the Supreme Court.
In landmark decisions in the cases of Hirabayashi v. United States, Yasui v. United States, and Korematsu v. United States, the Supreme Court upheld the Executive Order 9066 and the army s evacuation procedure stating that a group defined entirely by ancestry could constitutionally be placed under curfew and expelled from their homes, because Congress had declared war and the military had decided that it was impossible to separate the loyal from the disloyal . In late 1944, in the case of Ex Parte Endo, the court unconditionally released Endo from detainment, ruling unanimously that the War Relocation Authority (WRA) could neither detain loyal citizens nor prevent them from going to the West Coast. The Court ruled that her exclusion from the West Coast and detention for three years without charges had been constitutional, but since Endo had proven herself to be a loyal citizen, she had to be given her freedom.
On December 17th, one day before the Supreme Court announced their decision; the War Department rescinded the exclusion and detention orders. On the day of the decision, the WRA announced that all concentration camps would be closed within a year and that the WRA program would terminate its commission by the beginning of July 1946.
A vast majority of the Japanese American community fully believed that the issue of redress should start in the legislative body of the government. It was felt that it was the president s Executive Order 9066 that had authorized the evacuation and internment, and Congress s Public Law No. 503 that instituted civil penalties for those violating military orders. Therefore, this branch of the government should be the ones to make restitution. Although this was the most favored route to take among the Japanese Americans, dissension surfaced when the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) decided that its first step into the congressional arena would be to request that a federal study be conducted to investigate and make recommendations to the issue of redress. With the backing of the federal study s recommendations, Japanese Americans could then approach Congress for the redress measures themselves.
One section of the Japanese American community split off from the JACL view and opted to push for redress through the courts. Led by William Hohri of Chicago, the National Council for Japanese American Redress (NCJAR) was created in May 1979. NCJAR members felt that a commission should only be a fallback if efforts to win full monetary compensation failed. The approaches of the JACL and NCJAR were not completely in conflict; the relationship between both sides was strained, with verbal backbiting on both sides.
Major opposition to the issuance of redress erupted during this time as well. One very noteworthy group was the Americans for Historical Accuracy (AFHA), a group led by Lillian Baker. The AFHA characterized itself as a Coalition Against the Falsification of U.S.A. History. The AFHA maintained that the internment was not nearly as unpleasant of an experience for Japanese Americans like they claimed. The camps were a pleasant haven at a time of war. The group goes on to state that for former internees to be asking for monetary compensation and a national apology when the government fed, clothed, and housed them while the rest of the nation was fighting a war was absolutely outrageous. According to them, the internment had been necessary for national security reasons, and any attempt to apologize or make up for that legitimate act was ludicrous.
Outside Factors Against Redress
There are four very important factors that were being waged against the issue of redress. The first was the federal budget deficit. In 1980, under the Reagan Administration, our deficit witnessed an unparalleled rise, from $59.6 billion to $195.4 billion by 1983, when the first redress bills were introduced. The Balanced Budget and Emergency Control Act of 1985 called for a balanced budget by fiscal year 1991. With the enactment of this bill, it called for massive cutbacks of numerous federal programs. It was possible that voters across the country would not view spending $1.25 billion to a small but fairly well-off group as being an appropriate and responsible management of tax dollars. Also, it was argued on numerous occasions that the federal, as well as some state and local governments, had already paid compensation to the former internees with the passing of the Japanese American Evacuation Claims Act of 1948. This act allowed Japanese Americans to file claims against the government for the loss of property. 26,568 claims totaling $148 million were filed under this act. The government had distributed $37 million. Also, in 1972 Congress revised the Social Security Act to allow Japanese Americans to claim social security for time spent in detention. In addition to that, in 1978 the federal civil service retirement provisions were amended to let Japanese Americans over age 18 have credit for civil service retirement for the time interned.
The second external factor in opposition to the redress was the state of trade relations between the United States and Japan. For a very long time, the United States has been an economic leader, but recently Japan has seriously challenged the United States, emerging from the war as the second-largest economy and the leading exporter in the world today. In more recent years, Japan has had a flux of trade imbalances with the United States. Japanese competitors have driven many American companies out of business. As a result, an anti-Japanese atmosphere developed within the American population.
The third external factor that surfaced against redress was the model minority myth. Statistical evidence has proven that a vast majority of Japanese Americans does not suffer the same type of social and economic inequities that plague other minority groups such as African Americans and Latinos. In fact, Japanese Americans rank not only above these two minority groups, but also even above the median family income of most whites. Congressman Shumway made the contended that:
I believe that this bill may revive some of the bias that we saw during our World War II and the years shortly thereafter against good Japanese Americans citizens . . . . I think that we do not want to do anything to revive that bias. We now count Japanese Americans citizens as some of the most respectable, hard-working, loyal Americans that we have in our country. To separate them out in fashion, to make them the recipient of a stipend which is an effort to pay them for something I think could revive some bias and I think the bill is dangerous for that reason.
The final external factor affecting the issue of redress was the situation of other minority groups in the United States and the fear of setting a dangerous precedent for redressing wrongs done to those groups. In the case of African Americans, although slavery was much worse than the Japanese Americans situation, the slave was run as a free enterprise, not under government sponsorship, even though it was sanctioned under the Constitution. For Native Americans, the issue was one of broken treaties between separate nations. Neither of these examples involved an act of the U.S. government against its own citizens. The internment of Japanese Americans is the only case in the history of the United States in which our government took a group of citizens and imprisoned them as a whole without just cause.
In 1984, shortly before his massive win over former Vice President Walter Mondale, Japanese Americans and their supporters in Congress faced President Reagan with an intense lobbying effort. The issues were with the moral, legal, and economic redress of the forced evacuation, relocation, and internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. For almost five years, Reagan opposed redress legislation, reversing his position only after the political pressure reached a vehement pitch during the last days of his second term. At the start of the 1988 election campaign, Jack Kemp, a republican from NY and a close confidante of Reagan s warned that the 1988 general election posed a certain amount of danger to the Republicans if they stood against redress. The support for redress might eliminate a considerable ethnic vote-related threat to the 1988 Republican ticket. For a time, Reagan contemplated a compromise with Congress whereby a lower redress compensation budget would be acceptable to his administration. This had failed with a vote of 237-162.
Given the political reality of the situation, the president informed his cabinet and Senate allies that he was removing the veto threat. On August 10, 1988, Reagan wrote the Congress s full redress legislation into law. In a special signing ceremony, Reagan made the following statements:
No payment can make up for those three lost years. So what is most important in this bill has less to do with property than with honor. For here we admit a wrong. Here we reaffirm our commitment as a nation to equal justice under the law.
On October 9, 1990, presented by the U.S. attorney general, the oldest living survivor of internment, Mamoru Eto, 107 years old, received a letter of apology and a check for twenty thousand dollars. The letter of apology, signed by George Bush said, A monetary sum and words alone cannot restore lost years or erase painful memories. But we can take a clear stand for justice and recognize that serious injustices were done to Japanese Americans during World War II.
On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which led to the evacuation and internment of 120,000 West Coast Japanese Americans. On August 10, 1988, forty-six years later, President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, awarding monetary compensation and a national apology to the surviving Japanese Americans affected by Roosevelt s wartime order, bringing to a close a shameful event in the history of the United States.
But does it end there? Personally, I don t believe so. While the incident was extremely disgraceful and unfortunate, I truly believe that given the same type of scenario today, our government would intern the Japanese Americans (or whichever group happened to be the threat) again. The landmark decision of the Reagan to pass the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 has opened the field wide for redress to be awarded to other minority groups that have been repressed or had their constitutional rights violated in any way, shape or form.
Although a national apology has been given and redress has been achieved, the laws of our nation regarding wartime procedure have not changed. I believe that even though our government acknowledges that a grave injustice has been committed, they still feel as if the wartime laws are the correct procedures to follow. If anything, the redress was motivated by more political action than a sense of responsibility. This is not the last that we will hear of regarding the Japanese Americans receiving redress. Our nation will feel the repercussions of the passing of the Civil Liberties Act for a long time to come.
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United. States. Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. Personal Justice Denied. Washington D.C.: G.P.O., 1982.
—, —, Personal Justice Denied. Part II, Recommendations. Washington D.C.: G.P.O., 1983.
—, Congress. House Subcommittee on Administrative Law and Governmental Relations of the Committee on the Judiciary. Hearings on Legislation to Implement the Recommendations of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, H.R. 442, the Civil Liberties Act of 1987, H.R. 1631, the Aleutian and Pribilof Island Restitution Act. 100th Congress., 1st Session, 1987.
—, Senate. House Subcommittee on Federal Services, Post Office, and Civil Service of the Committee on Governmental Affairs. Hearings on S. 1009, to Accept the Findings and to Implement the Recommendations of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. 100th Congress., 1st Session, 1987.