It was in my father’s generation that tens of thousands of American citizens were illegally stripped of their constitutional rights to freedom of assembly, free speech, and freedom from illegal search and
seizure. Shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, some 120,000 Japanese-Americans had their property taken from them without due process or were forced to sell their businesses and homes at greatly reduced rates and then move to camps far removed from the west coast of the United States.

When Pearl Harbor was attacked, America was rightly concerned about more attacks from Imperial Japan. (Attacks by German subs were a real threat also.) However, President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 was an egregious overreaction to a legitimate threat. Some 60 % of the Japanese-Americans were actual US citizens, and most were second or even third generation Americans. Just hours after Pearl Harbor the
FBI rounded up 1,291 people of Japanese ancestry on Hawaii…without evidence…and seized their property and bank accounts. By January they were deported to Montana, New Mexico, and North Dakota without being allowed to contact their families. The United States Federal Government did this without any due process. No laws were passed by Congress or by any state legislature enabling the FBI to do this. But no one stopped them.

Later, in Congressional hearings in February of 1942, California Governor Culbert Olson and State Attorney General (later Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court) Earl Warren said that all Japanese-Americans needed to be rounded up and placed in internment camps. It did not matter that some of them were elderly or were tiny babies and no threat to anyone. All were incarcerated because the government feared them.

Anyone who was 1/16th Japanese was considered Japanese, and they were sent into internal exile in make-shift camps across the western and southwestern US. (Some 11,000 German Americans and a little under
2,000 Italian Americans were detained and kept in internment camps.)

Without formal evidence, without formal charges, without a trial, tens of thousands of innocent people were accused by the US government, arrested, imprisoned, and automatically found guilty. They were stripped of their rights and possessions, and imprisoned in camps surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards (who did in fact shoot and kill some of the internees who tried to escape).

This all happened while we were fighting Nazis, Fascists, and Imperialists to “liberate the oppressed.” Sounds pretty grim…but liberty prevailed eventually.

More about that in the next blog.