(Wikimedia Commons)

In 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the wartime incarceration of Japanese-Americans in what he called “concentration camps.” A few Japanese Americans defied that order. One of them, Gordon Hirabayashi, broke curfew and refused to go to camp. He became the face of one of the defining Supreme Court cases of that period, Hirabayashi v. United States. Approaching the 70th anniversary of the case, we talk with Gordon’s nephew Lane Hirabayashi about his uncle’s life and legacy.

Guests:
Lane Hirabayashi, professor in Asian American Studies and Chair of the Japanese American Incarceration, Redress, and Community at UCLA; and nephew of Gordon Hirabayashi

  • thucy

    What happened to the Japanese who were interned was shameful on the part of the US gov’t.
    But after I saw the violent anti-Muslim backlash in predominantly Muslim parts of some neighborhoods in NY post-9/11, I began to wonder if the WWII internment hadn’t saved the lives of Japanese Americans. Given the lynchings and mutilations of Chinese in 19th century SF, God only knows what violence angry Americans would have done as the reports of Japanese military atrocities and high US casualties cycled back to the States.

    Some perspective: At least the families of Japanese internees were finally given some restitution. No blacks ever got their promised 40 acres and a mule, just emancipation into a country that never gave them – or their descendants – equal opportunity. Nor did we prosecute the Japanese military for war crimes to the extent we did the Germans; the vivisection studies conducted by the Japanese military on Russian and Chinese civilians were rumored to be the trade-off. It is terrible but true to say, but there were far worse places to be during WWII than a US internment camp. Just ask any of the tens of millions of non-Japanese civilians killed during WWII to, as Hirohito said, “claim Asia for Asians.” Rape of Nanking, anyone?

    Ironically, during WWII, Chinese refugees were barred from entering the US. Like the Jews, they were left to perish under Axis brutalities, including vivisection and being buried alive. Even more ironically, stuff got even worse for the average Chinese under Mao – who killed 70 million Chinese, 30 million in his man-made “Great Famine.”

    • Chris OConnell

      I am sure you are not saying that these citizens were lucky and the US government did them a favor by forcing them out of their homes and businesses and locking them in camps hundreds or thousands of miles away.

      • thucy

        No. Re-read what I wrote.

    • Beth Grant DeRoos

      I find it facisanting and troubling that it was FDR a Democrat and now a Democrat President Obama who have shown to love violating peoples Constitutional rights. Sad.

      • Chris OConnell

        Does this mean it was neither fascinating or troubling when Dick Nixon and George W. Bush “loved” violating people’s rights?

      • thucy

        Ah, but neither Hitler, nor Hirohito, nor Stalin were Dems or Repubs. Tyrants are tyrants, Beth, that is all.
        I don’t think it mattered to the Mohawk or the Navajo or the Chippewa what party their tormenters came from.
        I strongly recommend Iris Chang’s “The Rape of Nanking” for some perspective on how ordinary Japanese soldiers were brainwashed into becoming sadistic killers. The first step, Beth, was convincing them that their lives were worth infinitely less than the emporer’s. The second step was assuring them that the bodies and lives of any non-Japanese Asian was worth less than a dog, a cat or a rat. These poor men were FORCED by their military to bayonet Chinese civilians as a drill.
        Years after writing that book, Chang committed suicide. I think it just broke her to know that her “success” rested on cataloguing such carnage. She had too great a conscience.
        Having said that, I love Japanese culture and my Japanese friends. We forgive, Beth, we understand, we do not judge the madness their gov’t put them through any more than we judge our Israeli friends, or even our own government. But we don’t forget. It is our responsibility to remember. Their military crimes, and ours.

  • Chris OConnell

    Kudos to Gordon Hirabayashi for breaking the law and having his name attached to a case. Here, the law was an ass and should have been broken, but it takes the few and the especially brave. Unfortunately, it was like the Dred Scott case, a real low point for the Court. And the Court knows it.

    I wonder if we have learned our lesson. When it comes to (alleged) “National Security,” courts generally defer to the most egregious violations of the Constitution, and we can see this in the past 12 years of torture, renditions, black sites, indefinite detention without charge, mass eavesdropping etc. And more significantly here, in the profiling and targeting of Muslim-Americans.

  • Dawn Rucker

    I know what they want to hear is America say ” I am sorry for the wrong committed”; and, I say I am sorry for the wrong committed. Everyone could not fight the harrassing harshness of “Others”; People are People; some are Good, and, Others are horrible.

  • thucy

    no mention of civil liberties act of 1988? accomplished only after Japan’s economic power threatened ours?

  • Kurt thialfad

    How many of interned were citizens, and how many were not? Do you have numbers or percentages?

    No Japanese were convicted of espionage. Were any Germans convicted of espionage?

  • thucy

    no mention of Italian and Germans interned in US during WWII, even though neither Germany nor Italy attacked US?

    I think Hirobayashi was a hero, but this is s very narrow view of the era, and of the relatively cordial treatment Japanese-Ams received compared to other minorities in US history

    • Beth Grant DeRoos

      ALL the Japanese here on the west cost were interned. Few Germans or Italians were held for even a few days. And a very very few were held for months. Was this wrong? YES!!! Unless someone can be proven to have committed an illegal act.

      • thucy

        Beth,
        Thanks, I’m largely in agreement with you. But I am both troubled and relieved by the attention the internment camps receive.
        On the one hand, it was a gross violation of civilrights, and as such, we should all show sympathy for those interned, and remain aware that since that time, far worse prisons have been built to warehouse millions of non-violent drug offenders, mostly black.
        On the other hand, to talk about the awfulness of the US internment camps without acknowledging the literal holocaust that the Japanese army unleashed upon China, Burma, the Philippines, etc., is really very skewed.
        Tens of millions of Asians were genocidally destroyed by Hirohito’s army during WWII. This had been going on FOR YEARS before the first Japanese-American was interned.

        I have to iterate that while this internment was a deep and awful stain on the US gov’t, it was, seriously, in relative terms, a walk in the park compared to what our nation did to blacks and Native tribes. And, of course, compared to what Hirohito did to TENS OF MILLIONS of Asians during WWII, which was in itself NADA next to Mao killing 70 million of his own people.
        The layers of carnage are just staggering.

        • Chris OConnell

          Yes and who cares about NSA wiretapping, or wrongful death penalty cases, or police misconduct measured against that? It is quite reactionary to compare and contrast injustices and to minimize one in light of another worse one. You say that it was perfectly understandable to imprison American citizens because the nation of Japan was committing atrocities. No it was perfectly racist.

  • Beth Grant DeRoos

    My Dad used to cry when talking about American born American friends who within a few days had to leave their homes and businesses to go to some remote place to be held like prisoners. Let us not kid ourselves. These were prisons. The residents couldn’t leave! And none had been proven to have done ANY thing illegal!!

    Thankfullly my Dad and friends made sure the property was cared for, property taxes paid, so when our friends came home they had a home to come home to. This was in the Seattle area.

    • thucy

      Beth,
      I think it’s great that your Dad did that. I really, sincerely do.
      But when did our fathers weep for the Native tribes who were “ethnically cleansed” to create the Seattle area?
      When did our fathers weep for the Africans put into permanent bondage, some “released” only after being whipped to death or worked to death, others mutilated to prevent their escape? And NONE, NOT A SINGLE ONE, ever given reparations as our gov’t did for Japanese internees?

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