Will Sellers: Terrors of Justice

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Image source: Balch & Bingham

Eighty years ago this month, with the stroke of a pen, President franklin roosevelt in Executive Order 9066 effectively relegated 120,000 Japanese Americans to internment camps. Many of these American citizens had no right to object to their deportation, and there was no procedure to prove their loyalty to the United States. These citizens were interned solely because of their ancestry, nothing else.

In the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, fear was widespread that the Empire of Japan would invade the west coast. Undoubtedly, people were frightened and on high alert, and, certainly, there was an anxiety that turned rational people into frenzied xenophobes. But rather than face the reality of the situation, political leaders pushed the country to transfer all these concerns into a government campaign to round up almost the entire population of Japanese Americans and relocate them. .

True, they were not sent to concentration camps organized on the German or Soviet model. There was no plan to cleanse America of Japanese influence through premeditated death by forced labor. Nevertheless, these citizens were forced to leave their homes, abandon their businesses and take their entire families to detention centers surrounded by barbed wire, guards and dogs.

And all of this was accomplished through legal and judicial means. Congress had passed legislation granting the president broad and sweeping emergency powers to organize the country for all-out war. These wartime powers had precedents as abraham lincoln also used similar powers to suspend the writ of habeas corpus and incarcerate pro-secessionists. Ironically enough, the Chief Justice Roger Taneywho is the author of Dr Scott decision, Lincoln warned that such actions potentially violated his oath of office and could mean that citizens no longer lived under a government that upheld the rule of law.

The war, like other national emergencies, triggered a series of restrictions subjugating the rights of individuals to the needs of the state. Waging a war and making the decisions necessary to win cannot be done by consensus but must be determined by leaders who have both national support and critical judgment to implement a plan for victory. Roosevelt’s almost dictatorial power stemmed from legislative mandate, not usurpation. The hindsight of history clearly shows that he, like Winston Churchillwas the man of the time.

But the internment of loyal Americans was perhaps an overuse of presidential authority and a stain on American values. The need to systematically detain these citizens was undoubtedly a knee-jerk reaction to Pearl Harbor. But leadership is more than succumbing to the vagaries of the situation and should be based on evidence or proof that a threat existed. In fact, it was the exact opposite.

Military intelligence and the FBI found no disloyalty among Japanese Americans. They discovered no organized network of spies or saboteurs ready to support an invasion. The sole reason for the detention was suspicion based on fear and a complete misunderstanding of Japanese American culture.

Without any basis in fact, it was assumed that anyone of Japanese ancestry would remain loyal to the emperor. Like all foundations of racism, there is an assumption that people of similar origins and appearances must share other monolithic traits attributed to them by imaginary and irrational opinions. Political and military leaders simply agreed that these citizens would be disloyal, were likely spies, and posed a threat even though there was no evidence to support these assumptions. So the president who told his country ‘all we have to fear is fear itself’ has incorporated racist fear into his policy that has detained 120,000 Americans.

Despite the fact that this incident was humiliating and degrading, nearly 35,000 Japanese American men and women demonstrated their loyalty as American citizens by serving in the military during World War II. In some cases, sons and daughters fighting for Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms had relatives held by the same Uncle Sam. Units including these Japanese-American troops were sent to the European theater and distinguished themselves in battle. If there can be humor in both internment and war, there was a story that Germans fighting in Italy had been captured by one of these units and thought the Japanese had switched sides and joined the Americans in defeating the Third Reich.

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the expulsion of people because of their race was the number of prominent liberals who blindly accepted the procedure. It is easy to see that military commanders on the west coast, truly believing an invasion was imminent, would want to evacuate civilians from a potential war zone. But it’s hard to understand how leaders normally inclined to uphold minority rights, expand civil liberties and limit the powers of government would so readily accept a mass eviction without a shred of due process.

Despite the fact that this incident was humiliating and degrading, nearly 35,000 Japanese American men and women demonstrated their loyalty as American citizens by serving in the military during World War II. In some cases, sons and daughters fighting for Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms had relatives held by the same Uncle Sam. Units including these Japanese-American troops were sent to the European theater and distinguished themselves in battle. If there can be humor in both internment and war, there was a story that Germans fighting in Italy had been captured by one of these units and thought the Japanese had switched sides and joined the Americans in defeating the Third Reich.

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the expulsion of people because of their race was the number of prominent liberals who blindly accepted the procedure. It is easy to see that military commanders on the west coast, truly believing an invasion was imminent, would want to evacuate civilians from a potential war zone. But it’s hard to understand how leaders normally inclined to uphold minority rights, expand civil liberties and limit the powers of government would so readily accept a mass eviction without a shred of due process.

In America, executive power is not absolute, and our rule of law requires that even emergency actions be reviewed and, if necessary, verified so that an imminent or perceived threat is not used as a cover to suspend or denying rights based on political misperceptions.

Sellers was appointed by the Governor Kay Ivey to the Alabama Supreme Court in 2017. It is best achieved at [email protected].

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