Contact: Priscilla Ouchida, Executive Director
Jeffrey Moy, Vice President for Public Affairs
General Wesley Clark’s call for internment camps for “radicalized” Muslims is troubling. In 1988, the United States apologized to Japanese Americans for the injustice of summarily incarcerating our community during World War II. It was a time of fear and backlash toward Japanese Americans stemming from causes even beyond race.
The true character of a nation is evident during troubling times when our security, real or imagined, is threatened. In 1942, the threat of an internal enemy was made to appear real when our government knew otherwise through findings from the FBI and other intelligence agencies. As a result, 120,000 Japanese Americans were forced from their homes, dispossessed of their property and confined in concentration camps located in remote and desolate places. This action ignored due process and equal protection, rights guaranteed by our Constitution.
It’s important to draw lessons from the Japanese American experience. An apology by government is exceedingly rare. Its offering attests to the scale of governmental wrongdoing that was embedded as law in the case of Fred Korematsu, which caused Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson to caution, “The principle then lies about like a loaded weapon, ready for the hand of any authority that can bring forward a plausible claim of an urgent need…”
The threat of terrorism is real, but we must remain circumspect about the solutions we pursue. The apology to Japanese Americans says that we owe it to ourselves, to our own sense of honor that we do not go down a path that jeopardizes the rights of Americans. A response of mass segregation was wrong in 1942, and is no more right today.