Friday, March 7, 2014

The Waters of Justice Sometimes Trickle

Thought for the day:  Justice is truth in action.  [Benjamin Disraeli]

EXTRA! EXTRA! [National Archives]
A couple years ago, I wrote a two-part post, Art and the Human Spirit, about the internment of Japanese-American citizens during WWII. Those posts focused on human resilience, but today's post is going to approach the internments from a different angle. From the angle of justice.

[courtesy of Karen Korematsu and the Korematsu Institute]






Fred Korematsu was one of many Japanese-Americans living on the west coast at the beginning of World War II, when President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which authorized the internment of all people of Japanese descent into what was euphemistically called relocation camps. On May 3, 1942, General DeWitt ordered 120,000 Japanese-Americans to report  to Assembly Centers six days later as a prelude to their incarceration.

[National Archives]
As American citizens, many of whom were born and raised in the United States, these men, women, and children considered themselves to be red-white-and-blue American patriots. They hung banners and signs from their businesses declaring their allegiance, but it didn't matter, because they couldn't change the way they looked.

Tanforan Assembly Center [National Archives]
Twenty-two-year-old Fred Korematsu and his family were to be transported to Tanforan Assembly Center, where they'd be kept in converted horse stalls until assigned and relocated to camp. But Fred didn't believe the government had the constitutional right to imprison its own citizens without benefit of trial, hearing, or filing of charges. So he didn't go.

Waiting to be taken to camp. [National Archives]
He was nabbed on May 30 for looking like a Jap while standing on an Oakland street corner, and on September 8, was convicted in federal court for defying the order to report for relocation. He received five years' probation... but was sent immediately to Tanforan. Then, like so many others, he was put on a train to his assigned internment camp.

Topaz, Utah camp [National Archives]
Like the rest of his family, he was incarcerated in a desolate camp in Topaz, Utah. There, he lived in a horse stall lit by a single light bulb. He said conditions were worse there than in the jails.

Other residents of the camp avoided him, because they considered him to be a troublemaker, and thought his defiance was wrong and disrespectful. He continued to believe in their constitutional rights, and in the American justice system, and he was sure he would find justice in the courtroom.

Supreme Court building [Wikipedia]


The ACLU used his case to test the legality of the WWII incarcerations, and after losing several appeals, his case made its way to the Supreme Court in 1944. There, in a 6-3 ruling, it was determined that your ethnic affiliation can predispose you to disloyalty if you're an American of Japanese descent, and that compulsory exclusion, though constitutionally suspect, is justified during circumstances of emergency and peril. 

But Korematsu didn't give up He continued to pursue his plea of innocence. A special commission formed by President Carter concluded in 1982 that the internment of Japanese-American citizens was a grave injustice based on race prejudice, war hysteria, and  failure of political leadership. That same year, Professor Peter Irons uncovered evidence that the government's lawyers had withheld important information during Korematsu's 1944 Supreme Court hearing. In 1983, the U.S. District of the Northern District of California overturned Korematsu's conviction. Standing before the court, he said, I would like to see the government admit that they were wrong and do something about it so this will never happen again to any American citizen of any race, creed, or color.  And, If anyone should do any pardoning, I should be the one pardoning the government for what they did to Japanese-American people. 

In 1988, Congress apologized, and granted personal compensation of twenty thousand dollars to each surviving prisoner.

[photo credit: Dennis Cook]
President Clinton also presented Korematsu with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1988. Until his death in 2005, Korematsu continued to speak tirelessly on behalf of civil rights, and in 2004, in reference to the detainees at Guantanamo, he insisted, No one should ever be locked away simply because they share the same race, ethnicity, or religion as a spy or terrorist. 




Since 2011, January 30 has been celebrated as Fred Korematsu Day... a day to remember him, and to honor his unwavering belief in civil liberties, justice, and the Constitution of the United States.



In the 1944 Supreme Court decision,  in speaking for the dissenters, Robert Jackson said, The Supreme Court for all time has validated the principle of racial discrimination in criminal procedure and of transplanting American citizens.  And that 1944 Supreme Court decision... still stands.

                                    Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

P.S. If you'd like to see the two earlier posts, you can find them by clicking on the Gaman tag in the sidebar.



102 comments:

  1. Here in California, my grandparents stored their Japanese-American neighbors' furniture in the wine-cellar during that awful time. They and others helped bring in crops and put the money aside until everybody came home. Typical story in this valley. Everybody knew Americans were being wronged, and yet, still, there were land-grabbers and opportunists at work. Fred Korematsu was a modest, determined focal point of a movement to repair the future. A hero.

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    1. I'm thrilled to hear people like your grandparents continued to support their Japanese-American neighbors, and provided a "good side" to those times. Thanks, dude.

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  2. This is the first time I'm reading about him. I knew something of the Japanese internments and war hysteria, but I didn't know it's full extent.What a horrible time for American citizens targeted for their looks and ethnicity.

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    1. You're absolutely right. Americans like to pride themselves on being a melting pot of people from all over the world, but I guess the government lost track of that concept during the war.

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  3. Sad and bad. And flicking a raw nerve for me today. Our treatment of aslyum seekers shames me. People who have faced horrors I can only imagine, who have made a long and dangerous journey seeking a better, safer life for themselves and/or their family. What do we do? We lock them up. Men, women and children. Indefinitely. And refuse to allow any of them a safe haven here.
    I am so very glad to hear that justice was finally done for Fred Korematsu - and the Japanese- Americans. I hope it can be done for those in Guantanamo Bay - and our Manus.

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    1. Agreed. Governments around the world are increasingly turning a cold shoulder to those who are seeking asylum, and passing laws to deny rights to immigrants, and to encourage them to stay away. The whole attitude seems to be, "Yes, you need help, but go get it somewhere else. We have enough of our own problems."

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  4. I think it was terrible for people of a certain ethnic group... I don't think anyone should be judged by the color of their skin and I hope we have moved on from this in this era. Unfortunately there will always be prejudice's... because of people's fears... Good post Susan :)

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    1. It was... and is... terrible. I think we've undoubtedly moved on SOME since those days, but I suspect that in far too many instances, similar sentiments still simmer just under the surface.

      Thanks.

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  5. This sort of shameful internment happened all over the world during those war times. In Australia Italians and Germans were imprisoned and in South Australia, many towns with German names had the names changed. Even suburbs here in Adelaide had their German names changed although many have now reverted to the original names.

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    1. Some people of Italian and German descent were also "relocated" during the war, but far fewer than Japanese-Americans. Luckily for them, there isn't a unique German and Italian "look". I don't know if any of our towns here with German names were changed or not. I'll have to look into that.

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  6. Good for him for never giving up. I've read several books about this and it's very sad. So many people, so much loss.

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    1. It couldn't have been easy for him to keep believing in justice when it took so many years for his conviction to be overturned. I admire his determination.

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  7. Although I know of the Japanese-American interment, of course, I had never heard of Fred Korematsu. I am glad that he lived to see the government admit its wrong-doing, but it's scary to think that the Supreme Court decision of 1944 still stands as an example of legalized discrimination.

    It's not that far off from the current push by some states to legalize discrimination "for religious conviction."

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    1. Who is that scary looking kid in the icon, and what did he do with our Dianne???

      I find it scary that the 1944 decision has never been officially vacated, too, and I thought the recent push by some states to legalize discrimination made this an appropriate time to go with this post.

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  8. I lived through WW2 and remember some Italians being interred here in Western Australia but I think they were mainly POWs and were treated quite well. Many years ago I read a wonderful book all about the internment of entire Japanese families in the US during the war and found it difficult to believe any government would inter their own nationals. I believe children were removed from schools without being told why. A dreadful business all round. I am not sure that all people from German or Italian parents (who were born here or naturallised) were interred in Australia. Would need to look into that very seriously.
    It is wonderful when a country finally concedes it had made a mistake, no matter how late.

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    1. It's horrifying that any country would treat its citizens so shamefully, but I suspect most countries have similar chapters in their histories. The worst travesty would be if we failed to learn from them. And I agree; It's never too late to apologize.

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  9. Replies
    1. For sure. "Man never made any material as resilient as the human spirit." [Bern Williams]

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  10. He is a very inspirational man. This is such a sad sad part of our nation's history...I can't believe this was only 70 or so years ago!

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    1. I think he is, too. Unfortunately, I wouldn't be surprised if an American experienced injustice based on his appearance as little as 70 or so MINUTES ago.

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  11. Glad he continued to fight. Profiling exists for a reason, but that was wrong and insane to confine all those people based on race alone. Besides, America is a melting pot. We are all from another country.

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    1. Me, too. Although I understand the fear that prompted the internments, they were still wrong. Indeed, we are all from another country. Except for the native Indians... and look what we did to them.

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  12. I wish I could say it will never happen again but......

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    1. Oh... (looks down, scuffs foot) ... you've seen it then.

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    2. HA! Actually, I was thinking of my own posterior when I wrote that...

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  13. I saw an exhibit about the internment camps at the Smithsonian some years ago and it was so chilling and disturbing. I hadn't heard of this man but what an inspiration. Love the photo of him getting his Medal of Freedom.

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    1. I remember you mentioning that exhibit at the Smithsonian the last time I posted about the camps. Yes, it's very disturbing, but it's something we, as a country, should always remember, whether we want to or not.

      Me, too.

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  14. Wow. I'd never heard of Fred Korematsu before. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. My pleasure. (I must have been a teacher in a former life...)

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  15. What a shameful time in our history. I am glad Mr. Korematsu is still being remembered for standing up for justice.

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    1. It sure was. Me, too. Most of us don't have nearly as much perseverance as he did.

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  16. I second what Delores wrote.
    I don't think we've seen the end of wholesale discrimination and unjust imprisonment in this country. In fact, sorry to be such a pessimisticrealist but, I suspect the worst is yet to come.

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

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    1. I'm a cockeyed optimist, but on this matter, I have to agree with you.

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  17. I agree with Delores and Stephen.

    While I was reading this I kept thinking, "This is horrific, but it isn't surprising. Look what our government did to the Native Americans. The Japanese-Americans and Native Americans could sit down and compare notes."

    The Japanese-Americans got an extremely raw deal because they were citizens of this country. As you say, many were born here. We weren't in a Cold War with Japan that would even make you suspect that they were planting people here to spy or for subversive activity. It truly was hysteria at its worst. I am surprised that there weren't German internment camps, quite frankly. Since we were so far off the rails...

    I was unaware of this man's efforts to get justice, but he is inspiring. One person can make a difference.

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    1. Some people of Italian and German descent were also put into camps, but only a handful, compared to the mass internment of Japanese-Americans. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, fear overruled justice when it came to anyone who "looked" like an enemy.

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  18. Pathetic how humans do this to one another, great guy for speaking up and never giving up, making the government own up to their idiotic mistakes

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    1. Definitely. And I agree with you on another level... this topic doesn't lend itself well to a silly poem.

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  19. Hi Susan... I don't embroider but I am going to make a Vision board with pictures and writing... I will add the words you suggested... I'd like to know when it's going to pass... that's the hard thing when it seems to last and last... thank you for your comment, I always appreciate them ♡

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    1. It'll pass in due time, sweetie. In due time.

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  20. Fred Korematsu was a true hero, and a testament to persistence. Thank you for sharing his story.

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    1. Ain't that the truth. Too bad he never became a lawyer. He would have been a great one.

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  21. Thanks for writing about someone of great courage and determination. Civil rights has been the over-riding issue of my life and the movement has had many heroes. Mr. Korematsu should be added to that list, and perhaps be better known and appreciated. Thank you so much for this post.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Inger. Yes, Mr. Korematsu was a man of great courage and determination, and definitely deserves a place among other civil rights heroes.

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  22. Susan, I'm winded after reading this. Thank you so much for bringing his particular plight to our attention. I cannot imagine what the 40 intervening years until 1983 must have felt like for him.

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    1. Didn't mean to knock the wind outta you, kiddo, but I think it's a story well worth knowing. Without going into details, those forty years were extremely rough on him.

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    2. It is most certainly a story worth broadcasting. Well done, radio gem.

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  23. Very interesting post, Susan.
    Thank you.

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    1. Hi, Julia. Good to hear from you again. I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

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  24. "No one should ever be locked away simply because they share the same race, ethnicity, or religion as a spy or terrorist."

    Susan, thank you so much for posting this reminder.

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    1. My pleasure, Stephanie. That quote should be hanging in every courthouse in the country.

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  25. powerful story. I knew about the internment camps, but putting a face and name to the sorry saga adds more depth. Good for him for battling for what was right. And shame on any folks today for sadly having that prejudicial mindset against Americans who are different from them.

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    1. I agree. Having a face and name to associate with an event makes it that much more real. I'd like to think that as a country, we've come a long way toward fighting prejudice, but I'm afraid it's still around, lurking like an insidious snake, just waiting to strike and inject its venom.

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  26. As one gets older one realizes that people sometimes do the right thing, but Countries almost never do the right thing. Korematsu is still good law and no doubt people in our government are looking forward to using it on the unpopular and demonized groups of today and tomorrow. :-(

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    1. Yeah, you're right, but it shouldn't oughta be like that. We the people, right? Right...

      Supposedly, there haven't been any cases before the Supreme Court that could be used as a reasonable avenue to overturn the original ruling. Seems to me they could have found a way if they had the will.

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  27. I just read your profile. Best Wishes for the book. Some people who I know as bloggers also wrote books. I am not sure how they are doing sales wise, but I am sure they feel very good about writing a book. May be you can announce your publication on "Write one sub one". You probably are aware of this blog already. Good Luck again. Books are great.

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    1. Thanks so much. I appreciate the good wishes.

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  28. Hi Susan,

    Such a powerful emotive story. An inspirational story of an inspirational man. Civil rights as opposed to uncivil wrongs.

    Sadly, such internments happened on the west coast of Canada. Back in 1988, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney formally apologized to Japanese Canadian survivors and their families. During the Second World War, 22,000 Japanese Canadians were uprooted from their homes, separated from their families and sent away to camps. Not one was ever charged with an act of disloyalty. Art Miki, of the National Association of Japanese Canadians, calls the apology and $300 million compensation package "a settlement that heals."

    In peace and thank you for such a profound posting,

    Gary

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    1. I didn't realize the Canadian PM had apologized for the internment of Japanese-Canadians, or that the government paid them to make reparations. That's an important step toward healing, and I'm glad both the U.S. and Canada took it.

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  29. What a well-written post, Susan. I'm so ashamed of what our country did. I've seen some fascinating documentaries about the camps and how awful the conditions were.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. Thanks, Janie. It's easy for us to read about those times, and to be appalled at the documentaries, but I'm not convinced we've advanced all that much in our thinking. And by "our"... I mostly mean the powers that be.

      Happy weekend!

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  30. I knew about the internment camps, but never had heard of Fred Korematsu before. Protest, but not with violence... Very inspirational. Thank you for sharing his story.

    I was particularly pleased that you mentioned Robert H. Jackson as the dissenter on the Supreme Court. His name is well-known in our household - my husband's family lived next to the town where he grew up. My husband and older two kids went to Robert H. Jackson elementary school. Small world, huh?

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    1. I'm glad you found Mr. Korematsu's story to be inspirational. I did, too.

      Wow, that is totally cool! It really IS a small world.

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  31. Good post but it makes me cry. Yes it definitely was unconstitutional at that time and it still is or should be but since the NDAA was signed 2 years ago.... signed into law on New Year's eve when most of the congress was gone, they can now imprison Americans without a trial... they can just disappear. Most of our constitution has been trampled.
    I grew up in a German community on the Mn/SD border. We were not put away but we felt discrimination nevertheles. Everyone was an American citizen but many of the older people still spoke German. Most of the church services were in German and they had to discontinue them. When the older people went into town, loud name calling was the norm. I had names flung at me in school too and by that time, I had forgotten most of my German. I was born in the U.S. but German had been my first language from my Grandparents. At least we continued to live in our homes. But when I think of the how the Japaese had to live, I get sick and I still look at the stone work they had them doing.

    Change the subject. I saw you mentioned Resurrection on Pat's blog. I rarely watch TV but that might interest me. Is it on Sunday, you say? Do you know where?

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    1. Sorry. I didn't realize this would hit so close to home for you. My mother's maiden name was very German-sounding, but I don't recall ever hearing of any problems during the war because of it. Then again, Baltimore was a great big melting pot of immigrants. Or maybe my family just didn't want me to know. I'm sorry you had to experience such cruelty and prejudice, but you're probably a more compassionate person because of it.

      Yes, the show is supposed to be premiering on Sunday night... either 9 PM or 10 PM, and on one of the network channels. It sounds like a sci-fi kinda show, but I'm more excited at the prospect of seeing our little town as the show's setting.

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  32. It's absolutely horrible what so many innocent Japanese Americans had to endure. I admire Mr. Korematsu for never losing hope by endlessly fighting for all of their rights. It was very moving when he finally received the Medal of Freedom. Thanks for sharing this compelling story with us, Susan.

    Julie

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    1. It truly was horrible, but like you, I really admire Mr. Korematsu's determination, and am glad he finally had his conviction overturned and the recognition he deserved.

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  33. I remember your first two-part post and I'm glad you wrote this one. The story of Korematsu truly is an inspiration. Scary to think that this happened in our country - - but similar things happened to German Americans during WWI.
    Hate, fear, and prejudice can bring out the very worst in people.

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    1. I'm honored that you remember the two-part post. It is scary to realize something like this happened here, but I think it would do us all... especially our leaders... good to keep it in mind. Might help us be a little more humble when dealing with other countries.

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  34. That's a pretty intense history. Hurrah that he lived to see his recognition!

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    1. You bet. Too bad so many other Japanese-Americans died before the apology and reparations came about.

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  35. An inspiring tale. May this provide the spark to so many other unsung heroes who fight untold battles.

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    1. Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment. I do appreciate it. You're right; I hope his determinations serves as an inspiration to others to keep up the good fight.

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  36. Dear Susan,
    coming from a country with a solemn heritage I heard with astonishment for the first time of those camps, and think Fred Korematsu was very brave. Here in Berlin many attempts are made to remind us of unforgivable crimes in the name of racism that were done in the Third Reich - for instance in front of many houses you find brass cobble stones with names of Jewish inhabitants that once lived in the flats of those burgeois houses and then were deported and killed - unimaginable. In the Schöneberger Rathaus they have an impressive exhibition under the title "We were neighbours" - and this is the silent horror one feels: neighbours, people like you and me, being for many generations good German citizens - and suddenly everything changed! Really, really horrible, and very sad.

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    1. Dear Britta,

      Years ago, someone I'd known for several years was astounded to see me smoking a cigarette. (I've long-since quit.) He said, "SUSAN!!! I didn't know you smoked!" to which I replied, "I'm not exactly proud of it." I think it's the same thing with those camps. It's a shameful part of our history, and one we don't exactly brag about, so I'm not surprised you never heard of them before. What's shameful is how many Americans aren't aware of them.

      I think it's admirable that your country is committed to remembering. It's when we forget the mistakes of the past... or worse, try to pretend they never happened... that we're more at risk of repeating them.

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  37. Hi Susan, just stopping by to say how delightful your blog is. Thanks so much for sharing. I have recently found your blog and am now following you, and will visit often. Please stop by my blog and perhaps you would like to follow me also. Have a wonderful day. Hugs, Chris
    http://chelencarter-retiredandlovingit.blogspot.ca/

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    1. Hi, Chris. Nice to meetcha. Welcome aboard! (Warning: My posts are rarely this serious.)

      Get ready... I'm heading to your blog now...

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  38. What a great man! Moving post, Susan. An extreme example of the danger of racial profiling. When I was growing up in California, it wasn't unusual to meet internees, nearly all American born. I think folks often believe only émigrés were interred, not so, as you point out. I suppose I should be grateful Roosevelt didn't order all people of German descent into camps, or my parents would have had a tale to tell.

    VR Barkowski

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    1. Although there may sometimes be logical reasoning behind the concept of racial profiling, it rarely leads to across-the-board justice. The question then becomes how much "collateral damage" our political leaders are willing to dismiss as inconsequential.

      Some people of German and Italian descent WERE put into camps, but a very small number, as compared with the Japanese.

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  39. No Germans or Italians were incarcerated, but they were white. There are many things that America has done wrong on the basis of race.

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    1. Not so. Germans and Italians were also incarcerated, but only a spit in the bucket of them compare to the number of Japanese. There was already such an enormous population of Italian-Americans and German-Americans in the U.S. at that time, it would have been logistically impossible to incarcerate them all. Those who maintained their German or Italian citizenship were either deported or incarcerated, but some with American citizenship were also incarcerated. And the government has never made a formal apology to them. You're right, though. Bottom line... many of them were spared from incarceration because of their appearance, a luxury the Japanese didn't have.

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  40. An interesting post that I enjoyed reading.

    Thank you. Love love, Andrew. Bye.

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  41. Only recently have I become acquainted with this little-know chapter of American history. Like the bombing of Dresden by allied troops we tend to think in black and white but what about the ubiquitous greys? Thanks for such an informative and beautifully written post.

    Greetings from London.

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    1. I suspect there are many many other chapters in history that most of us know nothing at all about. I always find it fascinating to explore them.

      Greetings back atcha from Georgia.

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  42. I love coming here because I know I will learn something. I never know what, but I always know it will be interesting. Keep up the great work!

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    1. Nice of you to say. Thanks for putting a smile on my face!

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  43. Great post, Susan. Interesting, insightful and thought provoking.

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  44. That's some sheer determination there. Whew! It's sad this great nation ever engaged this kind of conduct, but I suppose no one's history is squeaky clean. Here's to a brighter future and stronger voice for all, eh?

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    1. You're right; no country's history is without fault. And I'm all for a brighter future. Your mouth to God's ear.

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  45. Very inspiring that he never gave up, no matter how long it took. I didn't know too much about this part of the war - it's good that he got vindication but scary the 1944 decision still stands. Just hope we can learn from things like this.

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    1. He definitely had more perseverance than most of us. I hope we learned and remember this lesson, too.

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  46. Sadly, I was speaking about the Japanese-American internment to some high school students a year or so ago and they tried to tell me that couldn't possibly have happened. It's against the law.

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    1. If today's students aren't learning about this in school, that really is sad.

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  47. Excellent post about a shameful episode in American history.

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    1. Thanks. Glad ya liked it. Some things, we'd rather not remember, but we must.

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  48. Hi Susan - how interesting to read .. people were treated dreadfully - as we know and you've exposed here. This was really informative and Korematsu deserves the credit he's been given ... people who stand up for others and for their beliefs in what is right deserve to be remembered.

    Life is not easy at times ... and being reminded how appalling we can treat others in war, in peace too ... much more compassion for humanity is needed -

    Very thought provoking .. thank you - Hilary

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    1. The way people treat each other, especially during wartime, is abominable. Even so, in the midst of the abominations, kindness and compassion still manage to survive... sometimes we just have to dig a little deeper to find them.

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