By Rachel Pistol
February 19, 2017 is the 75th anniversary of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signing Executive Order 9066, which authorised the detention not just of enemy aliens during World War II, but also American citizens. Unlike President Trump’s recent Executive Order restricting immigration and refugees, there was no popular outcry at the time, despite the fact the constitutional rights of American citizens were at risk.
Roosevelt was a democrat, Trump is a republican; Roosevelt turned America into a world superpower, and Trump wants to ‘make America great again’. Both political parties are just as likely to write controversial Executive Orders as each other. One only has to look at EO 9066, Obama’s family detention policy, or Trump’s current stance on immigration to see how concerns over minorities and national security affect policy.
Executive Orders have to fall within the constitution, or else they can be shut down by the courts. However, during World War II, despite the fact EO 9066 blatantly contravened the constitution, only a handful of individuals were willing to challenge the order. These challenges were unsuccessful, in large part due to the withholding of evidence from the Supreme Court (though the courts were not completely blameless). However, much has changed in the 75 years since EO 9066 was allowed to continue unchecked, and the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit believes that Trump’s order did not respect the Constitution in that it discriminated against a particular religious group.
It is interesting to see how times have changed in that when Japanese Americans were negatively affected, there were no widespread protests, but when the rights of those who are not even American citizens are affected in present day America, there have been large scale protests across the western world. In many ways, this shows how far America has come in the past 75 years. However, there is still a huge amount of xenophobia and fear of non-whites present in American society.
While it is unlikely that those of Japanese ancestry are ever likely to witness again the discrimination they suffered during World War II, what is clear is that other minority groups continue to be just as vulnerable despite greater awareness of civil liberties issues in America. The fact that Japan has been transformed from America’s worst enemy to one of their staunchest allies shows how much can change over time. The Japanese were labelled the murderers and rapists of the 1940s, and Trump has called Mexicans and other immigrant groups the murderers and rapists of the present day. With the identification of common interests, such as fears about China’s growing strength, the links between the USA and Japan have never been stronger. Certainly, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s most recent visit to the US has been heralded a great success, and according to Trump they have ‘great chemistry’.
February 19, The Day of Remembrance, remains a significant date in the civil rights calendar, and this year is perhaps more important than ever. A number of exhibitions across the country will tell the story of Japanese American internment, which is still hugely misrepresented. Since 2010, a handful of US states have celebrated Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution at the end of each January. If anything is clear, it is that greater education is needed nationally in order to protect the civil liberties and constitutional rights of all Americans as, unbelievably, there are still many who believe that the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II was not racist. The US government and Supreme Court have both acknowledged that the mass internment was not conducted for reasons of national security, yet many do not seem aware of the government’s own report and conclusions. Based on a huge amount of evidence, the conclusion of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians was that a grave injustice was done and the nation should apologize, which it ultimately did.
Trump has promised further Executive Orders to override the decisions of the courts in his current fight against immigration. If EO 9066 has taught us anything, it’s that to encourage the courts to agree with policies based on flawed or falsified information can only ever be dangerous. Let us hope that the campaign to prevent similar laws to EO 9066 is successful in making sure it remains part of the #neveragain of history, not to be repeated in another way on a different people group.