To the Editor:
The December 11, 2016 Travel section includes two letters from Steve Hawes and Dick Venn that attempt to justify the incarceration of individuals of Japanese ancestry during World War II. Both authors omit critical facts that leave their arguments meritless.
They fail to acknowledge that of the nearly 120,000 individuals incarcerated, two-thirds were Americans–people of Japanese ancestry who were born and raised in the United States and American citizens by birthright. The remaining were first-generation immigrants prohibited by law from becoming citizens. They were American by practice, tradition, and loyalty.
Both writers ignore the fact that that no Japanese American was found guilty of espionage, sabotage, or treason during the WWII era. The failure to distinguish between Americans of Japanese ancestry and citizens of Japan represents a significant error–an error which led to this unprecedented violation of Constitutional rights.
Both authors ignore the contributions of Japanese American soldiers who fought for the U.S. Japanese American soldiers served with distinction in the Military Intelligence Service in the Pacific theater. In the European theater, the segregated 100th Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team became the most highly decorated unit of its size in American military history. By the end of WWII, more than 33,000 Japanese Americans served. They were awarded more than 18,000 individual decorations, including 9,486 Purple Heart Medals and 21 Medals of Honor. Over 800 were killed fighting for the U.S. These are the same men who Mr. Hawes claims “would have been expected to follow the wishes of their elders in Japan.” These American soldiers had no connection to the Japanese who “were slaughtering Filipinos by the tens of thousands” as Mr. Venn asserts.
In 1983, the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians found that the incarceration of Japanese Americans was the result of “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which granted an apology and monetary reparations for those who had been wrongfully incarcerated. The Act stated, “The Congress recognizes that…a grave injustice was done to both citizens and permanent resident aliens of Japanese ancestry….For these fundamental violations of the basic civil liberties and constitutional rights…the Congress apologizes on behalf of the Nation.” During WWII, in a time of fear and crisis, we discarded our fundamental value of equal justice and protection under the law.
During WWII, all American families were asked to make sacrifices. American soldiers of all backgrounds made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure that liberty and freedom would endure. Americans of Japanese ancestry made their sacrifices and were loyal to our nation, despite being denied due process and being stripped of their Constitutional rights.
May we as a nation never again abandon our commitment to the value of equal justice under the law.
Mitchell T. Maki, Ph.D.
Go For Broke National Education Center