As great as our country is, as great as the idea of our country is, at times we’ve done some very terrible things to our own citizens. Now and then, our government and elected leaders will ignore the Constitution and those first ten amendments and rule as if they have dictatorial powers. They’ll use any crisis or emergency as an excuse to crack down on entire groups, or the entire population; we saw an example of this recently with The Patriot Act. The Patriot Act might be un-American and unconstitutional, but we’ve been a lot worse.
We’re coming up on a pretty ugly anniversary. Only about two months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, on Feb. 19, 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. It gave our Military the authority to round up people of “Foreign Enemy Ancestry” (in World War Two, that was Japanese, Germans and Italians) and put them behind barbed wire in good old, red white and blue concentration camps. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 turned out to be an order for more than 100,000 Americans to a go directly to jail, there were no trials, there was no due process, there was no evidence of wrong doing, in fact, there was no wrong doing at all. Our government rounded people up based on their ancestry, ethnicity and race, and put them into prisons.
The people of Japanese ancestry bore the brunt of the policy. There was an element of racism to be sure, but it was also easier logistically to bully the Japanese. If the government wanted to lock up every German American or Italian American, half of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania would have had to be relocated.
Over 120,000 Japanese were corralled and interned (more than 62% of them were actually born here in the US) for the duration of World War Two, and about 20,000 German Americans and Italian Americans also found their way to the camps. Our Government gave the people a chance (a week or two) to sell their property and belongings (they could only bring what they could carry to the camps), but for the most part, these people lost their homes, jobs, and in a lot of cases, their businesses.
Because the young “Nisei” (Americans born to Japanese parents) were considered “4-C” or “enemy alien”, they weren’t subject to the draft, but many joined anyway, right from the camps. The 442nd Regiment was formed; it was mostly made up of Japanese American soldiers, they fought in Europe against the Germans.
The regiment is said to be the most highly decorated unit in the History of the US Army. Twenty-one members of the 442nd were awarded the Medal of Honor.
Because of Executive Order 9066, almost 150,000 people that did nothing wrong were denied their freedom. They were herded like cattle and sent to live as prisoners.
Imagine American soldiers knocking on your door, and giving you about a week to sell all of your property. Imagine an American soldier telling you that you and your family would all be moving to a camp, you’d be there indefinitely, and you can only take whatever you can carry. Would you be in a rush to join that same Army and help fight their battles?
We’ve allowed some terrible things to be done to Americans; we’ve allowed some huge mistakes. Slavery would be at the top of the list, but I think Executive Order 9066 is in second place, and as bad as it got at home in the 20th Century.
Only seventy years ago this month, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed an Executive Order that went against everything our Constitution and our Country stands for. We judged and sentenced American individuals as a group, and treated them as if they were enemy prisoners of war.