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Our Embarrassing Anniversary

Just a reminder of what we did to Japanese Americans, and some German and Italian Americans seventy years ago this month.

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.          

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

John J. Hanley February 15, 2012 at 01:30 AM
This is a horrible atrocity that, along with slavery, is a huge blight on our history. Thing is, you would think that after slavery we would have learned our lesson. Hopefully, when we look back as recently as 70 years ago, we and our children will wonder what the hell were we thinking. We really need to be skeptical of some of the things our leaders do and the powers they assume without authority. George Takei, Lt. Sulu, a victim himself of the interrment camps, does a great deal of work in educating people on what the camps were really like. http://www.emmytvlegends.org/interviews/ people/george-takei
John Cocchiola February 15, 2012 at 05:40 AM
We have quite a few of these ugly spots John. This is one of the worst without a doubt.
Glenn Howard February 24, 2012 at 03:07 PM
and we are still doing this at this minute.
vinny dinussi March 04, 2012 at 04:34 PM
I disagree. You're all looking at this through the prism of today's perspectives and that puts a different spin on events. Japanese spies were crawling all over the west coast, especially the harbors. Communication wasn't what it is today and local officials weren't clued in. Add to that, an ignorance about other cultures and Pearl Harbor and this was the absolute right reaction for the time. These weren't concentration camps, so let's not get hysterical. We protected ourselves in the only way we knew how. The Japanese had launched balloons with bombs to fly over places on the west coast. Sounds silly to us today, but tell that to unaware Americans living there at the time. What did you expect Americans to do? As far as the Germans on the east coast, let's not forget theGerman-American Bund and the sub that delivered Nazis to the Long Island shores waiting to hook up with other spies. The Italian Americans never posed a threat, in my estimation, but were swept up in the fear that this nation, unlike WWI, could be attacked. FDR did the right thing at the right time, for the right reasons.
John Cocchiola March 04, 2012 at 05:44 PM
Our country was founded on the idea of individual liberty. When we treat people according to whichever race or group they belong to, "individual" is in the garbage. These people were for the most part shouldn't have been considered "Japanese Americans", they were just Americans, the vast majority were American citizens and their patriotism was displayed on the front lines of Italy and France with the 442nd Regiment. The balloons the Japanese put into the jet streams couldn't possibly have been guided by spies, they did very little damage (If I remember right, I think about four people were killed, and they started some forest fires). If you prefer "relocation camps", that's fine but this is the definition from Webster's Dictionary; "CONCENTRATION CAMP: a camp where persons (as prisoners of war, political prisoners, or refugees) are detained or confined."
vinny dinussi March 05, 2012 at 02:35 AM
Individual liberty is curtailed during wartime. It happened under Lincoln, and again under Wilson. Tough times require tough decisions. If WWII was fought with the mindset of today's PC culture, we'd no longer be the USA.
John Cocchiola March 05, 2012 at 12:37 PM
You seem to shrug off the fact that American citizens were treated like enemy prisoners of war, just because of their heritage and race. I wonder if you'd feel differently if you lost your home and all of your belongings and found yourself behind barbed wire along with your extended family. As for loosing individual liberty in times of war, that may be true but it doesn't make it right. I looked up some of your other comments, and you seemed pretty upset about the cameras in Glen Cove, "galloping government encroaching into our lives with these cameras" was a term you used. You don't seem to like your photo taken (in a time of war), so why is it okay with you that more than a hundred thousand innocent people were herded off to live as prisoners? Abraham Lincoln put critical newspaper editors and reporters into prison with no trial, he shut down newspapers, he suspended Habeas Corpus, it's not an easy thing to be critical of Lincoln, but he was wrong too. The United States is the greatest country in world history, because it was founded on the concept of individual liberty, but we do lose our way from time to time. One of these days, it might be permanent.
vinny dinussi March 05, 2012 at 04:00 PM
The next time Glen Cove is threatened by carpet bombing like Dresden let me know. And if we get the alert that Al-Qaeda has landed at Prybil Beach, give me a buzz. I'll help install the damn cameras. I love people like you who try to sound so sanctimonious and smug citing civil rights, when the civil rights of many more Americans were believed to be threatened by a very real enemy and mixes cameras with detention camps isn't even worth debating it's premise is so flimsy. I didn't say it was right, I said it was nesessary. Despite your naive views, this country wasn't trying to kill Japanese Americans but was trying to protect the rest of this country. Afte the war, despite the barbarity of the Japanese army, this country forgave and apologized for what it had done. Folks like you like to dredge it up as some sort of seminal point in our history. It isn't. We never did it again. So if you want to pump yourself up with dubious indignation and outrage, knock yourself out. I stand by what I said.
Mike Bruschini March 05, 2012 at 05:57 PM
"Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me."
vinny dinussi March 05, 2012 at 06:08 PM
Tell me this, is NYC judging Muslims in NJ as individuals or are they PROFILING them as a group? Come on John, give it a rest. Profiling goes on today just as it did decades ago, only they had a different name for it. You go where the threat is but I'm sure you're against profiling because it flies in the face of individual rights. Can YOU spell hypocrisy?
John Cocchiola March 05, 2012 at 06:09 PM
Things like this don't "protect" the rest of us, they put us in danger. "Vinny Dinussi" sounds Italian. The government could have just as easily judged your family along with the Japanese, we were fighting Italy too. We could have easily deported Italian Americans during the big Mafia growth during the prohibition years. If you were Irish, or Jewish, or black or a member of any other group, we could find other reasons. Each of us is an individual; that's how we should be judged and treated. You don't want your photo taken, but you'd support the unlawful imprisonment of an entire group of American citizens based on their race. Vinny, that's the height of hypocrisy, and you don't even know it. "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." – Benjamin Franklin.
John Cocchiola March 05, 2012 at 06:27 PM
You're interpreting my position (badly) and arguing against your own distorted interpretation. I never mentioned profiling. I mentioned denying an entire group of American citizens their rights (how many of our first ten amendments did we throw in the garbage in 1942?), and putting them into concentration camps, or if you prefer, internment camps. I'll repeat myself, they lost all of their property. I don't think you'd be so understanding if it was your family, I'd bet on it. I could tell you wouldn't be very understanding. You don't even want your photo taken (the horror).
vinny dinussi March 06, 2012 at 04:11 PM
Unlike you, I'm not an exhibitionist, and you're right, my photo would be a horror, which is why unlike you, I wouldn't inflict that horror on these readers. As to my point, it's very clear to those not wrapped up in their own rhetoric. You agree with profiling. Profiling targets groups not individuals. It views people as groups, not as individuals. Profiling allows the government to take action against those in the profile group, such as Muslims. It spies on them in the name of security. It sets up undercover agents who infiltrate their places of worship. It taps their phones. It trashes their civil rights, yet you obviously don't have a problem with it. It allegedly protects this country from enemies within. Yet I apply this same reasoning to WWII to you get irrational and downright stupid. Then you do what all people do who are losing a debate...you switch gears to "what if" your family was involved. Sorry John, don't bait and switch with me. I play that game even better than this one.
John Cocchiola March 06, 2012 at 04:21 PM
Did I say I was in favor of profiling? I never mentioned it one way or the other. You did. Maybe you should brush up on that reading comprehension. I'm sure there are some remedial adult ed courses.
John Cocchiola March 06, 2012 at 05:44 PM
"We have to break your legs so we can give you a crutch." "We have to destroy your ability to earn a living so we can make you dependent on us". "We have to take away your rights in order to protect your rights". If there's a boot on your throat, does in really matter if it's a left boot or a right boot? Statism is statism.
vinny dinussi March 08, 2012 at 09:30 PM
I think you're getting wrapped up in a one way conversation with yourself, which usually ends in dumb and dumber dialogue, but hey, whatever floats your boat. So, the question. Do you believe in profiling? No disertations about how noble and morally superior you are, please. We all now know you're on the road to sainthood, so let's skip that part. Do you believe in profiling?
John Cocchiola March 09, 2012 at 05:37 AM
Hello again Vinny. You insist on throwing that red herring into the discussion. Do you see a moral equivalency between profiling and unlawful imprisonment? I don’t think they’re in the same ballpark. Profiling is a pretty broad term. A profile is just another word for a description. If policemen are going after a white supremacist gang, it doesn’t make much sense to scrutinize older black women, or if they’re going after a gang made up of blacks, it doesn’t make much sense to haul in a bunch of old white men. I think it makes sense to be very careful about who gets a visa to come into the country, and it makes sense to be a little more careful with people coming from mid Eastern countries. If your version of profiling means stopping a black kid because he’s driving through a predominantly white neighborhood, or questioning a white kid because he’s hanging around a black neighborhood, then no, I’m not for profiling. If profiling means rounding people up based on race, religion or ethnicity and treating them as anything other than individuals, then no, I’m not for that at all. I think it’s ridiculous that I’m even explaining this, because it’s all pretty obvious.
John Cocchiola March 09, 2012 at 05:52 AM
By the way "Vinny", I’m still one miracle short for my Sainthood. If you come clean and tell us your real name (I’d bet anything it’s not “Vinny Dinussi”, in fact I’d bet it’s not even close), that might just be the miracle I need. I know Honesty is very difficult for some people, so it really would be a miracle if you decided to stop hiding behind that phony name (I'll bet you're one of those people that's always calling out for more transparency). Ahhh, forget it. I know your type, you're not ever going to show yourself. Maybe that old card trick my Uncle taught me can pass for a miracle.
vinny dinussi March 12, 2012 at 03:39 PM
So now you're part of Goebbel's Gang, challenging the right to post anonymously. Why should my name bother you, or is it the fact that I've got you on the ropes, revealing the weak,leftist argument you try to serve up with phony outrage. That may be your problem. I've deigned to expose the flimsy intellectual core of the self-styled Blogger Laureate of Patchdom. I think you're beginning to take yourself too seriously, seriously John. Rounding people up and putting them in detention camps and profiling people, stem from the same concern and need; to protect the public at large from those who may look to destroy it. Profiling Muslim mosques and cafes in NJ by the NYCPD is necessary because in this country, at this time, Muslim extremists have proven to be hiding among the general Muslim population. You wouldn't look for a mafia don in a muslim mosque, but then again, maybe you would. Profiling serves a purpose provided it's not abused, provided it isn't codified. I don't expect great minds like yours to understand that the Constitution wasn't designed to be a suicide pact, allowing enemies perceived or real to take advantage of the loopholes in a document established to safeguard a free and open society. Thanks for all your insight. This back and forth is over. Diminishing returns.
John Cocchiola March 12, 2012 at 04:51 PM
Wow. A person that would be in favor of rounding up American Citizens based on their race is accusing me of being a "part of Goebell's Gang". I love how you're a civil Libertarian when they're your liberties. You don't seem to care at all about anyone else's. Bye.
Pam Robinson (Editor) March 12, 2012 at 06:29 PM
Can we stop hurling Nazi references at people we disagree with? Nothing here compares with one of the worst criminals in world history. "Vinny," for the record, Patch requires you to use your real name. We accept that people may want to use a partial name as long as the conversation remains civil. So please let's try having some courtesy for differing viewpoints.
John Cocchiola March 12, 2012 at 07:58 PM
It seems like it's only a matter of time before "Nazi" or "Fascist" gets thrown around. Name calling and absurd accusations are usually a sign that someone is having difficulty making a point.
Bob Shane March 12, 2012 at 11:30 PM
"Add to that, an ignorance about other cultures and Pearl Harbor and this was the absolute right reaction for the time." * In your view, would it be the absolute right reaction for *this* time? Do you make any distinction between what is right and what may be understandable within the historical context?

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