]]]]]]]]]] 1941 INTERNMENT OF JAPANESE US CITIZENS [[[[[[[[[ (AtE June 1983) [Note, May 88: Last month Congress voted to compensate (by a paltry $20,000 each) the still living 60,000 Japanese-American victims for their loss of liberty and property without trial suffered at the hands of a racist-collectivist federal government. The letter below, now five years old, is still, I think, interesting because of the prin- ciples involved.] To my great surprise, I received quite a batch of letters on a point that I thought obvious and, at any rate, quite incidental to the main topic (a Supreme Court decision on nuclear wastes). I said: "History shows the Supreme Court supremely flexible. It approved of slavery, of racism, of the unlawful mass imprisonment of US citi- zens of Japanese origin, of protecting the guilt at the expense of their victims, and a hundred other mockeries of justice." The example of the Japanese did not go over well. Among the backers of Japanese claims was the Communist Party of the USA. To the contrary, Allan Stang had written an article justifying the internment in two issues of AMERICAN OPINION, and on June 23 a WALL STREET JOURNAL did so, too; am I siding with the CP USA? Principle Number One: An issue should be judged on its merits, not by the company it keeps on either side. And the issue here is not whether the internment camps were concentration camps (no); or whether Japanese Americans were safer there than their white countrymen fighting in the jungles (yes); or whether they lost material possessions (yes); or whether they deserve apology (yes) and compensation (I don't know); or whether it was necessary for security reasons (with hindsight, no); or whether there was time for due process (for the Supreme Court, oodles). The one issue for which I took the Japanese into the list was justice: Did the Supreme Court violate the Constitution or did it, as in the other quoted cases, cater to public prejudice? I maintain that it catered to prejudice and inexcusably trampled on the Constitution (due process, equality) by denying a group of US citizens recourse when the law was applied not to individuals, but to a group of citizens with nothing in common but ancestry and race -- the principle, though of course not the ferocity, with which the Germans then treated their Jews. Consider a close counter-example. When in June 1940, a defense- less Britain faced an imminent German invasion -- a far more preca- rious situation than in the US after Pearl Harbor -- the British, too, interned all holders of German passports. After a few weeks (and they had other worries in those days), they realized that most of the internees were Jewish refugees from the Nazis, while genuine (Sudeten- German) Nazis with Czechoslovak passports were running around free. They then judged the internees as security risks case by case, keeping some in the camps, and freeing the great majority. The British then also acted with haste, and also justifiably so. But there are two fundamental differences. First, ineptly or not, they did it to aliens, not to a racial class of their own citizens. But more important, they administered INDIVIDUAL justice within a few weeks of the emergency (even while their cities were being laid in ruins by the German bombers). To the contrary, the Supreme Court Justices, sitting safe in Washington, with the hindsight of many months after the idea of a Japanese invasion had lost all plausibi- lity, decided in cold blood to cater to public passions and to deny justice to a group of US citizens who were imprisoned COLLECTIVELY as a class defined by nothing but a common ancestry. If that is not violating the Constitution, what is? * * * [Addendum, May 1988: I am happy to see that "The Week" column in the National Review (5/27/88) shares my point of view, also noting that "Conservatives should not mistake, as some have, [this Congressional act] for just another move in the game of guilt-trip national politics," and pointing out that the chief enforcer of the outrage was the great "liberal" Earl Warren.
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