It’s D-Day- a day when we remember the men who stormed the beaches at Normandy to fight for truth, justice, and the American way. Well, not quite the American way. If they’d been fighting for the American way, they would have sided with the Axis powers and world history would remember our nation a lot differently. You see, WWII era America has some skeletons in its closet- namely, Executive Order 9066. What’s Executive Order 9066? No, it’s not one of Trump’s executive orders he jammed through at the last minute to make it look like he’d accomplished more in his first 100 days than he actually had. For one thing, 9066 actually accomplished something: it authorized the sending of 120,000 Japanese American men, women and children to concentration camps within the U.S. during WWII. Trump wishes he could be that effective- no, really, he does. He’s currently over on Twitter screaming about his travel ban and how it’s necessary to keep Americans safe- which, strangely enough, is the same reasoning FDR used when he approved of 9066.
Executive Order 9066 allowed for the declaration of certain areas as military zones by the Secretary of War, meaning that any residents who were deemed a threat to the safety of the US could be detained until the Secretary of War saw fit. At the time of its inception, E.O. 9066 included Italian Americans, German Americans, and Japanese Americans- but the Japanese were the ones subjected to the worst atrocities of being a prisoner of war in their own country. While German and Italian Americans were detained, the rates at which they were held were far less than that of Japanese Americans (11,000 for the Germans and 3,000 for the Italians). The Japanese Americans by and large got the short end of the discrimination stick.
Now, the argument presented in favor of imprisoning several thousand Japanese Americans was based on the invasion of Pearl Harbor and the possibility of collusion with Japan, and if the rounding up of the Hawaiian Japanese Americans had been as thorough as that of the West Coast, perhaps this reasoning could be understandable. However, despite the Japanese making up more than 40% of the Hawaiian population, just a few thousand were actually detained there. Furthermore, a month before the attack, FDR had commissioned a secret study to determine whether or not Japanese Americans posed a threat to the U.S.- and they did not. But, similar to how Muslim Americans who are fully U.S. citizens, born and raised here, are currently experiencing fear and hatred at the hands of their fellow citizens, Americans looked around, picked the odd group out, and decided that they didn’t deserve the same freedoms as the rest of us, because apparently, no matter how much of a citizen you are, it doesn’t count if you don’t look like the people in your new country. And so, in a combined total of an hour and a half between both House and Senate (both approved unanimously), 9066 was passed, thereby authorizing the thing we were supposedly at war fighting against in Europe.
Now, Little Orphan Annie’s favorite president approved of this mess, but it was actually enforced by one Karl Bendesten, who authored a little gem called Public Law 503. Public Law 503 allowed the enforcement of E.O. 9066 by making noncompliance a jailable offense with a $5,000 fine. The Japanese Americans had already lost their businesses and banks, but now, they lost their homes and their families. They were forced to spend freezing cold winters and burning hot summers in shacks, in areas surrounded by barbed wire. And when they tried to step up and demand that their rights as citizens be acknowledged, they were shot down- in one particular case, Korematsu v US, the Supreme Court ruled that 9066 was, in fact, lawful, because the circumstances were that of “emergency and peril.”
Executive Order 9066 was suspended in 1944, and the camps were shut down in 1946. The people who’d been interned, over two-thirds of whom were U.S. citizens, had lost their homes, jobs, property and savings. People born in Japan could not get U.S. citizenship after 9066 until 1952. In 1980, forty years afterwards, a bipartisan federal commission known as the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians was founded to look into good old 9066- and found that it was completely unjustified, determining that the decision to imprison American citizens was based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of personal leadership.” Sound familiar? And the best part of this whole shitshow? None of the people who’d been abused at the hands of their own government were ever found guilty of either sabotage or espionage.
What can be learned from this? How about we start by looking at the world today? We find ourselves again in a situation where we are in armed conflict with countries that Americans have come from, but maybe this time, we can remember that being from a different country does not automatically mean someone wants the destruction of American ideals. If anything, coming to America means that they want these ideals as much as someone who is born in America does, if not more. Families don’t pack up and leave everything they know to destroy their new home; and if you think that they would, you need to look deep inside yourself, at your own heart, and at what kind of person you actually are. None of the people incarcerated by Executive Order 9066 were guilty of the crimes they were accused of; how many more innocents have to suffer because you’re scared of people who don’t look like you?