Stop Repeating History: Day of Remembrance
Warns Lessons from the Past May Be Ignored
• A “civil rights disaster” resulted from the failure of the U.S. government and courts during World War II to protect its citizens’ rights and freedom, and the country could be in danger to repeat its mistake today, warned Japanese American civil rights attorney Dale Minami during the 2018 Day of Remembrance event in Chicago.
• Day of Remembrance is an annual event to commemorate the signing of Executive Order 9066 (“EO9066”) by President Franklin Roosevelt in February 1942 to authorize mass incarceration of the Japanese Americans following Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. The justification for EO9066 was to protect the nation “against espionage and sabotage,” and the order was applied to “all persons of Japanese ancestry.” In the end, about 120,000 Japanese Americans were imprisoned throughout the war without a charge or a trial.
• This year, the event was held on February 18 at the Chicago History Museum with a theme, “Stop Repeating History.” It featured Minami as the keynote speaker, as well as civil rights activist Azam Nizamuddin, and Gary Johnson, President of the Chicago History Museum, who led the discussion following Minami’s speech entitled “Lessons Ignored from EO9066.” Ho Etsu Taiko concluded the program with a Japanese drum performance.
• The event opened with the reading of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Mayoral Proclamation, recognizing the injustice of EO9066 and hardship suffered by the Japanese Americans and proclaiming February 18, 2018 to be Day of Remembrance in Chicago.
• The Proclamation recognized that over 120,000 Japanese people on the West Coast were removed and incarcerated; during the war the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) and Naval Intelligence reported that the Japanese community posed no internal danger to the U.S. and no charge of wrongdoing was ever filed against any Japanese Americans; Japanese Americans “bravely volunteered” to serve in the 100th Infantry battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service during the war; and on August 10, 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 into law, finding that EO9066 was not justified by national security and the incarceration constituted grave injustice to Japanese Americans.
• The proclamation concluded by urging “all Chicagoans to stand together in acknowledging both the hardships and courage and the resolve of the Japanese American community during this turbulent time in our nation’s history.”
• Mona Noriega, Commissioner of the Chicago Commission on Human Relations, read the proclamation on behalf of the mayor. The keynote address by Dale Minami followed the posting of the colors by Chicago Nisei Post No. 1183 Color Guard and the reading of the Civilian Exclusion Order by Niles West High School student Samir Ozaki.
• In his speech, Minami described how newborn babies, young children and seriously ill people were sent to the internment camps hurriedly built at 10 remote locations across the country. As a result, they had lost not only their personal properties but their jobs, families, pets, and human dignity, he said.
• Minami, born in 1945, specializes in the area of personal injury and has been involved in civil rights litigations of Asian Americans and other minorities. As a law school student, he became aware of the case of Korematsu v. United States, a lawsuit filed by Fred Korematsu asking to overturn a conviction for refusal to obey exclusion orders.
• Korematsu, along with Gordon Hirabayashi and Minoru Yasui, is known for fighting to overturn, and eventually winning the overturn of, the wartime conviction of refusing to obey exclusion orders. He claimed it was unconstitutional and discriminatory to imprison people of certain ethnic background without due process of law. Although there was no evidence to show that there was any espionage or sabotage committed by Japanese Americans, in 1944, the Supreme Court ruled that the exclusion and detention of the Japanese Americans was constitutional.
• In 1982, researcher and activist Aiko Yoshinaga discovered the evidence that the U.S. government had made false claims in convicting Korematsu and the other two. It also showed that the government officials and attorneys had repeatedly made fabricated claims in order to justify the Japanese American internment. The newly discovered documents state that not all the Japanese Americans were disloyal to the U.S. and the mass incarceration of the entire race was not necessary, concluding that individual loyalty hearing was enough to distinguish the problematic individuals.
• Yoshinaga also unearthed an official report filed by
General John L. DeWitt, Head of the Western Defense Command, which stated
that they didn’t have “enough time to separate the loyal from disloyal”
Japanese Americans. This became the “bible” for the court in making its
• Thanks to the evidence unveiled by Yoshinaga, the lawsuits
by Korematsu and the others turned around 180 degrees. In 1983, 40 years
after the Supreme Court ruling, Minami and Korematsu took the U.S. government
to court again, asking for the original conviction to be overturned.
• In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which grants each of the 82,000 surviving internee reparations of about $20,000 in compensation.
• In summing up the history of the lawsuits, Minami said all American citizens must be aware that this had actually happened. All the branches of the government failed; the court abdicated its responsibility to uphold Constitution and due process, the president was free to issue EO9066, and the Congress passed laws that supported the president. And the result was a civil rights disaster.
• Minami stressed the history of the wartime internment is directly linked to today’s issue of protecting civil rights and U.S. Constitution, the issue critical to everyone living in this country. Many Americans don’t even know about the Japanese-American incarceration – but we all know what’s happening today under the Trump administration, which has declared a Muslim travel ban. Underlining such policy is a prejudice, “Muslims are unassimilable and not to be part of this country,” which echoes the sentiment, “A Jap is a Jap.”
• “People understand history, but they don’t understand the fact that human beings are real people,” said Minami. “What’s important is to understand real human suffering - that’s a matter of empathy.” He stressed the need to educate the public about the history of the Japanese Americans predicament through media and other educational institutions.
• Azam Nizamuddin joined in a conversation with Minami
following the keynote address.
• He said Muslims had become a target of national security concerns since the 9-11 terrorist attacks. In 2015, his 9-year-old daughter asked him: “Dad, do we have to leave this country?” because she felt threatened by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. That question made him re-engaged in human rights activism, Nizamuddin said.
• Minami pointed out that the court had fallen silent twice during the period of war, and the same can be true – politically – today, since we are still in war, a never-ending war against terrorism triggered by the 9/11 incident.
• Nizamuddin believes that there are two reasons why the Muslims are being targeted as a threat in this country. One is the importation of political populism into the U.S. and Europe; it moves the nation’s populace in an extreme direction by agitating them through fear or enthusiasm. Another is the growing idea of a pure, homogeneous society that tries to exclude the minorities. In this context, the force at work is the discriminatory sentiment against the Muslims rather than national security concerns, he said.
• Islam became a world religion 1400 years ago, and today there are 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide including India, Southeast Asia and Latin America as well as Middle East. It’s the second largest group of people in the world that shares the same religious belief, and when 1.5 billion people are following the same belief system, “absolutely there is value there,” Nizamuddin said.
• Historically, Muslims and Christians got along well. What we need today is to learn and understand history accurately, removed from political ideology and nationalism, he added.
• In closing, Minami said the U.S. has a history of racial discrimination that undercuts its democratic value, beginning with the exclusion of the Chinese immigrants throughout the 1800s, which was inherited by the Japanese immigrants during the early 1900s, alongside discrimination against the Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos and now Muslims.
• “The Japanese Americans have been educating the country so that more people would understand and support us,” Minami said. “Let’s all join together and contribute to further advancement of democracy.”
• The event was co-sponsored by the Chicago Japanese
American Council, Chicago Japanese American Historical Society, Japanese
American Citizens League – Chicago Chapter, Japanese American Service
Committee, and Japanese Mutual Aid Society of Chicago, in collaboration
with the Chicago History Museum.
From left: Azam Nizamuddin, Dale Minami, and Gary Johnson
Hoetsu Taiko's performance at 2018 Day of Remembrance