|Just imagine a menace like this loose on your streets.1|
On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed United States Executive Order 9066, allowing the government to remove more than 100,000 U.S. residents of Japanese ancestry—the majority of them American citizens—from their homes and place them in internment camps. Many were given only days to find caretakers or storage for the possessions they were not permitted to take with them; many had to sell their homes, farms, or businesses, “usually at great financial loss.”2
Fortunately for America’s soul and conscience, this policy of infringing on the rights of its own citizens was the result of clearheaded strategic thinking and military necessity. It was designed to put an end to the plague of clandestine fifth-column terrorist attacks that had never happened, perpetrated by tens of thousands of citizens who had done nothing wrong, who were never put on trial because they had never been charged, and never been charged because no crime had been committed in the first place—and had nothing to do with bigotry, widespread stereotyping, ignorance, or hatred.
Nothing at all.
“I am for the immediate removal of every Japanese on the West Coast to a point deep in the interior. Let ’em be pinched, hurt, hungry, and dead up against it. Let us have no patience with anyone whose veins carry his blood. Personally, I hate the Japanese and that goes for all of them.”
— Henry McLemore, Sacramento Union, Jan. 30, 19422
“A viper is a viper, wherever the egg is hatched—so a Japanese-American, born of Japanese parents, grows up Japanese, not an American.”
—Los Angeles Times, 19424
“Their racial characteristics are such that we cannot understand or trust even citizen Japanese.”
— Henry L. Stinson, Secretary of War, l9425
“The very fact that no sabotage has taken place to date is a disturbing and confirming indication that such action will be taken.”
—Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt, landing a two-for-one shot on both
Constitutional rights and common sense, February 19426
“[T]he hand that held the dagger has struck it into the back of its neighbor.”
—Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 19407
As the date of the above quotation clearly indicates, Roosevelt was talking about something else entirely—the Italian invasion of France in June 1940—but it struck us as a particularly apt statement. It’s unknown whether Roosevelt or millions of panicked or bigoted Americans knew that in February 1942, theirs were the hands that held the dagger.
1. WRA photograph by Carl Iwasaki.
2. “Japanese American internment,” Wikipedia article, accessed 19 February 2012, right before breakfast.