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Trump And The 75th Anniversary Of The Japanese Internment

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Today marks the 75th anniversary of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s signing of the executive order that authorized the internment of 120,000 men, women…
Today marks the 75th anniversary of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s signing of the executive order that authorized the internment of 120,000 men, women, and children of Japanese descent during World War II. As we contemplate the actions of the Trump administration in matters pertaining to national security, it is imperative that we remember and reflect upon this lesson from the past.
In the immediate aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, there was no clamor for the mass internment of persons of Japanese descent. To the contrary, shortly after Pearl Harbor, Attorney General Francis Biddle assured the nation that there would be “no indiscriminate, large-scale raids” on such individuals, and Congressman John M. Coffee expressed his “fervent hope” that “residents of the United States of Japanese extraction will not be made the victim of pogroms directed by self-proclaimed patriots.”
In the weeks that followed, however, a demand for the removal of all persons of Japanese ancestry—citizens and non-citizens alike — exploded along the West Coast. The motivations for this sudden outburst of anxiety were many and complex. In part, this demand was fed by panic-driven fears of a possible Japanese invasion of the mainland. Conspiracy theories abounded, and neither government nor military officials did anything to allay these anxieties.
General John L. DeWitt, the top Army commander on the West Coast, reported as true a fabricated report of an imminent uprising of 20,000 Japanese Americans in San Francisco. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover publicly dismissed this hysteria as unwarranted, and Attorney General Biddle repeatedly reiterated that no person would be detained “on the score of nationality alone.”
Public agitation for a mass evacuation of all persons of Japanese ancestry was inflamed, however, by a California legislative manifesto that purported to connect the ethnic Japanese with an alleged fifth column, asserting that even ethnic Japanese born in this country are “totally unassimilable” and insisting that every American of Japanese ancestry had primary allegiance “to his Emperor and to Japan.”
On January 4, 1942, newspaper columnist Damon Runyon falsely reported that a radio transmitter had been discovered in a rooming house that catered to Japanese residents. Who could “doubt,” Runyon asked, the “continued existence of enemy agents” among the Japanese population? On January 14, Republican Congressman Leland M. Ford demanded that “all Japanese, whether citizens or not, be placed in inland concentration camps.”
Such demands were further ignited by the Report of the Commission on Pearl Harbor, which was released on January 25, 1942. Hastily researched and written, this report falsely asserted that persons of Japanese ancestry had engaged in espionage and facilitated Japan’s attack on the United States. Although these assertions were unfounded, the report played a key role in turning Americans against Americans. Shortly after the report was released, Henry McLemore wrote a column in the San Fransisco Examiner calling for “the immediate removal of every Japanese on the West Coast.” He added: “Personally, I hate the Japanese. And that goes for all of them.”
On February 4, California Governor Culbert Olson declared in a radio address that it was “much easier” to determine the loyalty of Italian and German aliens than of Japanese Americans, and that “all Japanese people, I believe, will recognize this fact.

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