Friday, April 01, 2005

In Memoriam, Fred Korematsu

"If you have the feeling that something is wrong, don't be afraid to speak up." - Fred Korematsu It was reported, yesterday, that Fred Korematsu, ground-breaking pioneer of Japanese American rights post-WWII internment, has passed away. Fred Korematsu was a nisei, born in the 1920's in Oakland, California. Though he was racially Japanese, he considered himself entirely American, an ordinary everyman. Unfortunately, he grew up during a time when it wasn't American to look Japanese. With the bombing of Pearl Harbour on December 7, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued the now infamous Executive Order #9066, which called for a greater protection of American against threats of foreign espionage, and came to be the basis for the rounding-up and forcible relocation of thousands of Japanese and Japanese American citizens. (For more information about Japanese American internment, please keep posted to this blog as the topic will come up in the Asian American Heritage Month festivities. Alternatively, please see my response to Michelle Malkin's In Defense of Internment) During this time, Fred Korematsu was in his mid-twenties. Twice, he had attempted to enlist in the U.S. Army and join the war effort, and was twice denied because of medical reasons. He had no criminal record, and had never broken a single law. When the order came for him to relocate with the rest of the Japanese Americans first to centralized assembly centres (which were little more than abandoned carnival grounds or race tracks with rows of horse stalls filled to capacity) and later to brutal internment camps like Mazanar, Fred Korematsu refused. Though his rationale may not have been the most noble (he didn't want to be separated from his Caucasian girlfriend), Korematsu nonetheless refused to comply with the government's orders. Korematsu masqueraded as a Chinese man and took a job in a trailer park to avoid internment, until he was discovered and tried in a federal district court (Korematsu vs. United States 1944). He was found guilty of consciously violating the Civilian Exclusion Order, and as he tried to repeatedly appeal the decision, contending that he was fully American and posed no threat to the American war efforts, he was nonetheless detained, first in Tanforan Race Track assembly centre (where the horse stalls that detainees had to sleep in smelled like manure and washing facilities were few and far between), then in Topaz, an internment camp in Utah. After detainees were finally released, after the end of WWII, Korematsu began a new legal battle to protest the injustice of Japanese American internment, citing racial prejudice rather than just cause for detainment. For more than forty years, the government continued to insist that both the Japanese and Japanese American citizens that were forcibly rounded up and relocated posed a serious threat to national security. It was not until 1984 that Fred Korematsu received vindication. Korematsu brought a second case against the United States to try and clear his name of the 1944 conviction of disobeying the order to relocate. At long last, the courts agreed that the government could not provide sufficient evidence that internees like Korematsu had posed sufficient threat, and Korematsu's record was cleared. Five years after that, perhaps in light of the court's rulings on Korematsu's case, the U.S. government issued a formal apology to Japanese American internees and awarded reparations to survivors of the camps in the sum of $20,000 each for lost property and other damages. In 1998, President Bill Clinton awarded Korematsu with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honour that can be bestowed upon a civilian. Without Mr. Korematsu's dedicated struggle against the U.S. government, the injustice of the Japanese American internment may have had a harder time coming to light. And yet, even with what Korematsu accomplished during his life in the name of speaking out against injustice, it is shocking to find that most mainstream news outlets have not picked up on his death. The only mainstream article I could find was this brief obituary by AP Press, that hasn't been picked up by a majority of syndiated news channels. Sources


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