In 1941, the United State faced its greatest challenge to that date: an unprovoked attack on American soil. As history reminds us, the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor led to America’s entrance into World War II. However, for thousands of American citizens, the Pearl Harbor incident would have a far more profound influence on their lives. In response to the attack, President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942. The order, in short, granted the Secretary of War permission to “relocate” individuals feared as a threat to national security.
By the end of the war, this single document had indirectly resulted in the placement of over 110,000 Japanese Americans into “relocation” camps. Although the citizens were eventually released, debate has raged over the years about the government’s actions towards these American citizens. As accusations of racial prejudice surfaced, the government could do little but promise that such an incident would never happen again. History, after all, is supposed to teach us to learn from our mistakes. Yet what we also know about history is its inclination to repeat itself.
So, in our post-911 country (as our country faces another great challenge), we must ask ourselves this question: Is history repeating itself with our government and its treatment of Arab Americans? By all indications, the answer is yes. Let us first consider the similar origins of our government’s actions then and now. In both cases, the actions were immediately preceded by an attack on native soil. This much is obvious. But if we look a little deeper, these attacks created far more than an assault on national security. They also waged war on personal security.
Despite whether America stood by the isolationiststance it took prior to World War II or whether it has immersed itself in the interventionist role of today, the one constant American citizens could count on was their safety. America was supposed to be the safest place to live in the world. When Pearl Harbor and 9/11 shook the foundation of that belief, they also shook the foundation of the American public. As a country and as individuals, the only way we could gain back some of that security was to give the enemy a face and a punishment.
Enter Factor X: prejudice. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Japanese faced a growing tide of resentment among the American public. Many had arrived as immigrant railroad workers, but thanks to some sensationalistic journalism they had also “become” a morally bankrupt group of intruders who refused to assimilate into American culture. To further enrage some, Japan was beginning to emerge as a real threat to America’s strong status in the global economy. The resulting anti-Japanese backlash would grow to include a policy of segregation in schools and a ban against American citizenship for Japanese workers (Casey, 2005).
By the time World War II arrived, Pearl Harbor may have just represented a spark to the already-present powder keg. Now, do any of these accusations against the Japanese sound familiar? Refusal to “blend in,” questionable motives for desiring citizenship, questionable morality…. such accusations have also plagued Arab immigrants over the past few decades. One survey even suggested that up to twenty-five percent of Americans hold anti-Arab (and more specifically anti-Muslim) views (Nappi, 2004). Additionally, sixty percent of Americans agree that profiling (focusing on suspects based on common characteristics such as race) is a necessity in the war on terrorism (Willette, 2003).
Could the American government’s post-911 actions have sparked from a similar “powder keg”? The parallels in government reaction to Pearl Harbor and 9/11 are striking. Presidents Roosevelt and Bush defended their actions by invoking national security. In his Executive Order, Roosevelt opened the document with “The successful prosecution of the war requires every possible protection against espionage and against sabotage to national defense material…. ” (“Executive Order 9066,” 2005). Upon signing the PATRIOT Act, President Bush expressed a similar sentiment: “Today, we take an essential step in defeating terrorism while protecting the
constitutional rights of all Americans…. ” (“Executive Order 9066,” 2005). The Roosevelt administration’s rationale rested on the belief that many Japanese Americans (particularly first -generation, or issei, Japanese) still held a strong loyalty to their homeland. In the wake of Pearl Harbor, this belief led the Attorney General and the FBI to classify 737 Japanese as “dangerous enemy aliens” (Takagi, 2005) Attorney General of California Earl Warren even classified Japanese in California as an “Achilles heel of the entire civilian defense effort” (Casey, 2005).
According to the guidelines set forth by Executive Order 9066, such “dangers” were to be “excluded” from certain “prohibited and restricted areas” (“Executive Order 9066,” 2005). For the Bush administration, rationale for racial profiling rests on the statistics: the majority of terrorists are from Arab countries and do hold religious views on the extreme side of Islam. The administration also defends its policies by pointing to its successes. Profiling and surveillance resulted in the arrested of potential 9/11 hijacker Zacarias Moussaoui a month preceding the terrorist attacks (Reddick, 2004).
However, the fact remains that just as with the Japanese Americans, no Arab American currently being held in America’s detention facilities has ever been convicted of “terrorism” or “espionage” (Nappi, 2004). The Roosevelt and the Bush administration also both enacted their policies with controversial legislation: Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 and Bush’s PATRIOT Act. Just like the Executive Order, Bush’s PATRIOT Act laid the groundwork for future detention of “suspects. ” On October 26, 2001, the PATRIOT Act (an amendment of fifteen existing laws) was signed into law.
Among the changes implemented by the Patriot Act are a significant lowering of standards for foreign intelligence surveillance. In other words, government officials can monitor any organization or individual that they feel pose a threat to national security. And who are most often the targets of these surveillance stings?… Arab Americans. In addition to increased surveillance, questionable enactment of improvised immigration policies have been called into question. Shortly after the Patriot Act was signed into law, Attorney General John Ashcroft directed this comment toward those foreigners in America on visas: “If you overstay
your visas even by one day, we will arrest you. If you violate a local law—we will hope that you will, and work to make sure that you are put in jail and be kept in custody as long as possible. ” Once again, who was most singled out for these harsh words? Further, the Seven-Day Rule of the Patriot Act gives officials the authority to hold a detainee for seven days without counsel. Finally, immigrants who are deemed a threat (the “threat” in question is never clearly specified) are subject to immediate deportation with no hope for an appeal (Willette, 2003). If any of these
policies sound familiar, they should…. particularly the policies concerning “detention. ” For Japanese Americans, names such as Topaz still haunt many. For current “detainees,” Guantanomo Bay is the reality. Detention camps, relocation camps, questioning facilities…. whatever name they go by, these are the places which the suspected dangers to national security call home. In the midst of World War II, while the government aided in freeing millions from Hitler’s concentration camps, it was also ushering thousands of Japanese Americans into their own “internment camps” (Erickson, 2005).
The prelude to the camps was a series of measures which permitted surveillance and search warrant-free raids on suspected persons and higher “alien identification” standards…. sound familiar? By late1942, the government had granted permission to the War Relocation Authority to “relocate” any “suspect individuals” from “restricted areas. ” While some Germans and Italians were also targeted, the massive percentage of these individuals were Japanese Americans. Some were sent to agricultural centers to fill labor shortages, while the remainder had as little as two days to gather their belongings, leavetheir homes, employers, and communities behind, and “move”into the relocation camps peppered across the country (Casey, 2005). These camps coisted of barracks containing such comforts as army cots, sand-laden floors, little privacy, one light, and a “fence” of barbed wire with “guard dog” army soldiers. “We were citizens, but we were isolated,”characterized one detainee (Erickson, 2005). Sixty-plus years later, we now face a similar situation with the detainees of Guantanamo Bay, a “detainment camp” for terror suspects hailing mainly from Afghanistan and Iraq.
The camp is located in Cuba, so any action that takes place within its walls is not subject to a strict set of standards (which may have been the intention in choosing this location). While Guantanamo Bay is mainly for military combatants, similar facilities have arisen for suspected American citizens. Countless accusations from prisoners and human rights organizations have claimed that such camps are in direct violation of the human rights policies set forth by the Geneva Convention (just as Quakers and ACLU members protested the Japanese internment camps). News reports have comprehensively documented the tales of alleged prisoner abuse in
such facilities (Guantanomo Bay, 2006). The inhabitants of these centers can be held in custody indefinitely (and, as some claim, tortured), even if they have no proven relation to ongoing terrorist activities (violation of the Eight Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment). In essence, the due process guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment becomes a non-issue (Willette, 2003).
“The broad historical causes which shaped these decisions were race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership. A grave injustice was done to American citizens and resident aliens of Japanese ancestry. ” (1988 excerpt from formal federal apology for Executive Order 9066—Bush, Sr. administration) (Willette, 2003) With these words and the “detention facilities” as a whole in mind, we must ask the question: is history destined to repeat itself again? The man who challenged the Japanese internment camps all the way to the Supreme Court, Fred T. Korematsu, believes so. The former internment camp resident recently composed the following statement to the highest court in the land: “to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, this court should make clear that the
United States respects fundamental constitutional and human rights — even in time of war” (Turley, 2003). Korematsu sees uncomfortable parallels. He, more than anyone, should know the signs . References Casey, D. (2005). Asian heritage is woven into national history. Spokesman Magazine (June), 23-29. Erickson, T. (2005). Ex-internees remember Topaz. Deseret News (June 12), 8-9. Executive Order 9066. (2005). Retrieved February 18, 2006, from Japanese American Internment Curriculum: http://bss. sfsu. edu/internment/executiorder9066. html Guantanomo Bay. (2006). Retrieved February 18, 2006, from Wikipedia:
http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Executive_Order_9066 Nappi, R. (2004). Using the past to see the present. The Spokesman Review (Dec. 8), 11. Reddick, S. R. (2004). Point: the case for profiling. International Social Science Review (Fall-Winter), 7-8. Takagi, M. (2005). Japanese American internment camps. St. James Encyclopedia of Pop Culture. Turley, J. (2003). Guantanomo Bay will return to haunt U. S. Deseret News (Nov. 23), 4. Willette, R. (2003). Decades of discrimination: national crisis has often ushered in massive suspensions of civil rights. Colorlines Magazine (Fall), 7-14.