Sunday, December 6, 2015

Nothing new under the Sun

"We are not well served when, in response to a terrorist attack, we descend into fear and panic. We don’t make good decisions if it’s based on hysteria or an exaggeration of risks." President Barack Obama

"This is a moment where it is better to be safe than to be sorry, so we think the prudent, the responsible thing is to take a pause in this particular aspect of this refugee program in order to verify that terrorists are not looking to infiltrate the refugee program" Representative Paul Ryan

March 21,1942

The President sat restlessly on his couch in the White House.

The three months after Pearl Harbor had been an endless stream of bad news for Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The list of Japanese advances to date were not short:

Wake Island 
Dutch East Indies
Hong Kong
and on

The Japanese had even threatened the West Coast of the United States-or at least, Americans there felt threatened. With over a hundred thousand Japanese-Americans living in that area of the country, the population was greatly concerned and the President had tried to quench these fears by signing an executive order (#9066).

This order, back on February 19th, had mandated their detention.  However, there was not enough movement so legislation was deemed necessary to enable federal courts to enforce the provisions of Executive Order #9066. 

It was that legislation that concerned the President this cold March morning. The bill had been hastily approved by both the House and Senate and sat before him for his signature. Senator Robert Taft had asked to meet with him before he signed. The Senator from Ohio was a powerful Republican opponent and did not approve of the bill so Roosevelt invited him in to discuss it.

As Senator Taft entered the Oval Office he was immediately taken aback. There in the corner was  none other than the Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox. Perhaps no other person was a greater proponent of the bill.

“Well, Mr. President. It appears you want a little more than a quiet discussion this morning.” said Senator Taft as he stopped in mid-stride.

“Come now, Robert. I am sure we can discuss this important issue calmly.”

“I am not sure I can Mr. President. You are in the process of forcibly removing hundreds of thousands of law abiding people, tens of thousands of whom are citizens. All because of empty threats and mindless panic. Further---“

Secretary Knox had risen from his seat ostensibly to shake Taft’s hand but with furrowed brow he interrupted

“Empty? Mindless? Have you forgotton December 7th so quickly? No, not the attack in the Harbor, Mr. Taft, the attack by the so called ‘Japanese-Americans’ on the island of Niihau. There were three of these citizens of yours who assisted that downed Zero pilot with a change in their allegiance so quick as to shame Benedict Arnold. This alone is proof that no one can trust any Japanese - even if an American citizen - not to go over to Japan if it is expedient.”

The President’s arms were raised—

“Gentlemen, gentlemen, please calm yourselves down and take a seat. I must decide whether or not to make a law today and I need opinions given that are well-reasoned and not over heated.”

With eyes still glaring in anger, the men slowly sat down.

“Good. Now, Mr. Knox, I would like you to speak first and explain to me why I should sign this bill—slowly Frank.”

Calming himself, Secretary Knox began, "Sir, as you know, I visited the Hawaiian Islands shortly after that terrible attack and personally investigated the incident I mentioned a moment ago. It is very difficult to ascertain the extent of disloyalty, but some is clearly present. In fact, in the report created by Mr. Munson after his extensive investigation of the sympathies and loyalties of Japanese Americans living in California and the West Coast of the United States, he noted the following:

"There are still Japanese in the United States who will tie dynamite around their waist and make a human bomb out of themselves…There will undoubtedly be some sabotage financed by Japan and executed largely by imported agents... In each Naval District there are about 250 to 300 suspects under surveillance."

Also, as you know Mr. President, our navel fleet was decimated at Pearl Harbor and we are thus temporarily weak. While the Japanese should not be able to mount a sustained invasion, they have shown themselves more than capable of striking a severe blow. We will win this war, sir, but we must not allow the enemy any foothold - even any semblance of a foothold. I therefore respectfully ask you to do your utmost as Commander-in-Chief  and sign this bill into law.”

“Thank you for your thoughts, Frank. Now, Robert, why are these good reasons incorrect?”

“Mr. President, I want to say I do appreciate you giving me the opportunity to speak to you today. I feel very strongly about this issue."

"I believe the Japanese-Americans living in our country pose no threat and are actually a source of strength. They love this country and many are willing to die for it. Secretary Knox quoted a bit from the Munson Report but you read the report sir. Let me remind you of a passage he omitted:

"There are still Japanese in the United States who will tie dynamite around their waist and make a human bomb out of themselves. We grant this, but today they are few."

Mr. Hoover and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are well aware of these few and track them as Mr. Taft himself mentioned. To incarcerate what will be well over 100,000 people due to a suspicious few individuals is beyond excessive. There will probably be at least half who will be citizens. That represents about 50,000 to 75,000 American citizens who will be denied their due process rights Mr. President. As a result, they will lose their jobs, businesses, and perhaps most of all their dignity. The Supreme Court may very well overturn this law as well since it is clearly unconstitutional.”

President Roosevelt had tried to listen without interruption but could contain the view he favored no longer.

“They might overturn, but I think not.” he said. “the justices are Americans too and recognize the necessities of war, Robert."

Undaunted, Senator Taft shot back, “Must we surrender our freedoms in order to maintain them?”

“War is a terrible, terrible thing. You know your history Mr. Taft. During that great conflict between the states, my predecessor Lincoln issued numerous executive orders and military regulations without even the initial sanction of Congress.

He declared martial law far from combat zones, seized property, suppressed newspapers, and suspended habeas corpus all because of one thing - he was determined to preserve our country. Presidents must make difficult decisions in grave moments.”

Leaning against the table before the President he took one last shot.

“We cannot succumb to irrational fear, sir. We cannot violate our Constitution simply because some citizens have the face of the enemy. This law would be a genuine travesty and future generations will rise and condemn our actions this day.”

Arching his back and leaning forward the President continued,“You mention fear, Mr. Taft. I seem to recall saying something or another about that in my first inaugural address. We have nothing to fear except fear itself I believe it was. 

If there is one thing I know it is that fear, whether rational or not, paralyzes.  Our country is currently swept with this emotion and no place more so than the beautiful cities on our West Coast. Do you not think the Japanese know this truth?”

Leaning forward with his cheeks beginning to glow red he continued, “Why, a mere five minutes after I began my speech two weeks back, a Japanese submarine rose from the depths and proceeded to fire upon our land sir! Not an island far into the Pacific ocean, but American soil! 

The following two days the fair city of Los Angeles was in a virtual panic over a fictitious second attack! You heard of the newspaper reports."

Slumping back down into his seat, the Senator weakly mumbled,

“There was virtually no damage, Mr. President. It was a timid effort with nothing accomplished.”

“Nothing, you say? That was not an effort at diminishing our military capability but an effort at diminishing our morale and a good one at that. The people cannot fight, Senator, they cannot win if filled with fear. We must give them reason to hope and will do so boldly with a surprise attack of our own within a few short weeks time. In the mean time, we must also remove all causes of anxiety and this includes the fear of attack at home."

The President stared down at the bill before him.

“May future generations forgive me and this country for the loss it will create, but I must do all in my power to ensure victory.”

“I must sign this bill, Robert."

President Roosevelt leaned forward and signed Public Law 503.

Subsequently, approximately 115,000 Japanese-Americans would be interned.

The Supreme Court would uphold the constitutionality of Executive Order #9066 in Korematsu v United States.

The Japanese would surrender to the United States.

President Ronald Reagan would sign into law the Civil Liberties Act, which apologized for the internment on behalf of the U.S. government and authorized a payment of $20,000 to each individual camp survivor. 

"Well of course Korematsu was wrong... but you are kidding yourself if you think the same thing will not happen again... That's what was going on — the panic about the war and the invasion of the Pacific.” Justice Antonin Scalia

Inter arma enim silent leges-"In times of war, the law falls silent." Cicero

"What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which is is said, 'See, this is new'? It has been already in the ages before us." Ecclesiastes 1:9-10


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