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State of California to Apologize for Treatment of JAs During WWII

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Executive Order 9066 led to the forced removal of all Japanese Americans from the West Coast.

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance) introduces a resolution every year commemorating the signing of Executive Order 9066 on Feb. 19, 1942. But this year’s resolution goes a major step further.

“Approaching the 70th anniversary of EO 9066, I wanted to continue to make sure that all Americans have learned the lessons of the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II,” Muratsuchi said. “But this year [I want] the California Legislature to issue a bipartisan apology which I want for California to show the rest of the nation how we are leading by example, that while President Trump is inflaming the fires of anti-immigrant sentiment, putting immigrant children and families in cages, the California Legislature is adopting a bipartisan apology for putting Japanese Americans behind barbed wire.”

Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi

Although EO 9066 was a federal action, California was among the state, county and city governments that expressed full-fledged support for the exclusion of Japanese Americans from the West Coast, and in some cases for barring their return even after the war ended. Many of these governments also enacted anti-Japanese legislation long before the war, including California’s Alien Land Law of 1913, which prohibited Issei from owning land.

Muratsuchi pointed out that state legislators passed so many anti-Japanese bills that even Gen. John DeWitt of the Western Defense Command, one of the architects of the mass exclusion, urged them to hold back for fear of giving Japan further reason to attack California.

“I introduced the resolution with my joint authors being Speaker of the Assembly Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) and Republican Minority Leader Marie Waldron (R-Escondido),” Muratsuchi said. “It passed out of the Assembly Judiciary Committee with unanimous bipartisan support … In order to bring this up as part of our Day of Remembrance activities at the State Capitol, I asked Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) to introduce the mirror resolution on the Senate side so that we could both do it on Feb. 20, which is the closest [session]to the Day of Remembrance.”

HR 77’s co-authors are Assemblymembers Ed Chau (D-Monterey Park), David Chiu (D-San Francisco), Todd Gloria (D-San Diego), and Phil Ting (D-San Francisco).

Muratsuchi was unable to attend the DOR program in Little Tokyo on Feb. 15, but hopes to announce the passage of the resolution at the DOR program at the Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute on Feb. 22.

“The apology section of the resolution is very clear and straightforward,” Muratsuchi said. “I want this resolution to not only represent the official policy of the State Assembly for its past actions, including the California Alien Land Law … I wanted to highlight how this is part of how California led the anti-Japanese movement, which ultimately led to EO 9066 … The actions of the Legislature need to be understood as a reflection of the larger historical anti-Japanese movement, which really started with the anti-Chinese movement in the late 1800s.”

He added, “California is proud to take the lead in social movements that have spread across the country. This was an example of how California took the lead in the worst of ways by spearheading the anti-Japanese movement … It’s well documented that ‘yellow peril’ sentiments were [promoted in]editorials of the leading newspapers at the time, including The L.A. Times and The San Francisco Chronicle.”

Muratsuchi also sees “striking parallels” to the “fear of the other” from those days in today’s anti-Asian sentiment being expressed in reaction to the coronavirus outbreak in China, with Asians being attacked in public and Asian-owned businesses being shunned.

The text of the resolution:

“Whereas, the California Legislature passed the California Alien Land Law of 1913 followed by a more stringent 1920 law that prohibited people of Japanese ancestry and from other parts of Asia from purchasing agricultural land, and in 1945, the Legislature approved a $200,000 grant to the Attorney General’s Office to investigate and prosecute land law cases against Japanese Americans, many of whom were incarcerated and unable to defend themselves …

“On Feb. 19, 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order No. 9066 (EO 9066), under which more than 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry were incarcerated in 10 concentration camps scattered throughout western states and the State of Arkansas …

“Then Gov. Culbert Olson and members of the Assembly met with U.S. Army Gen. John L. DeWitt, the head of the Western Defense Command, in the weeks after the Empire of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor …

“DeWitt told the governor and the legislators that the U.S. Army was not prepared to defend California, at that time, against a Japanese invasion if the Empire of Japan shifted its Navy from the Philippines to the West Coast of the U.S. …

“DeWitt also alleged that, while the majority of people of Japanese ancestry living in California were loyal to the U.S., many were spies for the Empire of Japan. Gen. DeWitt said that ‘the Japanese in this country have more [arms and ammunition]in their possession than our own armed forces.’ Gen. DeWitt informed the governor and the legislators, before President Roosevelt signed EO 9066, of the plan to intern all people of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast …

“The Assembly had previously approved legislation against Japanese Americans and, shortly after Pearl Harbor, had approved Senate Concurrent Resolution 15 (1941), questioning the loyalty of Japanese Americans and those holding dual citizenship. Senate Concurrent Resolution 15 requested that the State Personnel Board dismiss state employees who ‘may be proved to be disloyal to the United States of America in this present war’ …

“The State Personnel Board fired Mitsuye Endo from the Department of Motor Vehicles and other Japanese Americans working for the state government by the spring of 1942. Mitsuye Endo filed suit against the State of California and the Supreme Court of the U.S. unanimously ordered her release from the concentration camp in December 1944, after the government conceded her loyalty to the U.S. …

“DeWitt urged state legislators to stop any further anti-Japanese bills, in order to prevent ‘stirring up’ the Japanese in California or giving the Empire of Japan a reason to protect its nationals and invade before the U.S. Army was prepared to defend California …

“DeWitt’s briefing created fear of an immediate invasion by the Empire of Japan and fear of Japanese Americans. The Assembly members returned to the Legislature in early 1942 to defeat anti-Japanese legislation and eliminate the State Guard created by Gov. Olson …

“During the next legislative session in 1943, the Assembly approved Senate Joint Resolution 3, on a 60-5 vote, urging Congress to determine the identity of those holding dual citizenship in the U.S. and Japan and to forfeit their citizenship and prevent them from becoming American citizens …

“The Assembly approved Senate Joint Resolution 21 (1943) on a 52-0 vote, urging Congress to release ‘implements and commodities’ owned by incarcerated Japanese Americans for use by other Americans during World War II …

“Nearly 40 years after the U.S. Supreme Court decisions upholding the convictions of Fred Korematsu, Min Yasui, and Gordon Hirabayashi for violations of Civilian Exclusion Order No. 34, in the case of Korematsu, and curfew in the cases of Yasui and Hirabayashi, all authorized pursuant to and EO 9066, it was discovered that officials from the U.S. Department of War and the U.S. Department of Justice had altered, destroyed, and withheld information that testified to the loyalty of the people of Japanese ancestry from the U.S. Supreme Court …

“On May 24, 2011, Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal said World War II Solicitor General Charles Fahy, who represented the U.S. Department of Justice in the Korematsu, Yasui, and Hirabayashi cases, ‘acted dishonorably’ by withholding relevant information …

“Dale Minami, Peggy Nagae, Kathryn Bannai, Dennis Hayashi, Rod Kawakami, and many attorneys and interns contributed innumerable hours to win a reversal of the original convictions of Korematsu, Yasui, and Hirabayashi in 1983 by filing a petition for writ of error coram nobis on the grounds that fundamental errors and injustice occurred …

“In 1980, the U.S. Congress created the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians to examine the actions and impact of EO 9066. The commission held 20 days of public hearings, conducted 18 months of thorough investigation, and published its findings in 1983, which concluded that EO 9066 was not justified by ‘military necessity’ but was due to ‘racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership’ …

“On Aug 10. 1988, President Ronald Wilson Reagan signed into law the federal Civil Liberties Act of 1988, finding that EO 9066 was not justified by military necessity and, instead, was caused by ‘racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership’ …

“The federal Civil Liberties Act of 1988 apologized on behalf of the people of the U.S. for the forced exclusion, mass removal, and incarceration of Americans and permanent residents of Japanese ancestry during World War II. The act also provided for restitution to those individuals of Japanese ancestry who were incarcerated …

“Given recent national events, it is all the more important to learn from the mistakes of the past and to ensure that such an assault on freedom will never again happen to any community in the U.S. …

“The year 2020 marks the 76th anniversary of the Supreme Court of the U.S.’ decisions in the Japanese American incarceration cases. While the Supreme Court ordered Mitsuye Endo released from incarceration, it denied, in Korematsu v. U.S., that EO 9066 reflected racial prejudice and upheld EO 9066 in light of the ‘strategic imperative’ to keep the West Coast secure from invasion; now, therefore, be it

“Resolved by the Assembly of the State of California, That the Assembly apologizes to all Americans of Japanese ancestry for its past actions in support of the unjust exclusion, removal, and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, and for its failure to support and defend the civil rights and civil liberties of Japanese Americans during this period.”

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