Wednesday, February 19, 2014

White Man's Neighborhood

My friend Kimi reminded me that today was the seventy-second anniversary of FDR signing the now-infamous Executive Order 9066 that sent more than 100,000 people, most of them American citizens, to prison without charge or trial.

Call it what you want; internment, protective custody. If you send me to a place where barbed wire keeps me in and I will be shot if I try and escape?

That's a fucking prison.

I just talked about the total fuckupitude of other places; today is a reminder that the price of our own liberty and our political freedom is eternal vigilance, and, especially, vigilance that we don't allow ourselves the freedom of our worst ideas and our most ignorant convictions.

We know now that the U.S. government knew then that the Japanese-Americans it imprisoned were not a threat to national security. The imprisonment was driven by racism, pure and simple.

That the U.S. in 1942 was racist as all hell isn't exactly news. But what I want to remember today is what a hell of a racist place Portland, Oregon was.

Remember, this was the home of the "Coon Chicken Inn", a place where it was illegal to be black and Oregonian. So it shouldn't be a shock that many of the Good People of Stumptown had rather low opinions of their Japanese neighbors.

Yeah. Just like that.

Here in Portland we even came up with a real special bit of nastiness; we shipped all our Japanese Oregonians to an "assembly center" the North Portland stockyards.

That's right. We shoved our neighbors and fellow citizens into fucking cattle pens. It was, by all accounts, as utterly miserable as you'd expect:
"Dysentery broke out and there was a desperate rush to use the limited toilets. One can imagine the agony and desperation suffered by those afflicted. One day, a Military Police cook came through the gate to borrow food items from the center's kitchen. A Military Police guard shot him in broad daylight-a sobering sight for the internees. The incident that everyone remembered later occurred on a hot day in the spring of 1942, when the Center resembled an oven. The fire department came up with a solution. They would hose down the hallways and, as the water evaporated, the surfaces would cool down. It was a good idea, but they forgot one variable. As the halls were doused, water seeped through the plank floors and moistened the dirt and manure mixture underneath. The result was stench and hordes of flies. For days, thousands of flypaper rolls hung throughout the Center."
Finally the Oregonians were shipped off to the camps in the California desert. While they were gone many of them had their land stolen and their property looted.

Then there's this; Korematsu v United States.

Pretty straightforward. Fred Korematsu was the Rosa Parks of internment. He refused to move out of his home and was arrested. His case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, where a 6-3 majority upheld the government's right to imprison you without charge or trial in the cases of national security. Justice Black wrote the majority opinion, stating:
"...the properly constituted military authorities feared an invasion of our West Coast and felt constrained to take proper security measures, because they decided that the military urgency of the situation demanded that all citizens of Japanese ancestry be segregated from the West Coast temporarily, and, finally, because Congress, reposing its confidence in this time of war in our military leaders — as inevitably it must — determined that they should have the power to do just this."
This decision has never been overturned.

In 2011 the U.S. Department of Justice issued a "Confession of Error", which concluded that the decision rested, in part, on a conviction that the U.S. government had valid reasons for interning American citizens which was not only incorrect but known to be incorrect at the time.

Regardless of this, Korematsu remains law.

There is no legal basis at this time for opposing a similar incarceration of Americans based on suspicion. Regardless of grounds or, as has been shown, no grounds at all other than fear seasoned with racial hatred.

I love my home.

But in many ways, both gross and subtle, Portland and Oregon remain very much a White Man's Neighborhood.


Ael said...

In Canada during WWI the government locked up several thousand Ruthens (Ukrainians) and put them into forced labor camps. During WWII, in addition to the Japanese, the Canadian government also locked up many Italians and Germans.

Some of the Germans were accused of being Nazi spies despite emigrating from Germany and never returning since 1876 (remember, this was 1940!). Their land was taken without recompense and turned into an Air Force base.

The Canadian government has since apologized to the Japanese and Ukrainians but I don't recall an apology to the Germans.

Did the USA treat their Germans and Italians similarly in WWII?

Patriotism is a terrible thing.

Syrbal/Labrys said...

Here? I guess they were put in what is now called the Puyallup Fair Grounds. Yeah….I have to say, I never liked going to the fair there, even when semi-required to when I was supporting beekeeping by helping man an educational booth there.

Patriotism can be a good thing. Nationalism with a side of racism is NEVER a good thing.

FDChief said...

Ael: One of the main arguments for EO9066 as fundamentally racist was that the Japanese were locked up as a group.

In 1942 about 11,000 German and Italian nationals - civilians then in the U.S. - were interned. A relatively small number of German-Americans and Italian-Americans (I don't have hard numbers but no more then a couple thousand and probably more like several hundred) were also imprisoned. Most if not all of these prisoners were people who had been active in things like the German-American Bund or for similar reasons could reasonably be suspected of being Axis agents. Some of them were innocent, I'm sure.

And the U.S. government has also never issued an apology or made reparations to those innocents.

Anonymous said...

the presidential authority that was used is still in effect. ironically J E Hoover was against the action but was ignored by FDR