Widow of Gordon Hirabayashi donates Presidential Medal of Freedom

AsAm News:

The Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded posthumously to Gordon Hirabayashi has been donated by his widow to the University of Washington, reports KIRO.

The message he always had was ‘this story is not my story, it’s an American story,’ ” said Susan Carnahan.

The medal will be added to a permanent collection of historical papers connected to Hirabayashi’s landmark case.

He was one of three Japanese Americans who defied orders and refused to go to the incarceration camps. Twice he was sent to prison. But 40 years later, the court finally overturned his conviction.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the nation’s highest civilian honor.

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Widow of Gordon Hirabayashi donates Presidential Medal of Freedom


The Newsweek Archives: How We Covered the Internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII


In the midst of WWII fears, 120,000 people lost their property and their freedom. Here 82 Japanese-Americans arrive at the Manzanar internment camp in Owens Valley, Calif., March 21, 1942. Eliot Elisofon/Time & Life Pictures/Getty


Could a George Bernard Shaw play, annotated with invisible ink, have been used by Japanese living in America at the beginning of World War II to send coded messages back to Japan? This was one of the paranoid assertions of a document called the Dies Report, made public in February of 1942 — just months after the attack on Pearl Harbor — that asserted that Japan could be planning a U.S. invasion, from the West coast moving east, and aided perhaps by intelligence provided by people of Japanese descent living in the States. The report was mentioned in Newsweek at the time, noting that the 285-page document had surfaced just before the U.S. government was “preparing to move all Japanese, citizens as well as aliens, out of Pacific Coast ‘combat zones.’

Last week marked the 72nd anniversary of the beginning of that dark chapter in our history. On Feb. 19, 1942, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an Executive Order paving the way for people of Japanese heritage, both U.S. citizens and not, to be moved into internment camps. More than 120,000 people would eventually be forcibly relocated from their homes, businesses, and communities into 10 camps.

Paranoia compelled some Americans to be eager to make this happen. Newsweek reported at the time that people in coastal areas “were more anxious than ever to get rid of their aliens after rumors that signal lights were seen before submarine attacks” off Santa Barbara and Los Angeles.

The policy was by no means greeted with unanimous support. A column in Newsweek in March of 1942 carefully discussed the arguments for and against the relocation, saying that opponents of the move protested that American citizens would have their rights violated. Another argument against the move was an inconsistency in policy: Japanese Americans were not being forced to relocate from Hawaii, a “vulnerable area” which had been hit by the attack on Pearl Harbor a little over three months earlier; and there had been no acts of sabotage. The response to that argument, presented at the time, is that it would be impractical to move Japanese Americans from the Hawaiian Islands, and the fact that there had been no sabotage yet implies that it could come later—a dubious line of reasoning asserting that because something hasn’t happened yet it is more likely to happen later.

The opponents of the policy were aware of the bad optics, internationally, too. If Japan was making World War II “a racial war,” the nations opposed to it “cannot stand for white superiority.” Our “battle cry must be ‘democracy,’ with all that it implies as to equality,” Newsweek said, paraphrasing the reasoning of those opposed to the relocation. In other words, how can we wage a moral war overseas if we’re oppressing a certain ethnic group at home? And besides, as this line of reasoning went, Japanese Americans could be helpful in the war effort, possibly in espionage or propaganda. (Indeed, Japanese Americans did serve in the war, providing valuable assistance in combat and in intelligence and linguistic work.)

And yet these arguments were mooted, because the relocation happened anyway. As for the consequences? “At best it will leave wounds,” the column reflected. At worst, the cost could be “the permanent alienation of a group of citizens” who might have been useful to the U.S. in the war.

The next week’s issue chronicled the first stages of the relocation in a matter-of-fact article titled “Japs Transplanted.” About 500 Japanese Americans gathered in the Rose Bowl stadium in Pasadena, California, on March 23, 1942. They were the first wave of “the greatest forced migration in American history,” as Newsweek described it. From there, with soldiers accompanying them, the men, women and children traveled 235 miles to the “windy Owens Valley.” In a camp built by the Army they would be “put to work digging irrigation ditches and growing crops for their own subsistence.”

Seventy years later, in 2012, author and Newsweek contributor Julie Otsuka wrote an evocative, melancholy essay on her family’s internment at the Topaz Camp in Utah during World War II. It’s the details she presents that make the piece so vivid: the way on her mother’s last day of school before being relocated her mom recalled that “the whole class had to say goodbye to me.” Or the way they were brought there on a train with its windows blacked-out, or that in the winter the temperatures dipped to minus 20, or that the camp was ringed with “barbed wire fences and armed guards.” And then there’s the heartbreaking fact that her uncle, then 8, had brought a canteen along, thinking “he is going to ‘camp.’

I think on some deep level it’s something that I’m clearly obsessed with,” Otsuka told Newsweek, when asked how the legacy of her family’s internment had affected her. Her family dealt with that period with “a lot of silence,” she says, which compelled her to try to get to the bottom of what had happened. She talks about anger and sadness in her family, and the fact that those emotions were repressed, which “was very cultural.” She added: “Just as a strategy for survival, most Japanese Americans after the war just tried to kind of get on with things, and not really look back.”

Newsweek, in 1942, wondered what the cost might be. I asked Otsuka what she thought the ultimate cost might have been—although it might be an impossible question to answer. “On one level, I think that Japanese Americans were so eager to be accepted, that in many ways maybe they would not let their rage get the better of them. But it is a hard question to answer, because I feel like people had so many different responses to that experience… Some people remained deeply bitter till the end of their lives. Some people were able to put it behind them.” For just her own family, the cost of internment “was economically devastating.”

That generation was deeply, deeply, alienated,” she added. “This was not what they expected of America. And yet, on another level—not a big surprise—it’s also the culmination of decades of racism.”

They had been alienated already, for a long time, by the time they were sent away.

The issue came up again recently, when U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was asked about a related Supreme Court decision in Hawaii while teaching a class. “It was wrong,” he said, “but I would not be surprised to see it happen again, in time of war. It’s no justification, but it is reality.

Check out this link:

The Newsweek Archives: How We Covered the Internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII


President Obama Meets Japanese American World War II Veterans


President Barack Obama returns the salute from one of the members of the group of Japanese American WWII veterans during a meeting in the Oval Office

President Barack Obama returns the salute from Tommie Okabayashi, one of the members of the group of Japanese American WWII veterans during a meeting in the Oval Office to congratulate them on their Congressional Gold Medal, Feb. 18, 2014.

(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

On February 19, 1942, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, leading the United States government to confine more than 100,000 people of Japanese descent in internment camps across the United States. Almost two-thirds of those incarcerated were United States citizens.

Despite tremendous prejudice and the internment of their families, more than 33,000 second-generation Japanese Americans (nisei) volunteered to serve in the United States Army during World War II – most notably, in the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, one of the most decorated units of World War II, and the Military Intelligence Service.

In 2010, over 65 years later, Congress passed and President Obama signed into law legislation awarding the Congressional Gold Medal – one of the highest civilian awards in the United States – to thousands of these veterans, finally recognizing the sacrifices they made for their country.

On February 18th, the President met with seven of these surviving veterans, all in their 90s, to thank them in person for their service.

Check out this link:

President Obama Meets Japanese American World War II Veterans


Fred Korematsu as a Google doodle for #KorematsuDay

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The Korematsu Institute is petitioning a Google doodle next year honoring Medal of Freedom recipient Fred Korematsu.
2015 will be the fifth anniversary of #KorematsuDay. They ask you to write and let them know you support a doodle of Fred Korematsu for January 30, 2015!
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Zinn Education Project: Korematsu v U.S. (1944)


On Dec. 17, 1944, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Korematsu v U.S. that the denial of civil liberties based on race and national origin was legal.

Fred Korematsu (Jan. 30, 1919 – Mar. 30, 2005) , a U.S. citizen and the son of Japanese immigrants, had refused to evacuate when Roosevelt ordered the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. Korematsu was arrested, convicted, and sent to the Topaz Internment Camp in Utah. Korematsu unsuccessfully sued the U.S. government for violating his constitutional rights.

Learn more from:

(1) Tracked in America website:

(2) Unsung Heroes lesson for middle and high school:

(3) Of Civil Rights and Wrongs: The Fred Korematsu Story

(4) More stories of protest of the internment in the film Conscience and the Constitution:

(5) the Fred T. Korematsu Institute for Civil Rights and Education.

Check out this link:

Zinn Education Project: Korematsu v U.S. (1944)


46 photos of life at a Japanese internment camp, taken by Ansel Adams

Internment Camp

110,000 Japanese Americans who were forced to live in internment camps. This policy was opposed by many Americans, including renowned photographer Ansel Adams, who in the summer of 1943 made his first visit to Manzanar War Relocation Camp in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Invited by the warden, Adams sought to document the living conditions of the camp’s inhabitants.

His photos were published in a book titled “Born Free And Equal: The Story of Loyal Japanese-Americans” in 1944, with an accompanying exhibition at MoMA.

In 1965, when he donated the images to the Library of Congress, Adams shared some thoughts on the project:

The purpose of my work was to show how these people, suffering under a great injustice, and loss of property, businesses and professions, had overcome the sense of defeat and dispair (sic) by building for themselves a vital community in an arid (but magnificent) environment,” he said.

Check out this link:

46 Photos Of Life At A Japanese Internment Camp, Taken By Ansel Adams

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