Donald Trump

Today Is Fred Korematsu's Birthday, Which Seems About Right

Plaintiff of historic case over Japanese-American internment during World War II was born in 1919.


Densho Encylopedia

What is it that Marx said about history occuring first as tragedy and then as farce?

President Donald Trump's orders halting all refugees and barring all nationals from seven majority-Muslim countries are no farce but they strongly call to mind past instances where presidents have acted abominably toward suspect minorities. As it happens, today is the birthday of Fred Korematsu (1919-2005), the American citizen of Japanese descent who challenged Franklin Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066 (1942), "which authorized that all individuals of Japanese ancestry were to be removed from their homes and forced to live in internment camps." Korematsu is the subject of today's Google doodle.

As odious as Roosevelt's order was, it's even worse that the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the order, which was borne out of war-time and racist hysteria. In a 2004 review of Michelle Malkin's book-length polemic defending the rounding up on U.S. citizens irrespective of any evidence that they posed a threat to the nation's security, historian Eric Muller wrote:

Historians have shown that the chief causes of the Japanese American internment were ingrained anti-Asian racism, nativist and economic pressures from groups in California that had long wanted the Japanese gone, and the panic of wartime hysteria. As the Presidential Commission on the Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians said in its 1981 report to Congress, "The broad historical causes which shaped [the decisions to relocate and detain Japanese Americans] were race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership."…

What supported [internment] was instead the sort of view that Gen. DeWitt expressed in 1942, when he said that "the Japanese race is an enemy race, and while many second and third generation Japanese born on United States soil, possessed of United States citizenship, have become 'Americanized,' the racial strains are undiluted." What supported it was the sort of opinion voiced by California Attorney General (later U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice) Earl Warren when he argued that the absence of subversive activity by Japanese Americans proved that such activity was just around the corner. What supported it, in other words, was racism and wartime hysteria.

Muller notes that even as citizens of Japanese descent were being rounded up in the absence of any compelling evidence of divided loyalties or secret plans to sabotage the war effort, Americans of Italian and German heritage went about their business unmolested.

Germany was a more dangerous presence along the East Coast of the U.S. mainland for a far longer time than was Japan along the West Coast, and it twice landed saboteurs on Eastern shores. Germany had a network of spies whose existence did not need to be pieced together from vague references in decrypted diplomatic messages. And as for Malkin's point that there were so many potential German-American and Italian-American saboteurs on the East Coast that it made sense to do nothing to them–well, that argument refutes itself.

Malkin's book, of course, was written in the early years of the "Global War on Terror" (GWOT) and represented one of many attempts to assure people that this time, things were different. Racial anxiety was a thing of the past, goes this line of thinking, and we are simply calmly and cooly dealing with a real ideological enemy, radical Islam, that threatens our very existence. Presidents Ford, Carter, and Reagan officially apologized for the internment of Japanese-American citizens, and in the late 1980s, victims, who had lost their homes and had their wealth confiscated without any compensation, were given a token payment of $20,000 per person.

Donald Trump's executive order has already been stayed by several judges and his administration has walked back the portion barring permanent residents from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Such quick course correction shouldn't be mistaken for wisdom; it's fully the product of protest, outrage, and legal pushback. Barely a week into his presidency, it's clear that Trump and his administration doesn't think deeply or seriously about many issues—the White House had not even discussed the order fully with the Department of Homeland Security or fully legally vetted its language and process before it went into effect.

Hovering over Trump's executive order, now being defended by conservatives and other Trump apologists as righteous action in the GWOT, is the ghost of Fred Korematsu, who died in 2005. "I'll never forget my government treating me like this. And I really hope that this will never happen to anybody else because of the way they look, if they look like the enemy of our country," he once said. "Don't be afraid to speak up. One person can make a difference, even if it takes forty years."

Reason TV's Alexis Garcia and Zach Weissmueller reported from Saturday's protest at Los Angeles Airport:

NEXT: Brickbat: Sorry, Little Girl

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  1. which authorized that all individuals of Japanese ancestry were to be removed from their homes and forced to live in internment camps

    Which is exactly the same as not letting people from certain countries come here. Exactly. The. Same.

    1. Yeah this is a bit of an uncalled for analogy for Nick. He’s usually better than this. We need to criticize Trump’s actions for what they actually are and not give into the hysterical hyperbole that has taken hold of everybody else.

      1. I have to say that the hysteria that has the Left running around like so many headless chickens is entertaining as hell.

      2. Nick stole this from today’s Google Doodle. However, I think it is an appropriate topic and I applaud Nick for bringing it up. It most definitely is relevant to Trump’s immigration ban, even though they are not the same thing.

    2. Being told no entry is the same as being told get into the truck, says Nick Gillespie.

    3. This article makes a false analogy; ignores the fact that the same ban on refugees had existed under the previous administration, and does nothing more than virtue signal.


      If rational arguments are not going to be employed against Trump then I’m just going to take my ball and go home.

      1. Seriously. They want to pick the worst examples to say why his EO is stupid.

        There are plenty of reasons its bad. Green Card holders, giving too much power to executive branch and so on.

        It is no way comparable to single or mass imprisoning American citizens for race or beliefs.

    4. Oh, their hyperbole knows no limits. I’ve actually heard this argument put forth (arranged in convenient syllogistic form for clarity):

      Trump favors a crackdown on illegal immigration. Illegal immigrants are temporarily held in detention facilities while being processed for deportation. Conditions in these detention facilities are often bad, and a few people have died there. Therefore, Trump is exactly like Hitler because he wants to forcibly intern people in facilities where they will die.

  2. President Donald Trump’s orders halting all refugees and barring all citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries are no farce but they strongly call to mind past instances where presidents have acted abominably toward suspect minorities.

    Only if you’re a hack journalist trying to carve out a dishonest false equivalency about two completely different policies.

    I wonder why people think Reason’s going downhill, I really wonder…

    1. How do people sleep at night spewing this shit? I would be ashamed of myself…..

  3. Lets celebrate Fred! And remind everyone that it was the Democrat Lion that put American citizens in camps. Yes, the democratic party. And, no, they didn’t switch sides in the 60’s. They are still the same party. IF Robert Byrd was still alive (and still a Klan member) he would STILL be a Democrat.

    1. Well, you have the 40% of registered democrats in rust belt states who voted for Trump, but at least some of them also had to have voted for Obama, so they can’t all be racists!

      1. Hey…. slow your roll. I’m willing to concede that everyone opposed to progressive ideals IS a racist….

    2. This meme is so dumb that all it does is out a GOP tribal boy. Yes, the Democrats of yore were the racist party. However, that was clearly flipped around in the 60s and is no longer relevant. It would be like calling all Americans today slave owners because slavery used to be legal in America.

      1. The meme that things flipped in the 60s is ridiculous and has no basis in fact. Southern states still mostly voted in democrat legislatures and governors until 2000.

      2. It didn’t flip around. Democrats continue to advocate race based policies today, just like they did in the Jim Crow and segregation days. Republicans continue to advocate race blind policies.

        Democrats simply managed to make their racism more palatable by combining it with more government spending. But their racism is as real and as destructive as it has always been.

  4. I find it interesting to article fails to mention that only a rebel ACLU outfit in San Francisco (I believe) challenged the FDR administration.

    The National Board of the ACLU decided not to challenge and sent a order/memo/recomendation to western organization to do the same

  5. Is Reason just reprinting Buzzfeed articles, now?

    Should we expect to see an article about companies we should boycott for not being sufficiently woke?

  6. Who edited this fucking piece? There’s no mention of how Obama’s executive orders led to the sorry state we’re in now. Time for an update.

  7. “Americans of Italian and German heritage went about their business unmolested.”

    Wrong. The internment of Italian-Americans and German-Americans was less broad, but it happened, and sloppy generalizations like the above are far too common.

    FDR was a racist bastard, like Woodrow Wilson before him, and like so many Democrats after. At the time ‘racism’ was much more common, and applied to people we wouldn’t think about today. Like Germans and Italians. No, it wasn’t as strong as the racism that was focused on the Japanese-Americans, but it existed.

    I don’t mind people brining up the internment camps, because their history drives home how little one should trust the government. But I would dearly like to see a little bit more historical accuracy. For instance, a fair amount of the pressure to intern the Japanese came from the Chinese-American community who a) were often in more or less direct competition with the Japanese-Americans and b) had a lot of reason to hate everything Japanese after the racist behavior of the invading Japanese in Manchuria.

    Simplistic “We’re awful. We’ve always been awful. Let me reference an instance of awfulness from the past to discredit a current, distantly related, policy I disagree with.” crap doesn’t really improve matters, guys.

  8. Which political ideology did Franklin Roosevelt belong to, again?

    Oh yes, he was a progressive. Like many of Reason’s authors.

  9. “What is it that Marx said about history occuring first as tragedy and then as farce?”

    Given the history of Marxist Revolution shouldn’t that be first as tragedy, and then as splatter-porn?

    1. I mean, seriously, Marx was a collectivist swine, cloaking his new religion in pseudo-scientific claptrap. In doing so he can be said to have set off a movement that murdered over a hundred millin people in the twentieth Century. Why would we want to give any consideration to anything the old horror had to say?

  10. RE: Today Is Fred Korematsu’s Birthday, Which Seems About Right

    I find it amazing people cannot see Mr. Korematus’s incarceration (along with other Americans of Japanese ancestory) could happen to any of us regardless of political party.
    Can it happen here again to any of us?
    Did the sun rise in the east today

    1. Yes, and it can happen because the federal government has too much power, in large part due to progressive presidents. That’s what Korematsu should remind us of.

  11. Linking to ‘’ to reference the doodle doesn’t do well for reading the article any other day than the 30th. Here is a link to the actual doodle. Recommend the link uses this for the archives.

    Fred Korematsu’s 98th Birthday Google Doodle

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