Black Marks in our History

On October 16, I attended a meeting of the Committee for the Republic at which “Defender of Liberty Awards” where presented to Fred Korematsu, Gordon Hirabayahsi, Minoru Yasui, and Mitsuye Endo for their bravery and perseverance in defending freedom in America. These Americans of Japanese ancestry had undertaken to legally challenge their internment in concentration camps during World War II ordered by Franklin D Roosevelt four months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. They generally lost their legal challenges, which went all the way to the Supreme Court.  If you are not familiar with this shocking atrocity (or even if you are), I urge you to watch these short videos and weep at the depths to which racism has driven some of us in the past: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0z8EHjVoN-o  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4MXF2302fr8

These atrocities were not the first, nor unfortunately the last, abandonment of our principles in the name of security in times of heightened fear (think of the so called “Patriot Act” following 9/11 and President Trump’s failed efforts to ban travelers from six Muslim countries more recently). While these reactions are manifestations of racism and cowardice, it is to our credit that we (generally) ultimately acknowledge our periodic abandonments of our love of freedom and justice under the law for barbaric acts that we think will make us safer. https://wcoats.blog/2016/10/20/terrorism-security-vs-privacy/ 

The Defender of Liberty Awards to Fred Korematsu, Gordon Hirabayahsi, Minoru Yasui, and Mitsuye Endo were accepted on their behalf by their surviving children who shared with us their experiences. Several of them learned what their parents had done in school as they never mentioned or discussed the shame and hardship of their three years of internment in despicable facilities.  Growing up in California I had one Japanese classmate in grammar school. When I learned that FDR had put him and his family in a concentration camp for several years, I overcame my shock and shame to ask him about it, but he would not discuss it. It reminds me a bit of the typical reaction of rape victims.

While a cowardly public silently acquiesced to the rounding up and the imprisonment of their Japanese American neighbors, an underlying motive was the desire of some farmers to eliminate the competition of Japanese American farmers. From Wikipedia: “The deportation and incarceration were popular among many white farmers who resented the Japanese American farmers. ‘White American farmers admitted that their self-interest required removal of the Japanese.’ These individuals saw internment as a convenient means of uprooting their Japanese-American competitors. Austin E. Anson, managing secretary of the Salinas Vegetable Grower-Shipper Association, told the Saturday Evening Post in 1942:

‘We’re charged with wanting to get rid of the Japs for selfish reasons. We do. It’s a question of whether the White man lives on the Pacific Coast or the brown men. They came into this valley to work, and they stayed to take over… If all the Japs were removed tomorrow, we’d never miss them in two weeks because the White farmers can take over and produce everything the Jap grows. And we do not want them back when the war ends, either.’”   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internment_of_Japanese_Americans

Quoting again from Wikipedia: “In 1980, under mounting pressure from the Japanese American Citizens League and redress organizations, President Jimmy Carter opened an investigation to determine whether the decision to put Japanese Americans into concentration camps had been justified by the government. He appointed the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) to investigate the camps. The Commission’s report, titled Personal Justice Denied, found little evidence of Japanese disloyalty at the time and concluded that the incarceration had been the product of racism. It recommended that the government pay reparations to the internees. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 which apologized for the internment on behalf of the U.S. government and authorized a payment of $20,000 (equivalent to $42,000 in 2018) to each camp survivor. The legislation admitted that government actions were based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” The U.S. government eventually disbursed more than $1.6 billion (equivalent to $3,390,000,000 in 2018) in reparations to 82,219 Japanese Americans who had been interned and their heirs.”

At the Committee for the Republic ceremony the amazingly talented Bruce Fein recited from memory the following:

Athens had Socrates.

King Henry VIII had Sir Thomas More.

And we have the Mount Rushmore of moral courage to honor this evening:  Fred Korematsu, Gordon Hirabayahsi, Minoru Yasui, And Mitsuye Endo.  They are largely unknown American heroes and heroines of World War II.  It can be said without exaggeration, seldom in the annals of liberty have so many owed so much to so few.

What is more American than fidelity to Thomas Jefferson’s injunction that resistance to tyranny is obedience to god?  Our defender of liberty award recipients resisted the racist tyranny of president Franklin Roosevelt’s executive order 9066 issued unilaterally without congress on February 19, 1942, a date that should live in infamy.  Provoked by racism in the west coast battleground states, EO 9066 summarily dispatched 120,000 innocent Japanese Americans because of their ancestry alone into internment camps.  Remember their names.  For they are first cousins of Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Dachau, and Sachsenhausen, Nazi concentration camps, not extermination camps like Auschwitz.  Roosevelt’s camps were ten:  Manzanar (CA), Poston (AZ), Gila River (AZ), Topaz (UT), Granada (CO), Heart Mountain (WY), Minidoka (ID), Tule Lake (CA), Jerome, (AR), and Rohwer (AR).

Risking ostracism or worse, our four award winners challenged the constitutionality of president Roosevelt’s racism.  The president and his mandarin class colleagues echoed the Orwellian bugle of general John Dewitt 80 days after pearl harbor: “the very fact that no sabotage has taken place to date is a disturbing and confirming indication that such action will be taken.”  I am reminded of Mark Anthony’s mocking funeral oration in Julius Caesar:  but president Roosevelt was an honorable man, so were his assistants all honorable men.

Korematsu, Hirabayashi, Yasui, and Endo took their cases to the United States Supreme Court with mixed success.  The high court sustained FDR’s executive order based on knowing lies about military necessity made by the Department of Justice.  Dissenting justice Robert Jackson presciently warned that the court’s decision in Korematsu v. United states would lie around like a loaded weapon ready for use by a future Caligula, Claudius, or Nero in the White House who claimed an urgent need.

But the four did not surrender.  They continued to fight over long decades for vindication and defense of the constitution both for the living and those yet to be born.  In triumph, our defender of liberty award honorees brandished the lofty principles of the greatest generation—the constitution’s architects—against its traitors. Korematsu and Hirayabahsi had their convictions overturned in coram nobis proceedings.  The civil liberties act of 1988 denounced the racism and unconstitutionality of EO 9066.  And the United States Supreme Court overruled Korematsu in Trump v. Hawaii.

Defending liberty is always unfinished work.  Tyranny knows only offense—like a football team with Tom Brady playing all positions.  We cannot escape our moral responsibility as American citizens to equal or better the instruction of American patriots Korematsu, Hirabayashi, Yausi, and Endo.  It is for us, the living, to ensure that their courage was not in vain.  It is unthinkable that we fail to try.  Gordon Hirabayashi was right at the young age of 24: “it is our obligation to show forth our light in times of darkness, nay, our privilege.”

When you awaken each morning, be haunted by Edward Gibbons’ epitaph on Athens:

“in the end, more than freedom, they wanted security.  They wanted a comfortable life, and they lost it all—security, comfort, and freedom. When the Athenians finally wanted not to give to society but for society to give to them, when the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility then Athens ceased to be free and was never free again.”

It is altogether fitting that my closing lines will be delivered at this time and place [the Metropolitan Club] within shouting distance of the white house to thunder like a hammer on an anvil.  In  the eyes of the United States constitution, there is only one race, it is American; there is only one religion, it is American; there is only one ancestry, it is American; there is only one gender, it is American; there is only one sexual orientation, it is American.

E pluribus unum Out of many, one.

______________________________

Walking out of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin was asked what kind of government we got: “A Republic,” he replied, “if you can keep it.”  I am worried.

 

Government Surveillance and the Right to Privacy

We will be discussing Edward Snowden and his revelations for some time (I hope).  His observations are worth serious thought. As quoted in the Washington Post by Barton Gellman “Man who leaked NSA secrets steps forward” /2013/06/09  ‘“I believe that at this point in history, the greatest danger to our freedom and way of life comes from the reasonable fear of omniscient State powers kept in check by nothing more than policy documents.” The steady expansion of surveillance powers, he wrote, is “such a direct threat to democratic governance that I have risked my life and family for it….” “We managed to survive greater threats in our history . . . than a few disorganized terrorist groups and rogue states without resorting to these sorts of programs,” he wrote. “It is not that I do not value intelligence, but that I oppose . . . omniscient, automatic, mass surveillance. . . . That seems to me a greater threat to the institutions of free society than missed intelligence reports, and unworthy of the costs…”  “Analysts (and government in general) aren’t bad guys, and they don’t want to think of themselves as such,” he replied. But he said they labored under a false premise that “if a surveillance program produces information of value, it legitimizes it. . . . In one step, we’ve managed to justify the operation of the Panopticon” — an 18th-century design by British philosopher Jeremy Bentham for comprehensive surveillance of a prison population.”’

It is not generally acceptable for individuals to decide whether it is OK to violate a law we don’t like (though we all do it all the time), but there can be circumstances that are sufficiently serious that our conscience may dictate that we must.  Snowden made that determination and is prepared to accept the consequences. The courts will determine what those are. In my opinion his motives are above question.

I hope, however, as does Snowden, that the public discussion will focus on the issue of the proper balance between government’s desire to protect us from harm and invading our privacy, a favorite tool of totalitarian regimes, rather than on whether Snowden was justified in breaching his confidentiality commitment or not. The very nature of government is that of a slippery slope toward ever larger activities and powers. These risks, of course. were very well-known by our founding fathers who did their best to introduce limits and checks and balances on government power.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, called PRISM “deeply concerning,” stating that: “Unwarranted government surveillance is an intrusion on basic human rights that threatens the very foundations of a democratic society. I call on all Web users to demand better legal protection and due process safeguards for the privacy of their online communications, including their right to be informed when someone requests or stores their data. A store of this information about each person is a huge liability: Whom would you trust to decide when to access it, or even to keep it secure?”

Contrary to his promises, President Obama has not reversed the dangerous excesses of the eternal War on Terror and other political abuses promoted by Bush/Chaney. Examples are the IRS anti-tea party abuses, and the administration’s frightening attack on the press: “The Justice Department secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press.” govt-obtains-wide-ap-phone-records-probe. But these pale compared to Obama’s expansion of our secret, undeclared wars in Somalia and Yemen and elsewhere in the form of assassinations of “bad guys.”

The most deeply disturbing of these was the assassination of Anwar al Awlaki, an American citizen who had lost faith in the intentions behind the American government’s attacks on Muslims around the world. Anwar, an initially moderate Muslim Imam,frequently interviewed by the American press following 9/11, ultimately became sharply critical of U.S. behavior and moved from Falls Church Va. back to his native Yemen to rejoin his parents. U.S. authorities came to believe that his blogs and sermons were influencing others to take violent acts against Americans. President Obama authorized his death without formal charges and without any convincing evidence of crimes other than the exercise of his free speech, which had become embarrassingly critical (and is not yet a crime). Our government claimed that he had become an al Qaeda leader but presented no evidence of any connection at all.

The day Awlaki’s death was announced  (September 30, 2011) syndicated columnist Glenn Greenwald stated: “Remember that there was great controversy that George Bush asserted the power simply to detain American citizens without due process or simply to eavesdrop on their conversation without warrant. Here you have something much more severe. Not eavesdropping on American citizens, not detaining them without due process, but killing them without due process.” Former Bush CIA director Michael Hayden stated: “We needed a court order to eavesdrop on [Awlaki], but we didn’t need a court order to kill him. Isn’t that something?” (Both of these quotes are taken from Jeremy Scahill’s shocking book “Dirty Wars; The World is a Battlefield”)

If you are not alarmed by our President ordering the death of Americans without due process, you will surely be sicken that our secretive special forces killed Awlaki’s 16 year old son Abdulrahman two weeks later. The government has never explained whether his death was another of their many accidents or had been deliberate and if so why. He was also an American, born in Denver Colorado on August 26, 1995 (https://www.facebook.com/abdulrahman.14.10.2011). Soon thereafter Robert Gibbs, Obama’s former White House press secretary, was asked: ‘“It’s an American citizen that is being targeted without due process of law, without trial. And, he’s underage. He’s a minor,” reporter Sierra Adamson told Gibbs. Gibbs shot back: “I would suggest that you should have a far more responsible father if they are truly concerned about the well-being of their children. I don’t think becoming an al Qaeda jihadist terrorist is the best way to go about doing your business.”’ (Dirty Wars)  Gibbs should be publicly whipped (if we did that sort of thing) or at least banished from polite society. How disgusting.

I am proud of the principles of individual dignity and rights upon which my country is based. I am proud of what many of my countrymen have accomplished and contributed to the world. I am tired of being ashamed of many of the self-destructive things my government has increasingly been doing in the misguided name of my security.  Why do you think Muslims in Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere wish to attack the United States rather than (or in addition to) fighting each other for one reason or another? Because many of them have been killed or injured by our global campaign of assassinations and/or outright wars, which they see as an American attack on Islam. They are fighting to defend themselves just as we would (or say that we are). We need to leave them alone. They will have no interest in attacking us if we stay out of their homelands.

I am hoping the current revelations of some of our government’s abuses of its powers and our liberties will bring them to an end.  It is, as I have noted so many times before, the nature of government to want to grow in scope and power. As we all know, eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. The pendulum of potentially coercive government power has swung too far in the false name of defending our safety against foreign (and now domestic) enemies. I hope that the current revelations will shock us into sending the pendulum back the other way.

Several weeks ago, on Memorial Day, my friend Lou Cordia sent the following from President Reagan’s Memorial Day Proclamation for May 25, 1981 as a reminder of what we properly aspire to:

Over one hundred years ago, Memorial Day was established to commemorate those who died in the defense of our national ideals. Our ideals of freedom, justice, and equal rights for all have been challenged many times since then, and thousands of Americans have given their lives in many parts of the world to secure those same ideals and insure for their children a lasting peace. Their sacrifice demands that we, the living, continue to promote the cause of peace and the ideals for which they so valiantly gave of themselves.

Today, the United States stands as a beacon of liberty and democratic strength before the community of nations. We are resolved to stand firm against those who would destroy the freedoms we cherish. We are determined to achieve an enduring peace — a peace with liberty and with honor. This determination, this resolve, is the highest tribute we can pay to the many who have fallen in the service of our Nation.