February 19 this year will mark 75 years since President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which authorized the then-referred Secretary of War (now Defense) to set up certain areas as military zones. The order paved the way for the mass deportation of Japanese-Americans, Italian-Americans, and German-Americans into internment camps as potential enemies of the state. The event led to what is perhaps one of the most infamous cases in the history of the Supreme Court, Korematsu vs. U.S. With that decision in 1944, the SCOTUS went along with the federal government’s plan regarding encampment of such individuals (in that case Japanese-Americans, Fred Korematsu was a fugitive trying to stay out of the camps), even though there was no evidence to support the suspicion of any such threat of treason. All that was used was the fact that such individuals had ancestry from a part of the world that the United States was at war with. In later years, it eventually was found that the government knowingly withheld such information and lied to the court in order to get a ruling in their favor, showing the duplicity and outright inhumanity public officials are capable of. We must never forget that the greatest threat to our freedoms are at their most apparent at a time of hardship, and therefore requires our utmost diligence both in peaceful times and otherwise.
What isn’t discussed enough is the tragic manner of policy that made tragedies such as what befell Korematsu, and it unfortunately hasn’t completely left public discourse. Eugenics, the theory that reproductive activities had to be controlled in some manner in order to protect a supposedly “threatened” gene pool, was a popular sentiment among many elites of the era, including Margaret Sanger, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Alexander Graham Bell, H.G. Wells, Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw, and many others (https://msu.edu/course/lbs/332/bellon/R0124b.pdf). FDR was also part of this crowd…in his writings he voiced his fears of the mixing of Japanese and Americans, being no doubt a harbinger for how he would perceive policy later as president (http://georgiainfo.galileo.usg.edu/topics/history/article/progressive-era-world-war-ii-1901-1945/franklin-d.-roosevelts-editorials-for-the-macon-telegraph). He also snubbed Olympic medal-winner Jesse Owens during the 1933 Berlin event (https://fee.org/articles/hitler-didn-t-snub-me-it-was-our-president/). Sadly, the camps weren’t the only tragic result of eugenic policy in the United States, as the case of Carrie Buck shows (https://symbolicorder.info/the-united-states-once-sterilized-tens-of-thousands-here-s-how-the-supreme-court-allowed-it-327c3ee04ccb#.wjyps9cc2). May such events showcase how far the fundamental disregard of individual rights and freedom can go in the name of misguided theory, and how it can lead to untold suffering. May it never happen again.