Seventy-five years ago yesterday, FDR signed Executive Order 9066 which allowed the Army to remove tens of thousands of American citizens from their homes and place them in relocation camps. America has long recognized the error of this action. Now, more than ever, we need to look at how it came about – not only because of the anniversary, but because of what is happening in our country today.
First, however, an aside. This is not a reaction to Donald Trump and his travel ban or his planned expulsion of undocumented residents. I’ve been planning this series of posts for over a year. I announced them in early December (See 266. The Other War), and I would be writing the same series of posts if Donald Trump had never existed.
Nevertheless, these posts do shine a sidelight on his policies. You can make the comparisons for yourself.
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Executive orders are neither good nor bad, as a class of action. They are just the way legislation gets fine tuned and enforced. There are times when a president oversteps his authority and gets slapped down by the courts. There are times when a president should act, but does not. It would be easy to find citizens who applauded Obama’s executive orders and hate Trump’s – and just as easy to find the reverse.
Every executive order has to be seen on its own merits, even executive orders by the same president. Although Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 will receive harsh criticism here, we should also remember his Executive Order 8802, which prohibited racial discrimination in the defense industry. There are very few full time villains, and probably no full time heroes. That’s why, in a democracy, we choose our leaders carefully, and watch them just as carefully after they are in office – no matter who they are.
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The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. On December 8, America declared war. On December 12, FDR issued Executive Order 8972 which ordered military guards and patrols within the US to protect national defense areas. The justification was protection of America from domestic sabotage by internal enemies. That would also be the justification for Japanese removal.
On February 19, 1942, FDR issued an additional executive order, number 9066, toward the same end, but this time he called on the military to exclude “any or all persons” from areas of military importance, with wide discretion to decide who this meant and what constituted an area of military importance.
I have placed links to full versions of both orders at the bottom of this post. Here is a cut-down version of EO 9066, for those who don’t care to see the full text:
. . . by virtue of the authority vested in me as President of the United States, and Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, I hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of War . . . to prescribe military areas . . . to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War . . . may impose in his discretion (and) to provide for residents of any such area who are excluded therefrom, such transportation, food, shelter, and other accommodations as may be necessary . . . I hereby further authorize and direct the Secretary of War . . . to take such other steps as he . . . may deem advisable to enforce compliance with the restrictions applicable . . .
As you begin reading the full text, at first it seems to be an order to do things like keep spies off Navy bases. But then you come to the part which says that “such transportation, food, shelter, and other accommodations as may be necessary” will be provided, and it becomes clear what is really intended.
They called it exclusion, as in being excluded from a Navy base. Today it is called removal, because it was not a Navy base from which these unnamed people were being excluded. It was the entire west coast of the United States. And the people excluded from their homes, farms, and businesses were Japanese Americans.
I know people who have no problem with this, who say we were at war with Japan and who see all Japanese as one. I know some whose hatred of Japan has never died.
Facts don’t support them. The Japanese, who were not a threat, were incarcerated. The Germans, with whose Fatherland we were also at war, had shown massive support for Hitler, but they were not incarcerated. Why? The details of all this will come in the next two posts.
Executive order 8972 https://fas.org/irp/offdocs/eo/eo-8972.htm
Executive order 9066 https://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?doc=74&page=transcript