It's fitting that the recently erected Japanese American Memorial
for Patriotism is situated on the opposite side of the Mall in
Washington - to counterbalance the FDR memorial. It stands as a
stark reminder of the injustice committed against Americans of
Japanese ancestry during World War II.
Nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans were forced to relocate to
stark and often unforgiving internment camps far away from their
homes on the West Coast. To ensure that such a stain on American
history does not repeat itself, it is also no coincidence that
there are several Japanese Americans who serve in Congress today
and one former congressman, Norman Mineta, a former internee
himself, who is now the Secretary of Transportation.
With the diabolical events of September 11, 2001, another day
that will also live in infamy, President Bush launched his war on
terrorism. But with this offensive, the president was quick to
visit a mosque to quell the wellspring of emotions that would
ignorantly dispense hate to all American Arabs and Muslims.
This hatred toward American Arabs and Muslims is like a timewarp
that propels us back to Pearl Harbor - putting aside the flawed
analogy - when the country faced an outright attack. It was a time
when the US Supreme Court, in a series of three cases, condoned
FDR's Executive Order 9066, which gave the military authority to
imprison Americans of Japanese descent, casting aside the bedrock
of American values and the Constitution. The order was not formally
rescinded until 1976, by President Ford.
The recurring question has been: How could this event have
emerged in modern US history? In 1973, "Farewell to Manzanar," by
Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, chronicled her family's first-hand
internment experiences. While that moving work brought us behind
the barbed wire and into the soul of some prisoners, no significant
research has been completed to fully examine the "how" rather than
the "why" until now.
Greg Robinson's "By Order of the President: FDR and the
Internment of Japanese Americans" provides a thoughtful analysis
and adapts a psycho-historical approach to help unlock the clues to
an ostensibly inexplicable act by FDR, an ardent defender of human
liberty. By delving first into FDR's early years, Robinson proceeds
to other experiences that may have shaped his thinking and led FDR
to ultimately ink Executive Order 9066.
The president had two competing influences while growing up: One
was the positive impression of his close friend and classmate at
Harvard, Otohiko Matsukata. The other was the thinking behind his
cousin and hero, Teddy Roosevelt.
While TR esteemed Japanese culture, Robinson notes, the tide
began to shift as domestic politics in America impacted TR's view
of the Japanese. "Mobilizing the same hostile stereotypes that they
had employed a generation before against the Chinese," Robinson
writes, "anti-immigrant agitators conjured up racist images of the
Japanese as menacing and immoral. …