One of the most shameful acts by the United States in WWII was the forced internment of 120,000 Japanese-Americans in detention camps, even though they had committed no crime and most were U.S. citizens.
In April 1942, local Japanese were forced to abandon their homes, farms and businesses and report to the Civil Control Station at Venice and Lincoln boulevards where they were shipped hundreds of miles north to Inyo County. In spartan conditions, they would spend the next three years at the Manzanar War Relocation Authority Camp. The property they left behind, which sold at fire sale prices, is now worth millions.
Oakland native Fred Korematsu had tried to enlist in the military after Pearl Harbor. He was turned down because of his ancestry. He refused to report for relocation and went into hiding. He was tracked down, arrested and convicted. With the aid of the American Civil Liberties Union his case was carried to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 6-3 decision it upheld the decision of the civilian authorities to arbitrarily round up and detain an entire group strictly on the basis of its origins. In his dissent, Justice Robert Jackson noted that Americans whose ancestors were German and Italian were not imprisoned.
Korematsu fought his conviction, ultimately having it set aside by a federal judge in San Francisco in 1983. In 1988, Congress issued a formal apology for the internment. A year later it offered a reparation pittance of $20,000 to each of the 60,000 survivors. In 1998 President Clinton awarded Korematsu the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award. Last year the state of California established Fred Korematsu Day on Jan. 30, the first day in the United States named after an Asian-American.
It’s time to honor the local victims. At 10 a.m. Monday, Venice will host a groundbreaking ceremony for The Venice Japanese American Memorial Marker at 933 1/2 Venice Blvd. Councilman Bill Rosendahl will speak at the ceremony, along with California state Sen. Ted Lieu, Assemblywoman Betsy Butler and former Manzanar internee Arnold Maeda.
We can never return the years spent in the camps to the detainees, but as concerned Venetians we can attend the ceremony to show our support for them.
The Supreme Court decision stands to this day. We can ensure that a crime like this never happens in our country again only by remembering it.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."—Poet and philosopher George Santayana