Those Presidential Orders? Don’t Forget Executive Order 9066

Seventy-five years ago (February 19, 1942), President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. The order authorized the forced removal of 110,000 people of Japanese descent in the U.S. to incarceration camps away from their homes, places of work, and community activities.

In an anniversary issue, The Seattle Times published pictures and copies of old news stories, as well as reminiscences of those who were affected.

The issue included images of Japanese families, loaded with whatever possessions they could carry, young children dressed in Sunday best holding dolls and toys, and one man telling his pet dog goodbye.

Japanese-Americans were forced to sell businesses at cut rate prices. One Japanese woman, before the evacuation began, recalled being spit upon by a Caucasian woman and told that she had caused the death of the woman’s son.

Anger at the attack by the Japanese government on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor fueled attitudes of hatred against an entire group of people who had no part in the attack.

Anger against a particular act of war was justified. The place we allowed the anger to take us was not, an unreasonable prejudice against thousands of ordinary people, many of them U.S. citizens. Later, young Japanese-American men sent to the relocation centers would join U.S. military forces. Some would die for the country that had sent them and their families to the camps.

Current executive orders mirror that earlier time. Understandable anger at terror attacks has mushroomed into unreasonable prejudice even as it did then.

A footnote: Blaine Memorial United Methodist Church began as the Seattle Japanese Methodist Episcopal Church 113 years ago. When its congregation was forced into internment camps, a member of one of Seattle’s founding families, E. L. Blaine, saved the church by holding the deed for the church in trust for the members until their return.

The current pastor at the Blaine church said recently, “The pressure he faced was enormous. But he stood up for us. We are now in that same position: are we willing to stand up for others?”

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