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The impact of America’s wars on freedoms and Democracy at home

While America has gone a century and a half without being “war-torn” in the conventional sense, the damage of war is not limited to that inflicted by guns and bombs.

by Whitney Webb

Part 5 - WWII: Wash, rinse, repeat

World War II, in which propaganda likewise flourished, also resurrected the dangerous “protection” practices set during World War I, namely the mass targeting of those suspected of “disloyalty” to the war effort. The most infamous of these was the internment of Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast on the sole basis of their ethnicity.

In 1942, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed executive order 9066, which put the Secretary of War and his commanders in charge of establishing military zones, or concentration camps, and deciding whom to imprison within their confines. Congress supported the measure, passing Public Law 503, which allowed for the executive order’s implementation. Significantly, the measures did not name a specific ethnic group, but allowed the military to restrict anyone it deemed a “threat.”

Anyone of Japanese ancestry along the U.S. West Coast was considered by the military to present such a threat and, after the laws were passed, many of these individuals were placed under restrictions and curfews before being “evacuated” to internment camps scattered across the country from California to Arkansas. However, it was later shown that the Japanese-Americans were targeted, not out of fear for the national security, but due to the influence of “farmers seeking to eliminate Japanese competition, a public fearing sabotage, politicians hoping to gain by standing against an unpopular group, and military authorities.

Around 120,000 Japanese-Americans, two-thirds of them American citizens, were sent to the camps. More than half of those interned were children. They were not given due process and were incarcerated for up to four years, unable to leave the prison camps. Many of the children imprisoned there came to consider the camps “home.”

Strangely and tellingly, Japanese-Americans, despite being considered a domestic security threat, were able to join the U.S. Armed Forces after filling out a short questionnaire.

Not all Japanese-Americans complied with the government orders, however. The most well-known of those who disobeyed the internment order was Fred Korematsu, who later challenged the internment of Japanese-Americans on the grounds that it was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court eventually ruled 6-to-3 that the internment of Japanese-Americans was well within the war powers of the President, arguing that in times of war such actions — even if blatantly racist — are justified when there exists a “military necessity.”

It is important to note, however, the vague nature of the law that led to the internment of Japanese-Americans. It stated that the Secretary of War was authorized to “prescribe military areas” and that “the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion.” Thus, the legal war-time precedent that resulted from war hysteria gave the U.S. military the ability to place anyone from any group into concentration camps using “national security” and “military necessity” as justification.

It’s not hard to imagine how this could play out in the United States today if and when war breaks out. Trump’s so-called “Muslim ban” and push to make a registry of Muslim immigrants, as well as top U.S. officials calling people of Russian descent “genetically driven” to be untrustworthy, are just a few examples of the xenophobia and related hysteria currently at work in the U.S. As long as those irrational fears are cloaked in the patriotic blanket of “military necessity,” it seems that the internment camps could again make an appearance on American soil.

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