Of course, there are many things about the Japanese American internment that are appalling but yesterday I read something that reinforced just what a shameful period that was. Eric Muller has written a paper about Hirabayashi v. United States, a key case in which the Supreme Court basically said that the racially-based curfew imposed on Japanese Americans was allowable because of the severity of the threat of an invasion of the West Coast. Muller presents new evidence that the government lawyers lied to make their case. I'll let the abstract speak for itself:
While the government's submissions in Hirabayashi maintained that the curfew was a constitutional response to the serious threat of a Japanese invasion of the West Coast, new archival findings make clear that military officials foresaw no Japanese invasion and were planning for no such thing at the time they ordered mass action against Japanese Americans. Even more disturbingly, the archival record demonstrates that at the time that Justice Department lawyers filed their brief in Hirabayashi emphasizing a threatened invasion, they knew this emphasis was false.
The Article seeks to understand what might have led otherwise ethical Justice Department lawyers to present such a big and consequential lie, suggesting that the then-prevalent racial schema of the "Oriental" as an invading horde may have overpowered the lawyers' evaluation of the facts. And perhaps more importantly, the Article demonstrates that the Hirabayashi decision - which has never been repudiated in the way that the more famous Korematsu decision has been, and which remains a potent precedent for race-conscious national security measures - deserves to be installed in the Supreme Court's Hall of Shame, alongside Korematsu, Dred Scott, and the Court's other biggest mistakes.
There are many who want to believe that the internment was somehow justified, that the government must have had some reason to believe that the Japanese American community posed a threat to national security. But there is simply no evidence that that was the case; on the contrary, the only people who spied for Japan during the War were all white, there wasn't a single incident of sabotage perpetrated by Japanese Americans, and the 442nd, comprised entirely of Japanese Americans, is one of the most decorated military units in history. For reasons that should be obvious, I think it is particularly crucial that we keep this history in mind today...