January 30th was Fred Korematsu Day, a day recognized in ten states honoring the memory of Fred Korematsu, a leader that the Japanese American community esteems just as much as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr is esteemed in the mainstream.
Who was he and what did he do? The short story is that he opposed President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, the one establishing internment camps for enemies of America, which the executors interpreted as applying to all Japanese Americans.
An exhibit on the Executive order at the Small Documents Gallery at the National Museum of American History.
Let’s back up a little bit. On February 19, 1942, which was ten weeks after the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor, President FDR signed Executive Order 9066. EO 9066 authorized the removal of people from military areas “as deemed necessary or desirable.” The military defined the West Coast as a military area and deemed it necessary to remove all people of Japanese ancestry or nationality from that area. The result of the EO was that Japanese Americans were forced to inland to secure facilities – the Internment/Incarceration camps. Please note: Nowhere did the Executive Order single out the Japanese, and several thousand Germans, Jews (the religious practice, not the ethnicity), and Italians were also interned, but they were about 13,000 in number, compared to the 120,000 Japanese.
An original artifact
“A Day that Will Live in Infamy”
Americans today recognize that line, especially in conjunction with December 7. Hopefully they also know where that line came from: the speech FDR gave to Congress on December 8, after which Congress pretty much unanimously declared war on Japan and brought America into World War 2. Japan’s ultimate goal of destroying the Pacific Fleet backfired in a major way and had the opposite effect of keeping America out of their hair. America, for its part, realized how much it had underestimated the Japanese. [note: FDR actually said “a date that will live in infamy”]
However, there are a couple of interesting and much lesser known stories surrounding the attack on Pearl Harbor. I came across them separately, but putting them together is surely a seed for a lot of interesting research. Continue reading
My internship at this museum (which has been a dream job since 4th grade) has afforded me all sorts of amazing opportunities, and today was no exception.
Except sometimes amazing doesn’t always mean happy. Sometimes it can be powerful but tragic and still make you pull up short with a suddenly new perspective.
My task for this week has been transcribing letters from JPG files to .DOC files of a young man of the 442nd Infantry Regiment during World War 2. The 442nd (and the 100th) were composed of Japanese Americans, some drafted, some volunteers, and all extremely patriotic. (They’re called nisei, which means second-generation. Issei are first generation and sensei are third, I think.)
Of late I have been interning at an historical museum in the greater Washington, D.C. area and it has been pretty much the best job I’ve ever had. It has been extremely educational, both from the exhibits perspective and from the office politics side. (In fact, one department lead said that apart from the actual job experience, he wanted us interns to observe how half of his job is just navigating the personnel.)
Every day is a new adventure and last week was no different. My fellow interns and I had an entire day scheduled in the paper lab, which is where all the paper artifacts get restored and preserved. What were we going to be doing down there for a whole day, I wondered to myself. Well as it turns out, we were actually going to be preserving some newspapers.