Posts tagged ‘Justice Douglas’

Exaggerated Security Threats and Civil Liberties

From Eric L Muller's "Hirabayashi:  The Biggest Lie of the Greatest Generation" which studies the Supreme Court decision upholding race-based civil rights restrictions (eg curfews) in WWII.

This Article presents new archival evidence of an enormous lie that Executive Branch officials presented to the Supreme Court in the Japanese American litigation of World War II, one that impugns Hirabayashi at least as much as it does Korematsu. The lie concerns what might be termed the "external" component of the national security threat in early 1942 "“ the danger that Japanese military forces posed to the West Coast of the United States.  The government's brief in Hirabayashi did not mince words about that external threat: The "principal danger" that military officials "apprehended" was "a Japanese invasion"  which "might have threatened the very integrity of our nation."  With the Japanese "at the crest of their military fortunes," the brief maintained, military officials found it "imperative" to "take adequate protective measures against a possible invasion of the West Coast."  The nighttime curfew on Japanese Americans was one such measure.

This depiction of the external Japanese threat found a sympathetic audience in the Supreme Court in Hirabayashi. Chief Justice Stone, writing for the unanimous Court, accepted that the men "charged with the responsibility of our national defense had ample ground for concluding that they must face the danger of invasion," a danger that concurring Justice Douglas insisted was "not fanciful but real." Singling out Japanese Americans for curfew was reasonable because of their "ethnic affiliations with an invading enemy."

Archival records now make clear that all of this talk of a threatened Japanese invasion was a massive distortion of the actual military situation in the eastern Pacific in early 1942. There was at that time no danger of a Japanese invasion of the West Coast. The army and navy viewed any sort of Japanese invasion of California, Oregon, or Washington as impracticable. They were neither anticipating nor preparing for any such event. Indeed, during the key time period of early 1942, the Army was more concerned with scaling back the defense of the West Coast from land attack than with bolstering it.

Wow.  Exaggeration of a security threat as an excuse to curtail civil rights.  Gee, I'm sure glad that doesn't happen anymore.  HT:  Jonathon Adler