On May 16, 1942, seventy-five years ago today, Gordon Hirabayashi, a student at the University of Washington, was arrested by the FBI.
Five months earlier, Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor, finally drawing a reluctant United States into World War II. Two months later, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, leading to the evacuation and internment of more than 110,000 Japanese people (more than two-thirds of whom were United States citizens.)
“As an American citizen,” he told scholar Ronald Takaki, “I wanted to uphold the principles of the Constitution, and the curfew and evacuation orders which singled out a group on the basis of ethnicity violated them. It was not acceptable to be less than a full citizen in a white man’s country.” (Historylink)
Hirabayashi’s parents had converted from Buddhism to a Protestant sect of Christianity, Mukyokai, that was similar in its pacifist leanings to the Quaker, and he got involved with the Quaker-run AMerican Friends Service Committee at the UW
“helping Japanese American families whose fathers had been imprisoned immediately after Pearl Harbor. The day after Japanese Americans were removed from Seattle for a temporary prison camp at the Puyallup Fair Grounds, Hirabayashi remained in the city, defying the military order that had required ‘all persons of Japanese ancestry’ to register for the ‘evacuation.’
He turned himself in to the FBI, and was tried and convicted in October 1942. He went to prison for 90 days. His case before the Supreme Court, Hirabayashi v. United States (1943), was the first challenge to the government’s wartime curfew and expulsion of Japanese Americans. The Court ruled against him 9-0.” (HistoryLink)
According to the Wikipedia account, “given wartime exigencies, officials would not transport him to prison or even pay his train fare, so he hitchhiked to the prison in Arizona where he had been ordered to serve his sentence.”
Over forty years later, Hirabayashi challenged his original conviction in court, using a rule that allows judicial review of a judgment based on factual error not known to the court at the time the judgment was delivered.
“Researchers and legal scholars Peter Irons and Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga had uncovered irrefutable evidence that the government had withheld information from the Office of Naval Intelligence, contradicting the United States Army’s claim of widespread disloyalty among Japanese Americans. This was the so-called ‘military necessity’ rationale for the evacuation. In fact, not one Japanese American was ever convicted of sabotage or espionage during the entire war.” (HistoryLink)
Hirabayashi’s convictions were overturned. Looking back, Hirabayashi explained:
“When my case was before the Supreme Court in 1943, I fully expected that as a citizen the Constitution would protect me. Surprisingly, even though I lost, I did not abandon my beliefs and my values. And I never look at my case as just my own, or just as a Japanese American case. It is an American case, with principles that affect the fundamental human rights of all Americans.”
The King County Council has memorialized Hirabayashi with a recently installed plaque int he Council lobby, “steps away” from where he was imprisoned 75 years ago.
Apropos of nothing.