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The Stolen Years: Part Two Print
Written by Tom Griffin   
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The Stolen Years: Part Two
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But when the appeals court in San Francisco sent a set of questions about the case to the Supreme Court, the justices decided they wanted the case right away. Hirabayashi v. U.S. was placed on the May docket for oral arguments.

Hirabayashi’s legal team was caught off guard. They hired Harold Evans, a Quaker attorney in Philadelphia with Supreme Court experience, and asked for a delay. But the request was turned down. Evans only had a month to prepare.

Years later, Hirabayashi felt that political pressure was put on the justices to hear the case quickly. “I think it was in the interest of the government to have no postponement, to have the court case on at the time where there was considerable anxiety about the way the war was going,” he said.

But at the time, he said, he was “relatively naive. … I expected that when it got to the Supreme Court, of course, they were going to declare it unconstitutional. It looked like a black and white case to me.”

Hirabayashi was the first Supreme Court test of the treatment of Japanese Americans during the war. In their briefs and oral argument, Evans and Walters focused on the internments. Was it constitutional to forcibly remove a group of citizens from their homes and jobs solely because of their race? Only about 10 percent of their argument touched on the issue of the curfew violation.

But Chief Justice Harlan Fiske Stone took advantage of the concurrent sentences, tossing aside the question of the internments and focusing only on the legality of the curfew orders. It would be easier, he thought, to get a unanimous decision if only the curfew were considered.

If Hirabayashi had served the original, consecutive sentences, the Court would have been forced to examine the constitutional merits of the exclusion order. Because of the concurrent sentences, they could duck the issue.

According to Hirabayashi, President Roosevelt sent word to one of his senior appointees that it would be good for the war effort if the ruling was unanimous. Justice Frank Murphy was going to dissent. “They worked hard on him, and finally he caved in. His papers indicate this,” Hirabayashi said.

On June 21, the Court issued a 9-0 ruling that the curfew was within the war powers of Congress and the president. “Distinctions between citizens solely because of their ancestry are by their very nature odious to a free people,” Chief Justice Stone wrote in his majority opinion, “… [but] it by no means follows that, in dealing with the perils of war, Congress and the Executive are wholly precluded from taking into account those facts and circumstances which are relevant to measures for our national defense.”

While voting with the majority, Justice Murphy wrote his own opinion. “Today is the first time, so far as I am aware, that we have sustained a substantial restriction of the personal liberty of citizens of the United States based upon the accident of race or ancestry. … In this sense it bears a melancholy resemblance to the treatment accorded to members of the Jewish race in Germany and in other parts of Europe.”

Hirabayashi got no advance notice of the ruling. He read about it in the newspaper the next morning, like everyone else. “I thought, well, I guess the Constitution had gone to war, too.”

Two and a half years later, in December 1944, the Supreme Court would finally rule on the legality of the internment camps in Korematsu v. U.S. Citing the precedence of Hirabayashi, the justices voted 6-3 affirming the legality of the camps. Murphy wrote a stinging dissent. The West Coast evacuation, he wrote, was “one of the most sweeping and complete deprivations of constitutional rights in the history of this nation.”

Not until 44 years later, when President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act, did the United States formally admit it was wrong. Under President George H.W. Bush, the federal government paid a fee of $20,000 per person to those it incarcerated in wartime. And in 1987, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the government had withheld information from the courts in both Korematsu and Hirabayashi.

After the ruling, Hirabayashi spent three months working on a road gang in southern Arizona’s Catalina Mountains. (The government wouldn’t pay for his transportation, so he hitchhiked from Spokane to get there.) In 1999, the location was renamed the Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Site.

After serving his time, he came back to Spokane and married Floyd Schmoe’s daughter, Esther. But his days of civil disobedience weren’t over. He later served time in federal prison on McNeil Island for refusing to sign a loyalty document distributed only to Japanese Americans by the draft board.

By 1944, most officials within Roosevelt’s cabinet realized the internment camps were a mistake. Since it was an election year, Roosevelt decided to wait until after the vote to lift the military orders. On Dec. 17, 1944, Public Proclamation No. 22 officially removed Gen. DeWitt’s exclusion orders.

Many returnees faced economic ruin. Others faced a hostile reaction from the white population. It is beyond the scope of this article to tell the story of the return—and later success—of this generation. But those who came back to the UW in 1945 say they felt welcomed. O’Brien later wrote there were 53 Japanese American students enrolled at the UW in 1945–46.

Of the 15 Nisei students interviewed for this article—all but one completed their college degrees despite being forced to leave the UW. The post-war success of these (and most) second-generation Japanese Americans is remarkable. Doctors, lawyers, engineers, college professors, social workers, government officials—their achievements caused some to label them the “model minority,” a name that rightfully irritates most Japanese Americans.

Perhaps this later success is the reason why no one interviewed for this article would admit that they are bitter about the internments. “If I had not been evacuated, I don’t know if I would have followed through on becoming a doctor,” says Ruby Inouye Shu. “The chances would not be as great and my intention would not be as firm.”

George Mukasa spent the post-war years in top security positions in the federal government. “The uprooting was a good thing,” he says bluntly. “It broke up the provincialism in the community. There was too much focus on the dignity of the family, of conforming to this and conforming to that. I wanted to get away from all that. I grew up pretty fast.”

“I wasn’t bitter. It’s great to be an American,” adds World War II veteran Hiro Nishamura. “I had a cultural shock over there [in Asia]. I’d rather have two strikes against me in America than live in Burma, Thailand or elsewhere. This is still the best country in the world and the best democracy.”

But their experiences need to be considered in a broader context, says Professor Emeritus Frank Miyamoto. “As a matter of fact, it is true. The internments did disperse the [Japanese American] community. But at what kind of cost?” he asks. Those alive today were in their teens and early 20s in 1942, he notes. They were young and adaptable. But their parents lost almost everything.

Miyamoto is philosophical about his personal experience and his community’s experience. “One thing I think about. It’s too bad that Japanese Americans have hung on to the evacuation experience as the event in their backgrounds that mobilizes their attitudes and sentiments,” he adds.

“Prejudice and discrimination are worldwide. There are a lot of things wrong with American society, but, on the other hand, there is no other society in the world has the capacity for change in another direction.”  Tom Griffin has been editor of Columns since it was launched in 1989. Many portions of his article rely on research by Theresa Mudrock, the history librarian for UW Libraries. For more information on this period in UW history, see Mudrock’s Web exhibit, “Interrupted Lives ,” or the Columns Web site.

The Rest of the Story

Gordon Hirabayashi, ’45, ’49, ’52, got his Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Washington and taught in the Middle East before becoming a professor at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. Now retired, he lives in Canada.
Frank Miyamoto, ’36, ’38, returned to the UW faculty after the war and was chair of the sociology department and an associate dean. He retired in 1980 and lives in the Seattle area.

George Mukasa, ’42, worked in the Pentagon after the war and then in other parts of the federal government. After retiring in 1979, he moved to the Seattle area, where he still lives.

Hiro Nishimura, ’48, completed his degree at the UW in biology and worked for 28 years for the UW departments of physiology and biochemistry. He retired in 1987 and lives in the Seattle area.

Robert O’Brien left the UW after the war to teach at Whittier College in California. He died in 1991.

Kenji Okuda graduated from Oberlin College and later got his Ph.D. in economics from Harvard. He taught in Pakistan, Nepal and Uganda before returning to the U.S. to teach at WSU. He was on the economics faculty of Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, B.C. before retiring 18 years ago. He lives in Vancouver, B.C.

Toru Sakahara, ’40, founded a law firm with Donna MacArthur that lasted 40 years, until his retirement in 1990. He and his wife live in the Seattle area.

Floyd Schmoe was an activist for peace and social justice his entire life. In 1948, he recruited two dozen volunteers to help rebuild the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, devastated by atomic bombs during World War II. He was nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize. He died at the age of 105 in 2001.

Ruby Inouye Shu was for many years the only Japanese American woman who was a physician in the Seattle region. She retired in 1995 at the age of 75 and lives in the area.

Lee Paul Sieg
retired from the UW presidency in 1946 and was named its first president emeritus that year. He died in 1963.

Sueko Hasegawa Sumioka, ’45, ’60, worked for 20 years as a social worker for Seattle’s Children’s Home Society and Ryther Treatment Center. She is retired and living in the Seattle area.

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