Many will say that we learn history so that we won’t repeat our missteps. It’s an easy statement to make but is hard to back up with action. Sometimes people have different ideas of what the missteps were.
For instance, had we truly learned not to repeat the mistakes we have made in our history, would we still have been tangled in the costly Iraq war?
It is also hard to be the lone dissenting voice. It takes someone especially brave and compassionate to take on that role. This week, we will take a lesson from Fred Korematsu, who became a fugitive during World War II, when President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which required Japanese Americans to be relocated to internment camps. Prior to that, Korematsu trained to be a welder in order to contribute efforts toward defense in the war.
The U.S. Supreme Court case Korematsu v. United States in 1944 tested the constitutionality of Executive Order 9066. The court decision, authored by Justice Hugo Black, ruled in favor of the United States, 6–3, and Korematsu was interned.
After he was released, Korematsu became an activist. Recognizing the parallel between what happened to Japanese Americans during WWII and the racial profiling that occurred after Sept. 11, 2001, he was known for speaking out for the rights of Arab Americans.
This event occurred in our recent history; we all remember it. Yet how many American citizens spoke up against the racial profiling like Korematsu did? How many Americans saw something wrong in it but didn’t say anything? And how many citizens thought they were
right and justified in targeting Arab Americans?
Is it possible that so many Americans just missed class the days that Japanese internment, American slavery, and Manifest Destiny were taught?
We are just not learning the lessons of our past, or perhaps we are too slow in learning these lessons. This is why it is crucial for us to be good teachers to the next generations, as that is how social progress is made. This is also why it’s good for us to always be students. There is something we can learn from everyone we meet because we all come from different backgrounds.
Korematsu was especially compassionate because he strived for the rights of everyone, not just Asian Americans. Ethnic communities are not particularly strong in reaching out beyond racial lines. It is notable and deserved that his 1944 conviction was overturned in 1983 by a pro bono law team, that Seattle University named a law center after him.
His empathy and actions are things we need to work harder toward. (end)
SU law center named for civil rights leader