It's been seventy years since the United States government rounded up 110,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans and locked them in internment camps for the remainder of World War II. The anniversary passed with little fanfare.
On February 19, 1942, two months after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which created military zones where citizens and immigrants with "foreign enemy ancestry" could be relocated into prison camps.
Amazingly, the Supreme Court upheld the law, as American citizens sat in out-of-the-way camps under guard towers.
Not much is left of the camps--I visited the one at Manzanar. The barracks and other structures are gone, save some guard towers.
I first learned about the internment camps in elementary school, and I have to admit I remember my first reaction was that it made sense to protect the country from espionage and sabotage. I had only a limited knowledge of World War II, which was just limited to which countries were involved, some important battles, some significant dates, and of course, the weapons and vehicles of war. Having only a little knowledge of history may be worse than having none at all--I thought the German army was cool because it had the best tanks, machine guns, and planes. Of course, I didn't think they were so cool after I learned about the Holocaust. Superficial thinking also led me to agree with internment at an age before I understood the dangers of government, the Constitution, and the rule of law.
Similarly, at that age I thought FDR was a good president. He won the war, after all. I've grown out of that belief, too, but sadly, the man that forcibly took a hundred thousand people from their homes is consistently ranked behind Washington and Lincoln as the greatest president.
Not only did FDR blatantly violate the rights of so many people, he also ushered in the era of big government, extended the length of the Great Depression, and wouldn't leave office after completing his second term.
Another highly ranked president with some major overlooked problems is Woodrow Wilson. He also violated civil rights in the name of fighting espionage during wartime. Here's what Wikipedia has to say about it.
To counter opposition to the war at home, Wilson pushed the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918 through Congress to suppress anti-British, pro-German, or anti-war opinions.While he welcomed socialists who supported the war, he pushed at the same time to arrest and deport foreign-born radicals.Citing the Espionage Act, the U.S. Post Office, following the instructions of the Justice Department, refused to carry any written materials that could be deemed critical of the U.S. war effort.Some sixty newspapers judged to have revolutionary or antiwar content were deprived of their second-class mailing rights and effectively banned from the U.S. mails.Mere criticism of the Wilson administration and its war policy became grounds for arrest and imprisonment
Mere criticism of the Wilson Administration was enough to land you in prison, and the FDR Administration would throw you in a prison camp if you looked like you belonged to the wrong race. Hard to believe these are American leaders and not 1930s Spanish, German, or Italian dictators.
Wilson and FDR have one other thing in common--both were progressives. Wilson was an early leader of the progressive movement, and FDR implemented many of their social programs. Not surprisingly, these two advocates of huge government also turned that government on their own people.
Seventy years later, we remember that no small government ever rounded up its citizens.