February 19, 1942, was a dark day for the United States. The bombing of Pearl Harbor was a horrible and awakening event that altered the very course of time. After Japan declared war on the United States, all Japanese individuals residing in the United States, regardless of background, age, gender, or occupation, became suspected of being Japanese spies. The United States government at the time was concerned that some Japanese-Americans were serving the Japanese government, so a preemptive action was put into place to confine all Japanese-Americans to internment camps. Per “Executive Order 9066,” President Franklin D. Roosevelt stated, “whereas the successful prosecution of the war requires every possible protection against espionage and against sabotage” (Roosevelt, 1942). About 10 million Japanese-Americans were sent to “relocation centers,” also called resettlement centers, which were typically built in the American Midwest. While these camps were supposedly far different from the concentration camps of many other countries in that “furnishing of medical aid, hospitalization, food, clothing, transportation, utilities, facilities, and services” were provided, the act of detaining these individuals was wrong, no matter the treatment they received (Roosevelt, 1942).
This decision crafted by the United States was an unethical and unreasonable action because generalizing an entire population based on the actions of a group of individuals was incorrect. In the “Declaration of Independence,” Thomas Jefferson stated that “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” (Jefferson, 1776). This blatantly defies the moral and civic rights that America stands for. We simply cannot use our emotions to judge whether a person is guilty or not. In 1906, sociologist William Graham Sumner declared that “the mores can make anything right,” showing how morality can be effortlessly used for evil purposes (Sumner, 1906).
Per James Q. Wilson’s article, “What is Moral, and How Do We Know It?” we see how morality can be a sensitive subject. “Analytical philosophy asserts that moral statements are expressions of emotion lacking any rational or scientific basis” (Wilson, 1993). With this reasoning, we see how the social contract comes into play. It is our moral compass that largely effects what we do, not so much the laws of our government. With this, we can view how it is virtually impossible to excuse what the American government did to its own Japanese-Americans at this particular time. Morality can “excuse” evil behaviors if one believes he or she can get away with it. This coincides with the majority rule, where the actions of a group of individuals are inclined to be more sinister than when acting alone. Wilson further explains that “because our moral senses are at the origin parochial and easily blunted by even trivial differences between what we think of as familiar and what we define as strange, it is not hard to explain why there is so much misery in the world…” (Wilson, 1993).
The status of society in present time is founded on the events that have transpired in the past. Specifically, racism in the United States is a direct result of the events during WWII involving Japanese-Americans being forcibly held at internment camps. This moment in time held severe repercussions for the long-term development of human rights in our country and those throughout the world. This event violated the very same human rights that made this country of ours so impressive because Japanese-Americans were held captive without any proof of misconduct. John Locke’s “Second Treatise of Government,” outlines the concept of just power. He states, “being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions” (Locke, 2002). Japanese-Americans were detained in the internment camp due to simply being of Japanese descent. It was unfair and unjust, and unfortunately, these kinds of racist actions are far from absent in the United States. In Roger Berkowitz’s article, “Why We Must Judge,” the frequent horrific actions committed by our government in the past are outlined. Using the word “torture” to label waterboarding and other forms of questionable interrogation methods carried out by the United States has been under intense scrutiny still maintaining a presence in our society. Former Vice President Dick Cheney personally authorized several techniques of torture during his term, and Former President Barack Obama did nothing to hold him and those responsible, accountable. “We are suffering a culture-wide crisis of judgment. And not just when it comes to torture” (Berkowitz, 2010). It is time to hold the actions of our military and government accountable for what they have done and continue to do. While we are often informed how these Japanese-Americans were provided with food, shelter, and safety during their imprisonment of WWII, we must deliberate if we are being granted the entire story. Furthermore, regardless of their treatment, simply the act of detainment was unethical and needs to be taken seriously in hopes to prevent future atrocities.
The results of this event are the continued racism happening throughout the world. The detainment of Japanese-Americans also educated us that evil can exist in every aspect of life and that everyone thinks they are the “good guy,” no matter the situation. The sins of a few should not affect the livelihood of the majority; we cannot blame and punish an entire race due to the horrific events of Pearl Harbor. Thomas Jefferson wrote in the “Declaration of Independence” that citizens have a duty to pursue a “just” government that uses “just power” (Jefferson, 1776). It is the duty of every citizen to stand up for those who can’t stand for themselves. It is appalling that the detainment of Japanese-Americans was let ensue by the rest of America. This unfair action of the United States government was shared by all those who call America, home. Instead of placing the blame on our government, we must all share the burden of allowing such barbaric actions to occur.
Furthermore, the manner in which the U.S. government obtained the names of its Japanese-American citizens was unscrupulous as well. Per J.R. Minkel’s article, “Confirmed: The U.S. Census Bureau Gave Up Names of Japanese-Americans in WW II,” “…government records confirm that the U.S. Census Bureau provided the U.S. Secret Service with names and addresses of Japanese-Americans during World War II” (Minkel, 2007). The United States Census Bureau assembles sensitive information regarding the population of America every decade, however, is banned from using this information for any intended purpose which puts its citizens at risk. The “Second War Powers Act of 1942,” temporarily repealed this protection to help allocate the Japanese in America. This action was requested by Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau and was undoubtedly in violation of the American citizen’s rights. While Census data is often used to enforce the “National Voting Rights Act,” it does not allow the information to be used to identify an individual’s sex, age, race, or address.
It is clear to see why the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans during WWII was both illogical and unethical. The United States of America was built by free men who sought to bring their newly acquired freedom to all those residing in their country, regardless of race, gender, occupation, or religious preference. It is in contradiction of our forefather’s wishes to infringe on any part of the “Declaration of Independence” or the “Bill of Rights.” However, the actions during WWII regarding the forcible occupation of Japanese-Americans, do not rest on our government alone. Dr. Martin Luther King discusses social contracts in his article, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” He explains, using Thomas Jefferson’s writings, that everyone has the responsibility to act against an unjust government; elaborating that “one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws” (King, 1963). It was every American citizen’s fault living at that time that this injustice occurred. Hopefully, by considering the past to view how our country negatively acted during WWII, we can all unite together to help prevent any further evil from existing in the years going forward.
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