When President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 on August 10, he acknowledged that the incarceration of over 110,000 Japanese Americans during World War II was wrong. The United States government had made a mistake. After a decade long campaign to win redress by the Japanese American community, the United States Congress passed a law, the Civil Liberties Act. It took fifty years and a strong movement to pressure the government to apologize and pay monetary reparations to each Japanese American whose rights had been violated by EO 9066. Why did the camps happen? Most Americans supported the incarceration primarily due to the “war hysteria,” “race prejudice,” and the “lack of political leadership,” a conclusion reached by the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Incarceration of Civilians (CWRIC) in 1983. There were voices that spoke out and challenged this order by President Franklin Roosevelt but they were few. Most people were afraid to question the “military necessity” of the incarceration. The Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress (NCRR) has honored those who supported Japanese Americans and who spoke out against the injustice of the camps.
Our government is making a mistake again today with the war in Iraq. NCRR commends Lt. Ehren Watada, a commissioned officer, for making the difficult decision to speak out against this illegal war, putting his obligation to the Constitution above his duty to follow orders. In March 2003, NCRR took the position that a preemptive invasion of Iraq violated the United Nations Charter and that the war in Iraq was an illegal war. At the start of the war it was not easy for people to speak out against for fear of being labeled unpatriotic even after no weapons of mass destruction were found! More and more people are opposing this war as they hear about torture and inhumane treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay and violations of the Geneva Accords. Tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians and nearly 2,500 U.S. troops have died so far. We support these soldiers who do not want to take part in these human rights abuses. We admire the strength it takes to fight the pressures to conform and to accept the consequences of a court martial and prison. Thank you, Lt. Watada.
We acknowledge that there are many opinions in our community about the stand taken by Lt. Watada and encourage a dialogue and exchange of views. We hope that we can all grow from hearing and trying to understand differing and opposing viewpoints. The right to disagree is a freedom we need to protect.
Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress Officers