Friday, November 26, 2004

Korematsu all over again.

On November 24th NPR did a story on a controversy brewing over the dententions of Japanese Americans during World War II. It appears a few folks on Bainbridge Island in Washington state, scene of the first Japanese-American relocations in the country, think maybe the rounding up of 120,000 Americans and imprisoning them wasn't such a bad idea after all.

The local school district is attempting to teach the history of the detentions but has run into opposition from a few crack pots because the premise of the lesson is that the whole thing was wrong. Apparently, there are two sides to this issue; who knew?

This is a letter I wrote to NPR's ombudsman, Jeffery Dvorkin, which I'm sure I'll never get a reply to. I'm one of those listeners he described in an interview in the Washington Post as feeling "NPR is there to reinforce their own ideas about the world." One must remember NPR is not "in the informational comfort-food business." I'll keep that in mind as they lunge toward the right while giving an entirely new meaning to the expression "polically correct."

Dear All Things Considered-

Tom Goldman's report seemed to be falling all over itself to give credence to a small, but vocal minority‚ whose view that rounding up and imprisoning some 120,000 Americans was justified. The main instigator of this push for ‚"balance‚" in the curriculum, Mary Dombrowsky, is a local republican activist, which wasn't mentioned in the report. Nor was the fact that she began this crusade after reading a book by far-right journalist Michele Malkin "In Defense of Internment." Malkin has also accused president Clinton of political pandering for his decision to award the Congressional Medal of Honor to Japanese-American soldiers. A ridiculous assertion since it is a fact Nisei soldiers who served in the 100th battalion in Europe were the most highly decorated in the Army‚Äôs history. A fact even Ronald Reagan recognized in 1988.

What most disturbed me about the piece, however, was Goldman's contention that the 1944 Korematsu case was a ‚a "reasoned legal decision" for the era. Nothing could be further from the truth. The main reason the detentions were found unjustified and wrong after Fred Korematsu's petition for a writ of error coram nobis in 1983, was because it was discovered by his lawyers that the War Department and Justice Department officials had altered and destroyed evidence regarding the loyalty of Japanese Americans, and had withheld this information from the Supreme Court. (Not mentioned in the report.)

Even during that period of time there was resistance to the detentions, in his dissent one of three dissenters to Korematsu v. United States (1944) Justice Murphy wrote: ‚"This exclusion of "all persons of Japanese ancestry, both alien and non-alien," from the Pacific Coast area on a plea of military necessity in the absence of martial law ought not to be approved. Such exclusion goes over "the very brink of constitutional power" and falls into the ugly abyss of racism."

Anti-Japanese racism in the Seattle area at the time was prevalent. It was never brought up in the report. The seemingly endless recitations of Japanese radio intercepts at ‚ Station S in the report tended to reinforce Dombrowsky's opinion that there was some reasonable doubt about the injustice of the interments based on national security grounds, not war hysteria and racism.

What really agitates Mrs. Dombrowsky is the connection being made between the internments and the Pariot Act. She has said, "Although, I hesitate to use such a loaded term, I firmly believe that the teaching unit in question rises to the level of propaganda." Propaganda? Who has the real agenda here? Blind obedience to the president and his policies, the Patriot Act in particular, is the real story here, which wasn't the thrust of Goldman's reporting.

It is not unreasonable to fear a repeat of history when one considers the statements of Civil Rights Commissioner Peter Kirsanow who said in July 2002, "I think we will have a return to Korematsu…not too many people will be crying in their beer if there are more detentions, more stops, more profiling. Should terrorists carry out another attack, and they come from the same ethnic group [Arabs] that attacked the World Trade Center, you can forget about civil rights.”

Jeffrey Dvorkin told the Washington Post this week, "We're not in the informational comfort-food business." NPR shouldn't be in the business of coddling the opinions of the right wing fringe and leaving certain crucial facts out of its reporting that reinforces them, either.

NPR's efforts to provide "fair and balanced" news looks more and more like moral cowardice everyday.


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