Commentary: An American Hero

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(Sacramento, CA)
Friday, April 8, 2005

During the early dark days of World War II a frightened public supported rounding up Japanese Americans and shipping them inland. Leading politicians and important institutions, including the Sacramento Bee, the newspaper I work for, endorsed the idea.

When the order came to evacuate, Fred Korematsu refused to go. He was in his early twenties then, working as a ship yard welder in Oakland. He was also an American citizen born to Japanese immigrant parents. Not just the government but his family and friends urged him to comply. "All of them turned their backs on me because they thought I was a troublemaker," he recalled years later. 

Korematsu was eventually arrested, and sent to internment in Utah. His case challenging his internment went all the way to the US Supreme Court, which in 1944 upheld the order - ruling six to three that military necessity justified the government's actions.

It was almost 40 years before a federal court in San Francisco overturned Korematsu's conviction. And in 1998 President Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal Of Freedom.

At a time of national crisis, when others were prepared to abandon the Constitution, Korematsu stood bravely to defend it. For that, he deserves the gratitude of all Americans.



Ginger Rutland writes for the Sacramento Bee Opinion pages.