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The Unacknowledged Lesson: Earl Warren and the Japanese Relocation Controversy

ISSUE:  Autumn 1979

Between February and August 1942, about 112,000 Japanese-Americans were transported from their homes along the Pacific Coast in California, Oregon, and Washington to “relocation centers” in California, Idaho, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, and Arkansas. The Japanese, about two-thirds of whom had been born in America, were housed in these centers until January 1945, when they were officially released. The relocation centers resembled concentration camps: they were enclosed with barbed wire and patrolled by armed guards, privacy and independent family life for the incarcerated Japanese were almost nonexistent, and the daily lives of the Japanese were controlled by their supervisors. The relocation centers were not, however, instruments of genocide or barbarism or even brutality; in this sense the term “concentration camp” incorrectly describes them. The centers did represent, though, the first and only episode in American history in which the United States government forcibly interned American citizens on the basis of their racial and ethnic affiliation.

President Franklin Roosevelt signed the executive order creating the relocation centers, but the principal architects of the relocation program were John J. McCloy, assistant secretary of war, and three U. S. Army officers, Major General Alien W. Gullion, Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt, and Colonel Karl R. Bendesten. In developing the relocation policy these men had the full cooperation and support of Earl Warren, who held the positions of attorney general and governor of California during the Second World War.

In 1971 Earl Warren, having retired as chief justice of the Supreme Court two years earlier, began writing his memoirs. I was a law clerk to Warren at the time, and he asked for my reactions to drafts of the memoirs as they were prepared. Warren’s memoirs, anonymously edited, eventually were published in 1977, three years after his death. For the most part, they were the conventional reminiscences of a public figure. Warren revealed almost no information that was not already available, and in some instances, such as his account of the Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education, the famous 1954 case invalidating racial segregation in the public schools, he gave a less than full description of events.

The memoirs settled some scores, such as Warren’s longstanding grievance against the American Bar Association, which at one point erroneously had announced that Warren had been dropped from its membership for nonpayment of dues. The memoirs also painted less than flattering portraits of some of Warren’s political acquaintances, including Dwight Eisenhower, who, while president, was quoted as saying to Warren that he would solve the Communist problem by “kill[ing] the S. O. B.’s.” They ignored some controversial moments in Warren’s career, such as his opposition during the height of the Cold War to the nomination of Berkeley law professor Max Radin, a distinguished scholar but a supposed “leftist,” to the California Supreme Court. On the whole, the memoirs were a bland, unrevealing, and selective account of Warren’s life. Warren’s pet burro, his “friend and constant companion” during Warren’s youth in Bakersfield, California, received more attention than any single justice of the Supreme Court.

One episode of Warren’s career, however, received significant, although sparse, attention in his memoirs—the Japanese relocation decision. Warren said that he had “since deeply regretted the removal order and my own testimony advocating it, because it was not in keeping with our American concept of freedom and the rights of citizens.” He then articulated his guilt feelings in terms that, for a father of six and a devoted family man, were vividly personal: “Whenever I thought of the innocent little children who were torn from home, school friends, and congenial surroundings, I was consciencestricken.” On reflection, Warren believed that “[i]t was wrong to react so impulsively, without positive evidence of disloyalty. . . .”

Warren’s confession of error in the Japanese relocation controversy raises several questions. How did Earl Warren, one of the most vigorous advocates of civil liberties in the history of the Supreme Court, come to advocate and defend a policy that constituted a wholesale deprivation of the civil rights of Japanese-Americans? How could Warren, a principal force behind the Court’s unanimous attack on racism in Brown v. Board of Education and its progeny, have ignored the racist character of the relocation, which was imposed only against Japanese nationals and aliens, leaving unaffected people of Italian or German origin? How did Warren, a champion of equality and fairness under the law as chief justice, justify the patently inequitable nature of a relocation process reserved only for Japanese? And why did Warren, whose strength of convictions was well-known to his acquaintances, who almost never admitted that he had been wrong on an issue, and who rarely changed his mind once he had formed an opinion, decide to recant on the Japanese relocation issue? An examination of these questions takes one inside the mind of one of America’s least penetrable public figures.

* A documented copy of this essay is in the author’s possession; footnotes have been omitted from this version. Quotations ascribed to Earl Warren are principally from The Memoirs of Earl Warren (1977).


Warren’s childhood environment, while not one of dire poverty, was far from comfortable. Earl Warren was born on what was then called “Dingy Turner Street” in Los Angeles; his father, Mathias Warren, was a repairman for the Southern Pacific Railroad. When Earl was three, Mathias was laid off by the railroad as a result of union agitation, and the Warrens eventually resettled in Sumner, a town near Bakersfield, where Mathias found steady work. Earl Warren later described Sumner (eventually renamed Kern City) as “just a dusty frontier railroad town,” with a small school, a little Methodist church, a lodge room where some social gatherings were held, and no organized social or recreational activities for either school children or adults. The Warrens lived “in a little row house across the street from the shipyards.” Mathias repaired railroad cars on the night shift; Earl delivered ice, worked in a bakery, drove a grocery wagon, kept books for a produce merchant, and was “call boy” for the railroad, searching through gambling houses and brothels for recalcitrant trainmen.

Mathias Warren insisted that Earl get an education and saved enough money so that his son eventually could go to college. Earl, whose high school grades were satisfactory, if not distinguished, was accepted as an undergraduate at Berkeley, and in August 1908, embarked on a tedious, hot trip from Bakersfield to the San Francisco Bay area. He later described that journey as a passage from a “relatively isolated little railroad town” to a “vibrant community.” He remembered the “arid landscape,” the dust, and the 100-degree heat of Bakersfield, and he contrasted this image with the sea breezes of the Bay area. He resolved never to go back to Bakersfield, except for summer employment, and he never did. “The idea of returning there,” he said, “seemed to me like giving up my freedom.”

Warren remained at Berkeley, first as an undergraduate and then as a law student, until 1914. He was an indifferent student, more concerned, he said, “with adequacy than profundity.” No book and no professor had “a profound influence” on him, he remembered, “not even in the law school.” He was primarily attracted to Berkeley “as a community of lively, stimulating people rather than as a community of scholars.” Companionship, he recalled, “was the greatest thing I found at the University, and it still stands out in my mind . . .as more important than anything I learned in classes.” For companionship, Warren played cards at the LaJunta Club, where he lived, frequented Gus Brause’s and Pop Kessler’s eating establishments, read poetry and drank beer with an unnamed society of friends, and put on plays with fellow members of the Skull and Keys. While in law school, he refused to participate in class, finding the method of instruction impractical, and the dean eventually reprimanded him for his attitude. Warren also worked part-time in a Berkeley law office, in violation of the law school’s rules, “to obtain some better orientation” toward law practice. He was, as a student, and would remain so in later life, impatient with abstract academic learning, gregarious and companionable, and a relentless joiner of social organizations. He was also, as his clash with the dean of the law school suggested, convinced of the soundness of the positions that he held and stubborn in their defense.

While Warren referred to his environment at Berkeley as possessing “an atmosphere of romance and enchantment,” and being “large [and] dynamic” in contrast to Sumner and Bakersfield, it was not particularly diverse or cosmopolitan. Warren lived at the same fraternity house for six years with students whose social and economic backgrounds were similar to his. Warren’s peers, he felt, “were living, as far as we knew, in a relatively serene society wherein there was a job for everyone with any skill.” Neither he nor his acquaintances “were profoundly concerned about causes or were preparing to serve any of them.” Warren had only a limited acquaintance, as far as is known, with Japanese or Chinese students; he associated the Chinese community in San Francisco largely with opium dens, and he remembered the Chinese in Sumner as cheap laborers who “kept themselves completely isolated from the community.”

The years in which Warren came to maturity were ones in which powerful racist stereotypes, primarily reserved for Orientals, were prevalent on the West Coast. Chinese immigration into California in the late 19th century had provoked nativist responses, in part reflecting an uneducated reaction to physical differences between Chinese and whites and in part reflecting fears of job competition. Eventually, in 1902, Chinese immigrants were excluded completely from the United States, and xenophobic feelings came to be directed toward the Japanese, who had not come to California in significant numbers before 1891, the year of Warren’s birth. In 1920, when Warren began his service in the district attorney’s office in Alameda County, there were 71,952 Japanese in California, out of a total population of approximately 3,400,000. Of those, about half were engaged in agriculture, many with notable success. Others were domestic servants, small merchants, gardeners, florists, or commercial fishermen. The Japanese were excluded from trade unions, went to segregated schools, lived in segregated neighborhoods, and generally were barred from entry into the non-Japanese community.

No influential segment of California political life was sympathetic to the Japanese. The Oriental Exclusion League, formed in 1919, included among its members representatives of the California Federation of Labor, the State Grange, and the American Legion. Hiram Johnson, California’s Progressive governor and senator, whom Warren greatly admired, was openly antagonistic to the Japanese; so were author Jack London, a Socialist, and conservative newspaperman William Randolph Hearst. The Los Angeles Times, in 1920, stated that “assimilation of the two races is unthinkable. It is morally indefensible and biologically impossible. An American who would not die fighting rather than yield to this infamy does not deserve the name.” Warren had not had extensive contact with Japanese, although he had been a devotee of authors, such as London, Rudyard Kipling, and Frank Norris, who perpetuated racial stereotypes.

By the 1930’s Warren had developed a strong interest in California politics. His ambition on graduating from law school was to be a trial lawyer, and to that end he ultimately secured a position in 1920 with the Alameda County district attorney’s office, believing “that about a year and a half or two years at most would equip me for the private practice I contemplated.” Four years later, however, he was still on the district attorney’s staff, and when Ezra Decoto, the incumbent, was named to the California Railroad Commission, Warren, after some political maneuvering, was named his successor. Warren remained district attorney of Alameda County until 1938, when he ran successfully for attorney general of California. He stayed in the district attorney’s post for 13 years, he later said, because of graft trials that he wanted to prosecute to completion and because of the Depression, which had made the financial risks of private law practice considerable.

During Warren’s years as district attorney, he developed a style of governing that he was to retain for the remainder of his public career. He identified effective governing with incorruptibility, efficiency, and nonpartisanship. He demanded absolute loyalty from subordinates. He favored activism in office, but he selected the issues on which he would be active rather than reacting to outside pressures. As district attorney, he launched vigorous prosecutions of bail-bond brokers, confidence men, and corrupt law enforcement officials. In those efforts Warren was stimulated by his reading of Franklin Hichborn’s The System, an account of graft trials in San Francisco in 1908 and 1909. The message of The System was that corruption in public office was a matter of ephemeral public concern, and that delays in prosecution therefore could often lead to eventual public indifference. Warren devised a technique of advising newspapers about the reluctance of officials to cooperate with his office, thus forestalling delays, and he instructed his staff to prepare their prosecutions as quickly as possible. His successful prosecutions won him considerable newspaper and public support.

While making a reputation as an effective district attorney—in 1931 he was described by Raymond Moley as “the most intelligent and politically independent district attorney in the United States”—Warren began to become involved in Republican party politics. Warren was a Republican, he later said, “simply because California was then an overwhelmingly Republican state.” He had, in those years, no particular interest in national affairs, and his views on state issues were not well defined. He was an alternate delegate to the Republican convention in 1928 and a delegate in 1932 as a supporter of Hoover’s candidacy. In 1934 he was elected chairman of the State Republican Central Committee, and he played a major role in the election of Governor Frank Merriam. He also drafted and helped secure passage of four amendments to the state constitution strengthening the power of the attorney general’s office.

In addition to these activities, Warren concentrated on broadening his political base in other areas. A longtime Mason, in 1935 he was elected Grand Master of Masons for California, which then had a total of 150,000 members. In 1931 he became president of the California District Attorneys’ Association, organized by him to further support for the proposed constitutional amendments. He was active in the University of California Alumni Association, becoming its first vice-president. And in 1936 he was named the nominal head of a slate of delegates opposing the candidacy of Governor Alf Landon. Warren’s slate won the Republican primary despite opposition from Governor Merriam and the Hearst papers; this victory fully established Warren as a force in California state politics.

By 1938, when he ran for Attorney General, Warren was an accomplished politician, with a relatively wide base of support and a consistently good record of performance as district attorney. On the stump he continued to stress the virtues of “common honesty” and efficient government, and he also indulged in some standard anti-New Deal rhetoric, calling Roosevelt’s “Hundred Days” legislation “the first major effort to change by stealth . . .the greatest free government of all time into a totalitarian state.” Despite this partisanship, Warren had not failed to notice that California’s registered Democrats had grown to outnumber registered Republicans by 1934. He was also well aware of the distinctive “cross-filing” system of California primaries, instituted by Progressives in the early 20th century as a device to avoid special interest control over primary nominations. In the 1938 election for attorney general, Warren entered not only the Republican primary, but the Democratic and Progressive primaries as well. He won the nominations of all three parties.

Warren’s emergence as a political figure in California, then, was a combination of cautious avoidance of ideological, partisan issues and continuous activism in the office of district attorney of Alameda County. Warren was in many ways an ideal candidate for a political culture that encouraged nonpartisanship, that had a recurrent attraction to reform crusades, that rewarded membership in civic organizations, and that was strikingly provincial on national issues. Warren’s formula for success was simple: he stressed his incorruptibility and independence, he performed his official duties vigorously, and he broadened the number of his acquaintances. Nothing in that formula suggested that he would be a passive or a partisan attorney general. Nor did the formula suggest that he would deviate too strongly from the majority of his fellow Californians on social issues.

For the most part, Warren’s tenure as attorney general was predictable. He reorganized the internal workings of the office, paying particular attention to the court calendar and to the assignments of staff personnel. He moved to shut down dog tracks, which were illegal in California, began raids on gambling ships located off the coasts of Santa Monica and Long Beach, and fought the attempted intrusions of organized crime into California. As the prospect of war in Europe increased, he organized law enforcement agencies in a program of civil defense. In this last effort he revealed himself as an advocate of preparedness who was extremely sensitive to the possibility of wartime sabotage.”Do not be deceived,” he said in the spring of 1941, “that [the totalitarian powers] are not attempting to exercise fifth column activities . . .in this country. They would like nothing better than to create the same situation here that they developed in France, Denmark and Holland.”

Added to Warren’s stereotyped views about Orientals, then, was his strong concern for civil defense, which he regarded as an integral function of the attorney general’s office. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec.7, 1941 only reinforced Warren’s suspicions about the Japanese in California. In 1942 he called the presence of the Japanese in California “the Achilles’ heel of the entire civilian defense effort.” He also argued that because no fifth-column activities and no sabotage had been reported a “studied effort” at sabotage was taking place. Warren felt that “when we are dealing with the Caucasian race we have methods that will test [their] loyalty,” but “when we deal with the Japanese we are in an entirely different field” because of “their method of living.”

Warren was an initial proponent of the Japanese relocation policy and a defender of that policy once it had been implemented. In 1943, when the Allied forces had begun to neutralize Japanese supremacy in the Pacific, fears of an invasion of the West Coast subsided, and pressures to release interned Japanese began to surface. In a conference of state governors that June, Warren vigorously opposed releasing any Japanese. “If the Japs are released,” he said, “no one will be able to tell a saboteur from any other Jap. . . . We don’t want to have a second Pearl Harbor in California. We don’t propose to have the Japs back in California during this war if there is any lawful means of preventing it.”


The detained Japanese were eventually released from the relocation centers in January 1945, despite considerable protest by various California newspapers and organizations. Warren, then beginning his second four-year term as governor, privately expressed concern for the action, but publicly asked Calif ornians to “join in protecting the constitutional rights of the individuals involved” and to “maintain an attitude that will discourage friction and prevent civil disorder.” In a conference with law enforcement officials at the time of the release of the Japanese, Warren refused to adopt a resolution condemning the incarceration policy.”[A]t the time of their exclusion,” he reportedly said, “not one of us raised a voice against it. We can’t condemn it now.”

The last statement seems to reflect the attitude that Warren assumed toward the relocation controversy for several years after the war. He allegedly asked in 1944, “How can I say it was wrong when we were all for it when it took place?” Unlike other California politicians, Warren did not repudiate his views as the relocation policy came to be perceived as less defensible in the 1960’s. In 1967 a biography of Warren quoted one of his contemporaries in California as conceding that “we’d been brainwashed about the Japanese all our lives” and another as saying “we were wrong.” The same biography noted that “Warren has never publicly expressed regret or admitted error for his part in the Japanese evacuation.

In 1962, while chief justice, Warren publicly defended the Supreme Court’s 1943 and 1944 decisions supporting the internment of the Japanese against constitutional challenges. He argued that “there are some circumstances which the Court will, in effect, conclude that it is simply not in a position to reject descriptions by the Executive of the degree of military necessity.” According to Warren, the decision to relocate Japanese-Americans was one such circumstance, and in such instances, he maintained, “actions may be permitted that restrict individual liberty in a grievous manner.”

At the time of Warren’s death in 1974, many of his close acquaintances and former employees believed that his position on Japanese relocation remained unchanged. While Warren’s record as a civil libertarian on the Supreme Court had cast his role as an architect of the relocation policy in an ironic light, other inconsistencies between his performance in California and his views as chief justice had come under public scrutiny, and Warren had not seemed unduly troubled by them. He had, in fact, offered an explanation for his apparently divergent views, which he repeated in his memoirs. In political life, he maintained, “progress could be made . . .by compromising and taking half a loaf where a whole loaf could not be obtained, [but] in the Supreme Court the basic ingredient of decision is principle, and it should not be compromised and parceled out a little in one case.” If a principle was “sound and constitutional,” he argued, it was to be “accorded . . .to everyone in its entirety.” For Warren, this distinction between politics and judging justified his support for “one man, one vote” as a justice, when he had opposed reapportionment as governor; for finding eavesdropping and wiretapping practices by the police unconstitutional as a justice, when he had used these same practices as district attorney; and for invalidating freewheeling governmental inquiries into the possible Communist affiliation of citizens, when he had opposed candidates for public office, such as Max Radin, on the ground that they were “soft” on communism. This same line of reasoning would allow him to distinguish between the use of executive authority in wartime to deprive a minority of its civil liberties (he had said in 1942 that “in time of war every citizen must give up some of his normal rights”) and his fervent championing of civil rights as a justice.

Little in Warren’s temperament or attitude toward public office suggested that he would publicly acknowledge that his participation in the Japanese relocation had been wrong. His inability to admit error was well known among intimates. “He couldn’t say I’m sorry, ” or 1 was wrong, “” said one.”He just never could put an apology into words,” another suggested. Moreover, Warren was extremely reluctant to make public statements of any kind while chief justice, and he never attempted to justify his decisions.

Warren was not alone in his reluctance to confess error for the Japanese internment policy. Of the prominent persons whose participation in the internment controversy might have been regarded as inconsistent with their subsequent reputation as civil libertarians, few had repudiated their earlier stance. Justice Hugo Black, for example, who had written one of the Supreme Court opinions in the 1940’s sustaining the constitutionality of the relocation policy, said in 1967 that “I would do precisely the same thing today.” Likewise Justice William Douglas, another civil libertarian who supported relocation, has never publicly changed his mind.


In the fall of 1971 Warren showed me a draft of his memoirs which included a chapter on his years as attorney general of California. The chapter included an account of the relocation controversy that was virtually identical to the description that finally appeared in Warren’s posthumously published memoirs. I held at that time what might be considered generational and stereotyped views of the Japanese relocation controversy. My generation had not experienced the Second World War; we had been in college and in graduate or professional schools during the height of the Warren Court’s influence; we had witnessed the civil rights movement. We had also been affected, mainly adversely, by the war in Vietnam. Nothing in our experience suggested that we would be sympathetic to the internment of Japanese-Americans in “concentration camps.” I was heartened, therefore, to see Warren repudiate his role in the relocation program, although much of his version of the episode stressed what he called “the fear, get-tough military psychology, propaganda, and racial antagonism” that combined to create the atmosphere in which the decision to intern Japanese was made. Warren said in his account that “I have always believed that I had no prejudice against the Japanese as such except that directly spawned by Pearl Harbor and its aftermath.” He recalled that as a district attorney he “had great respect for people of Japanese ancestry, because during my years in that office they created no law enforcement problems.” At that time I was inclined to accept Warren’s statements at face value.

I now believe that the simple declaration that “it was wrong to react so impulsively” in Warren’s memoirs was a much more complicated and difficult episode in Warren’s career than I had previously thought. Warren’s memoirs can be seen as an exercise in “settling accounts”: unburdening himself of some long-standing grudges, justifying his actions once more in the face of criticism that rankled over the years, acknowledging some kindnesses for which he had not expressed gratitude, and weaving a thread of consistency through actions that might have appeared anomalous or contradictory. Events and memories that had thrashed about in his consciousness now surfaced. In some instances, his political instincts predominated. I remember discussing the Japanese episode and recommending a presentation that seemed less self-justifying; Warren did not change a word, as far as I can recall, of his original text. At other times Warren’s desire to settle matters prevailed. He listened to my advice to place his conversation with Eisenhower about “Communist” cases, in which Eisenhower appears somewhere between foolish and dangerously demented, in a less visible place in the memoirs. In the published version, however, the conversation remained a prominent feature of the first chapter.

Most of the suggestions I made to Warren about his memoirs were not followed: that was as it should be. I could not know what was taking place in that summoning up of a lifetime and should not have expected that as proud and independent a spirit as Warren would, have preferred the judgments of a law clerk to his own. By confessing error for his part in the Japanese relocation program, Warren was settling accounts with himself. He believed that he had “not changed his spots” in his many years in public life, and that he had acted “from conscience.” His role in the Japanese controversy threatened his consistency: he had said in 1938 that “the American concept of civil rights should include not only an observance of our Constitutional Bill of Rights, but also the absence of arbitrary action by government in every field and the existence of a spirit of fair play on the part of public officials. . . .” His participation also weighed on his conscience. While he could deliberately contradict as a judge positions he had taken as a politician, he could not cavalierly dismiss the Japanese episode, as he had dismissed his opposition to reapportionment, as “a matter of political expediency.” The faces of the children separated from their homes and friends bore down on him; he could not die without at least confessing error to them.

The singular feature of Earl Warren’s public life was that while he repeated the same formula for success—integrity, independence, activism, and circumspection—in every office he held, he learned from the experience of each of his public offices and used this learning to advantage in the next. Often he learned from the mistakes of others. A district attorney had been too passive or disorganized, an attorney general too partisan, a governor too indiscreet in his public utterances, a chief justice not forceful enough in securing unanimity among his colleagues. Regularly, however, Warren learned at his own expense. Financially pressed in an early campaign, Warren took a contribution from an independent oil contractor, creating embarrassment when he later attacked oil interests. Thereafter he never allowed himself to be beholden to a benefactor, extolling nonpartisanship and denouncing conflicts of interests in public officials. Yet Warren rarely acknowledged his mistakes for what they were or related current strategy to past “lessons”; he learned by self-reflection, discipline, and keeping his own counsel.

The Japanese episode was a learning experience for Warren. His 1938 declaration about civil rights and the use of arbitrary governmental power was no campaign pap; he sprinkled similar pronouncements throughout his Supreme Court opinions. The Japanese relocation program was a vivid example of the use of arbitrary governmental power at the expense of the rights of a virtually helpless minority. Despite his concern with civil defense and his belief that the lifestyle of the Japanese facilitated sabotage, Warren must have come to the realization that the Japanese evacuation, even in wartime, was offensive to America’s libertarian and egalitarian traditions and conspicuously racist.

Two themes had intertwined to produce the Japanese relocation policy: military necessity and racial or ethnic stereotyping. The Japanese should be evacuated from the Pacific Coast, so the argument ran, because of the distinct possibility of sabotage preparatory to an invasion. An invasion by Japanese forces was possible because, in 1941 and early 1942, Japan controlled the Pacific. Sabotage also was possible because large numbers of Japanese lived on the West Coast, because many Japanese-Americans held dual citizenship and had traveled regularly between Japan and the United States, and because Japanese, unlike Germans or Italians, “looked alike.” As Warren said, whites could not tell a saboteur from a Jap.

If one believed, as Warren did, in preparedness and civil defense, and if one thought that potential Japanese sabotage was peculiarly difficult to detect, then evacuation could be justified as a military necessity even though it was a drastic measure. It was on these grounds that the military officials re sponsible for the relocation policy rationalized it; it was on these grounds that Warren supported it. Looking back at the episode, though, one could not gainsay its racist aspects. The military “necessity” for evacuation depended on the professed undetectibility of Japanese sabotage. Because no reported cases of sabotage on the part of Japanese-Americans had emerged prior to the relocation decision, the decision assumed that something about the Japanese community on the West Coast—the indistinguishable features of its members to whites, or the purported cohesiveness and inscrutability of Orientals—made the prospect of sabotage among Japanese a vital military problem. Sabotage among German-Americans or Italian-Americans, on the other hand, was a routine intelligence matter. This assumption seems based almost exclusively on racist stereotypes.

Reflecting on the Japanese episode, Warren probably confronted the element of racial and ethnic stereotyping in his own thought. When he wrote the Court’s opinion in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, Warren made no overt reference to, or repudiation of, the Japanese episode: at that time, and at least as late as 1962, he did not see Brown as contradicting the relocation policy. Nonetheless, Warren began to realize, with the Brown case, that racial segregation in public schools was based on stereotypes that were unfair, unequal, and offensive to his ideal of American life.

The ideals of racial harmony, equality, and civil liberties that Brown fostered guided Warren throughout his tenure as chief justice; nothing he did in those years was inconsistent with his 1938 stand on civil rights. But the Japanese relocation decision was. In the 1970’s, having long ago learned the lessons of that inconsistency, Warren publicly acknowledged it. A man seemingly self-contained and resolute on the surface, Warren was capable of accommodation and growth within. Like much else in his life, however, he regarded his capacity to learn at his own expense, so decisive to his success, as his own affair.


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Vivek Golikeri's picture
Vivek Golikeri · 8 years ago

Whenever the issue of the internment comes up, apologists and closet racists use the lame excuse "but we were at war." We were equally at war with Germany and Italy, but there was no wholesale persecution of citizens born and raised here just because they were of Italian or German blood.

Other closet racists try to mitigate America's shame by pointing out how racist Japan is. All true, but this very inability to distinguish between people in Japan and Americans of Japanese descent betrays hidden racism. All right, by this kind of sick logic I have a right to take revenge on you just because some white people you had nothing to do with did me wrong.

Lastly, the criterion for internability ( one-eight of Japanese blood ) was exactly the criterion Hitler used in his Nurnberg Laws to determine who was legally a Jew. Interesting similarity, huh? Anyone making excuses for the internment is either a racist or a fool. I have no beef against sweet, open-minded whites of today's generation. But when it comes to Archie Bunker's age group, what Imperial Japan did to them was no worse than what they did to thousands of African-American lynching victims.


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