WASHINGTON, D.C. – Seventy years after the end of World War II, civil rights advocate Floyd Mori is on a mission to remind the American public of the injustices committed against Americans of Japanese ancestry during the war.
Last November, the 75-year-old Mori published a collection of past speeches he had delivered and articles he had authored in the early 2000s as president of the National Japanese American Citizens League, America’s oldest and largest Asian American civil and human rights organization. In the book titled, “The Japanese American Story,” Mori covers a range of subjects — from U.S. immigration reform to hate crimes.
He said he decided to publish the book to “ensure that no other people will ever have to endure such mistreatment and injustice as were inflicted upon Japanese Americans during World War II.”
During a recent interview in Washington, Mori emphasized that the U.S. Constitution is especially put to the test during times of heated emotions, as in the days, weeks and months following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
“The Japanese American story is extremely relevant today because of the current prejudice against Muslims,” said Mori, who now heads the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies.
He said President Barack Obama is fighting Islamic State extremists who have executed Americans and other hostages, while simultaneously trying to prevent discrimination and hate crimes against Muslims.
Mori said that people could be arrested, thrown in jail and prosecuted “without any due process, like they did to Japanese Americans.” Thus, he said, “. . . the Japanese American story is a very good reminder.”
The book’s exhortation against racism is based on the experiences of people of Japanese ancestry. President Franklin Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066 in February 1942 set the stage for the mass evacuation and incarceration of Japanese immigrants and their American-born children from the West Coast.
Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor two months earlier only inflamed the wartime hysteria, which, coupled with decades of deep-rooted racism, fueled the belief that those of Japanese ancestry were potential enemy agents.
Some Japanese Americans moved to inland states, such as Utah, to avoid being imprisoned. Others, like Mori’s California relatives who relocated to Utah, went to live with relatives in inland states. Most, however, were forced “evacuate” to internment camps far from the Pacific Coast, where they lived in hastily and poorly constructed barracks that offered little family privacy. Of the roughly 120,000 people who were imprisoned in the American-style concentration camps, two-thirds were American citizens.
At the time, most Japanese Americans were desperate to prove their loyalty as Americans, Mori said, so they willingly obeyed the government and entered the camps — some Nisei sons even volunteered to join the U.S. Army and fight for America from behind the barbed wire fences.
Mori said he was criticized by some Japanese Americans who chose not to volunteer for the military until their rights as American citizens were restored and their families released from camp. Some Japanese Americans even called them “cowards” and “draft resisters.”
In a 2002 lecture he delivered as president of the National JACL, Mori apologized to Japanese Americans who refused, as a form of civil protest, to fight for the United States for the stigma they had carried for decades. That text of that lecture is included in Mori’s book.
Although the apology angered many Japanese American veterans, Mori said it was a “very memorable” moment. — by Mariko de Freytas