Newly Released Book Details Korematsu Case for Young Readers

Alan Suemori
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

I want to tell you about a small jewel of a book that a friend called to my attention last weekend. It tells the story of one of the darkest chapters in American history — a time when our nation succumbed to mindless fear and unbounded hysteria and abandoned our most fundamental and cherished values, all in the name of a wolf’s call of “military necessity.” Written by Laura Atkins and Stan Yogi, “Fred Korematsu Speaks Up,” published by Heyday in Oakland, Calif., is a paean to an unlikely hero who found himself swept away into the jaws of history where he would ultimately find resurrection and redemption. While the book is written as a civil rights primer for middle schoolers, its lessons are timeless and end up resonating far beyond the borders of its intended audience.

In 1941, Fred Korematsu was a 22-year-old unrepentant dreamer who yearned to break out of the claustrophobic world of his family’s flower nursery business. His most pressing life goals were to marry his Italian American girlfriend, Ida, and settle down. Korematsu had recently purchased a brand new Pontiac sedan and he spent most of his weekends driving Ida into the foothills of Oakland, where the great bay lay before them like an invitation to a future without boundaries or battle lines.

However, anti-Japanese fervor had been building for decades in America, beginning in 1913 with the first of the alien land laws that prohibited Issei from owning or leasing property. It was followed in 1920 by an even stricter version of the original ruling. And then in 1924 came the total ban of Japanese immigration into the United States. With the rise of ultranationalism in Japan during the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was already considering incarcerating Japanese Americans as early as the 1930s, despite the fact that his own privately authorized investigation had found little evidence of disloyalty or conspiracy. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, FDR moved quickly. On Feb. 19, 1942, he issued Executive Order 9066. Within three months, Lt. Gen. John L. DeWitt removed 120,000 Japanese from the West Coast — the majority of them being American citizens, elderly Japanese immigrants who had lived in America for decades and young children.

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