Guest Commentary: We Can Stop History from Repeating Itself

Hulton Archive / Getty Images

By Anupam Chander and Madhavi Sunder

Two months after Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized the creation of “military areas,” where any categories of persons could be removed without a hearing. While the order did not specify Japanese Americans, it was clear that that was the intent.

Even though we were at war with multiple countries, Executive Order 9066 was applied principally to Japanese Americans who were U.S. citizens by birth and those immigrants whom the law did not permit to become citizens because they weren’t white.

Within weeks, the military organized the mass roundup of some 120,000 Japanese Americans across the West Coast, including children and grandparents.

Today, our nation faces an executive order similar to that of 9066. President Donald Trump’s order also targets people on the basis of national origin, declaring them a danger to this country.

But this time is different – because of us. Seventy-five years after 9066, Americans are ensuring that we don’t repeat a mistake from our past.

In 1942, much of America turned its back on its Japanese American neighbors. Ordinary citizens cheered the executive order. Newspapers described Japanese Americans as a “fifth column” lying ready to support our enemies. California Attorney General Earl Warren would support the removal of Japanese Americans, a decision that would later weigh on his conscience “whenever I thought of the innocent little children who were torn from home.”

In our town of Davis, the City Council asked Roosevelt to prevent Japanese Americans from returning home even after the war ended.

Trump’s executive order, in sharp contrast, was met with people taking to the streets and the airports. Across the country, families put up lawn signs supporting their neighbors. Large corporations such as Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Uber supported legal challenges. The attorneys general of various states are leading legal challenges. Here in Davis, the City Council and the school board have affirmed our welcome to all, regardless of religion, race, national origin, immigration status or sexual identity.

Bolstered by this public display, the federal courts have, thus far, proved a bulwark for rights. A federal district judge nominated by President George W. Bush blocked the implementation of Trump’s executive order, and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has refused to reconsider the judge’s order.

In the 1940s, when Fred T. Korematsu and a few others bravely challenged mass incarceration, federal judges refused to stand up for the Constitution. The 9th Circuit affirmed Korematsu’s conviction for violating orders, in the words of one judge, “not to leave and not to remain in the area.”

What happened at the Supreme Court during World War II is especially telling. The government’s principal argument for the mass incarceration was that it was a “military necessity” because Japanese Americans were likely saboteurs. But the government hid evidence from the Supreme Court that Japanese Americans presented no such threat.

While Korematsu would lose his case during the war, he would reopen his case decades later when it was easier to see that the decision was a result of “racial prejudice” and “wartime hysteria,” as Congress declared in 1988. Signing the bill recognizing the mistake, President Ronald Reagan said simply, “Here we admit a wrong.”

In the 1940s, a few courageous individuals like Korematsu spoke up. Imagine what we can do when we speak up by the millions.

Anupam Chander and Madhavi Sunder are professors of law at UC Davis.  Madhavi Sunder is an elected member of the DJUSD School Board.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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  1. Tia Will

    My thanks to the authors for this clear statement of the importance of the populace standing up for what is right even when our leaders fail to do so. Critical to this particular issue is the recognition that it is not partisan. Human rights are universal, not Republican or Democratic, not right wing nor left wing, but universal. No group should ever be targeted on the “possibility that they might be dangerous” regardless of lack of evidence to support the assertion. To abandon this basic tenet of human rights is to capitulate to those like Osama bin Laden whose stated goal was to destroy our way of life through self demolition not through superior force.

  2. Keith O

    Riots now happening in Swedish immigrant Muslim enclaves.  Leaders are losing elections all over Europe due to their immigration policies.  It’s starting to look like Merkel is in trouble come September.  Bleeding heart liberals won’t be happy until it’s happening here too.

    1. David Greenwald

      “Over four hours, the crowd burned about half a dozen cars, vandalized several shopfronts and threw rocks at police. Police spokesman Lars Bystrom confirmed to Sweden’s Dagens Nyheter newspaper that an officer fired shots with intention to hit a rioter, but did not strike his target. A photographer for the newspaper was attacked by more than a dozen men and his camera was stolen, but ultimately no one was hurt or even arrested.”

      Not much of a riot, worse things happened in this country including at Berkeley. I wouldn’t draw the conclusions you are.

        1. David Greenwald

          I would argue that the residential patterns are very different in the US from Europe and that accounts for why Europe is having problems aneed the US for the most part has not

        2. Keith O

          Really, you say we have different residential patterns than Europe?  So I guess you’ve never heard of the almost exclusively black or Hmong communities (just to name a few) in cities across America?

          And why aren’t we taking care of our own homeless first?

          1. David Greenwald

            There are volumes written on the differences, you can Google it if you’re at all interested.

        3. Keith O

          Why don’t you Google how it’s basically the same type of situation if you are at all interested?  You act like you say something and we’re all just supposed to accept it as gospel.

          Once again, why aren’t we taking care of our own homeless first?

          1. Don Shor

            Once again, why aren’t we taking care of our own homeless first?

            It’s not a binary choice. We can do both.

        4. Keith O

          It’s not a binary choice. We can do both.

          We hardly are doing both.  The refugees are getting the better end of the deal by a long shot while our own homeless citizens and vets are out on the streets.  How many of our own homeless are offered housing along with all the other handouts and benefits we are giving refugees?

          1. Don Shor

            How many of our own homeless are offered housing along with all the other handouts and benefits we are giving refugees?

            Social services are available for the homeless and for veterans in need, but I would be happy to have more of my tax dollars going to support those services and benefits as well as providing for some of the millions of people displaced by the war in Syria. It’s not a binary choice. This is a bogus argument used by conservatives all the time. We don’t have a lack of resources to help these people.
            This is a massive humanitarian crisis in Syria. I believe it is the largest migration since World War II. Millions have been displaced and it isn’t going to get any better. Many nations of the world are being impacted to a much, much greater degree than we are. We are not in a position to solve the civil wars that are creating this crisis, but we can help with the needs of those displaced. That includes the needs of those in refugee camps all over that region, as well as those who are seeking to immigrate here. We would not be overwhelmed by 50 – 100,000 Syrian immigrants welcomed into this country and resettled here.

          1. Don Shor

            Not a penny less is going to go to homeless programs or veterans benefits due to immigration of Syrian refugees. So no, it is not true.

        5. Keith O

          In 2014 , 1.49 million people used homeless shelters and 578,424 were recorded as being without shelter: sleeping on the streets, in tents, in cars, and other exposed places. 

          How many refugees end up in the streets like our own homeless?  Every refugee that’s given shelter could’ve gone to one of the over half a million homeless and the over 50,000 vets we now have.  There’s no excuse why we are taking care of foreignors first.

          1. Don Shor

            Not a single penny fails to go to the homeless or to vets because of our compassionate treatment of refugees from the massive crisis in Syria. If you want more money to go to the homeless, I have no quarrel with that. It’s not a zero-sum game. Do you vote for legislators who increase funding for the homeless and for veterans? Do you support increasing those parts of the budget? We’re not “taking care of foreigners first.” No homeless person or veteran has failed to get services because of these refugees.

          1. Don Shor

            There is no linkage between the funds. You could make the exact same argument about any aspect of the federal budget, any of the thousands of departments that expend funds. You might as well say we can’t help Syrian refugees because NASA is sending a rocket to Mars, or the Pentagon is buying tanks, or we spend money on kids’ lunches. You are just saying that Syrian refugees are not a spending priority for you. There is no logical linkage to the homeless and veterans.

        6. Keith O

          Don Shor

          This is a bogus argument used by conservatives all the time.


          This also looks like the same argument that Governor Brown has used in the past.  What a hypocrite he is.

          While Democratic politicians today decry Trump’s opposition to accepting more refugees from Syria, their predecessors, and sometimes the same figures, were opposed to accepting those who sought asylum four decades ago.
          Jerry Brown, California’s governor at the time, was quite pointed in his criticism.
          “There is something a little strange about saying, ‘Let’s bring in 500,000 more people when we can’t take care of the one million (Californians) out of work,’ ” he said in 1975. He even tried to block refugee flights into Travis Air Force Base.
          Governor again, Brown now lauds admitting refugees from Syria, saying at one point that he would “work closely” with former President Barack Obama “so that he can both uphold America’s traditional role as a place of asylum, but also ensure that anyone seeking refuge in America is fully vetted.”
          Read more here:


      1. Eric Gelber

        I don’t care where the money is coming from, it could’ve/should’ve gone to our own homeless first.

        Oh, please. The next time a majority of Republicans in the State Legislature vote to support or increase access to a social program that funds services for the homeless or families at risk, or vote against a measure that criminalizes the poor or restricts access to public benefits and services, will be the first.

      1. Keith O

        It’s very expensive to bring in refugees.  Why are we spending all this money on foreignors when we have our own homeless population including vets?  How about we take care of them first and then bring in outsiders if we still have the funds to do so?

  3. Ron

    O.K., I’ll briefly chime in with my “much-valued” opinion.

    There seems to be two separate issues being discussed.  One is “temporary” immigration (e.g., those issued Visas to visit this country temporarily), vs. “permanent” immigration (those hoping to stay in this country, permanently).

    Regarding the first issue, I’m not seeing a justification (based on security) for Trump to take the action that he did (e.g., cancel already-issued Visas). The manner in which Trump proceeded caused chaos.  (However, it should be noted that Trump apparently planned for this situation to be temporary, while he “reviewed the process”.  Given his campaign promises, perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that he took that action.)

    Regarding the second issue (“permanent”) immigration, I probably have a different view than most.  There’s no way to work toward a stable (and sustainable) population and system of overall governance, if there’s an entirely “open door” policy regarding immigration (from any country).  (At least, given the state of the world at large.)  Not sure that a “wall” is the best or most efficient way to accomplish this, however.  At some point, perhaps the U.S. should not continue to accept mass immigration (legal, or illegal).  (Unless lives are in imminent danger, in a country of origin.  And, even then, perhaps it should be temporary, if things stabilize in a country of origin.)



    1. Keith O

      I agree with most of what you say Ron.  I feel the best solution, also something Trump has put forward, is to create safe zones in the Middle East until it’s safe for the refugees to go back home.

      1. Ron


        I noticed that statement from Trump, as well.  Not sure what became of it.

        Trump does seem to be a “magnet” of opposition, for many. I’ve never seen anything like it. (Bush didn’t generate this type of reaction – even though he got us into an ill-advised war – that Trump subsequently criticized. Or, “perhaps supported”, at first.)

        I must admit that I find some of this entertaining, even though I understand that lives are affected as a result, one way or another.

        1. Ron

          I should clarify:  the “entertainment” aspect is related to the chaos and conflicting statements, and perhaps over-the-top reaction by some.  (Not the actual impact on people’s lives.)

        2. Keith O

          Ron, with all the problems going on in Europe because of the refugee immigration I can’t believe it would be that hard for Trump to get Europe on board in order to share the costs and create the safe zones.

      2. Don Shor

        Establishing and policing the safe zones is complicated by the conditions on the ground. And safe zones wouldn’t differ all that much from the current refugee camps that are established in the neighboring countries. Syria’s neighbors are already housing, feeding, and protecting millions of refugees. The rest of the world can help. The Europeans and Canadians have taken in large numbers in proportion to their own populations and resources. We could easily take in many more than we have.
        Safe zones could be part of a response to the current refugee crisis. But others will seek to emigrate, and it is going to be a long time before Syria is stable enough for them to return.

      3. Howard P

        Historically, refugees were admitted to the US that had “sponsors” (usually, familykin) who would take responsibility for housing and supporting them with a minimum/no public expense… the sponsors were generally already established in the US… see no reason why we couldn’t do the same now…

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