Sunday, April 03, 2005

Blog spotlight: A Winding Road on Fred Korematsu

At a time when isuses of inclusion and exclusion and media death watches are being addressed, we thought Folding Star's obit on Fred Korematsu was worth highlighting both because it's a strong post and because it offers a model for covering the passing of someone. It provides context, not melodrama, perspetive, not hand wringing. And you're left with the realization of the difference one person can make. Folding Star is also a Common Ills community member and blogs at A Winding Road. Folding Star was interviewed by C.I. for a previous Third Estate Sunday Review article.

Fred Korematsu 1919-2005

A Civil Rights hero passed away yesterday in California. Fred Korematsu's name is not as commonly known as some other heroes in the American civil rights movement, but it should be.

Korematsu was an American citizen of Japanese ancestry who stood up for what was right in 1942 against overwhelming opposition. That year, one of the most vile affronts to civil rights occurred when the United States ordered all of the Japanese who were living on the West Coast into interment camps, regardless of American citizenship.

While Korematsu's family and friends prepared to follow orders and urged him to do the same, he said no. Korematsu knew what so many others knew, but were forcing themselves to overlook in a time of war, which was that this was a grievous violation of his constitutional rights.

Mr. Korematsu showed more courage and conviction at 23 than a lot of people show in their entire lifetime. He was arrested and convicted for refusing to report to an interment camp. He took his case all the way to the Supreme Court, which in 1944 handed down one of it's more shameful verdicts when it ruled that his arrest and conviction, and the entire fact of the interment of the Japanese, were justified, based upon war time conditions of emergency.

Does any of this sound familiar? It did to Korematsu, who in the past few years had campaigned against the Patriot Act and what was being done to Arab Americans under it.

Korematsu's conviction was finally overturned in 1983 and in 1988 Congress issued an official apology to Japanese Americans and granted reparations to survivors, attempting to make up for a period of incredible shame in our history. Fred Korematsu was eventually awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998 by President Clinton.

Yet, here we are, less than 20 years after the reparations were made and less than ten after Korematsu was given the medal, and our Government is engaged in much the same activities that resulted in the original shame and need for apology and reparation.

Fred Korematsu will remain a symbol of one person standing up against tyranny in the face of great odds, one person recognizing that our basic civil rights and liberties are greater than any sense of emergency created by war, be it an actual war like World War Two or an illusionary war against a tactic, like the so called 'War on Terror'.

His story will also remain as a reminder that every branch of our Government has been all too capable of stepping all over those very civil rights and liberties in the past, largely because most people were quiet and looked the other way.

We should all learn from the example that Korematsu set. Standing up against what you know to be wrong can be the hardest thing in the world to do, but it's far from impossible. And the more who stand up, the harder it is for of civil rights to be discarded.
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