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Shameful Measures:

A look at America’s past and present security tools

By: Kevin Yamazaki


September 11th, 2001 and December 7th, 1941 are both dates that will forever live in infamy.  The events that took place on those days shook a whole nation and stunned the world.  December 7th, 1941 was the day that the Japanese attacked the U.S. naval fleet in Pearl Harbor, forcing the U.S. into World War II.  America was shocked and confused, never expecting that something as terrible as an attack on their soil would ever happen.  The Japanese soon became a common enemy and the outlet of all the hatred felt by Americans.  The U.S. Government was blamed for its lack of security and its inability to anticipate and defend the attacks from the Japanese.  Several articles, books, and arguments since have given solid and undeniable evidence that the U.S. had ignored tell-tale signs that the Japanese were ready to strike.  America thought that the Japanese would never fight a power as large and powerful as America, but the U.S. was wrong.  Now with security at the forefront of every citizen’s and politician’s mind, America was forced to take extreme measures to ensure the safety and peace of mind of the nation’s citizens.  Naturally, espionage was a central concern and one that could be publicly addressed within the country.  Americans soon turned their backs on Japanese Americans since all of them could possibly be associated with the Japanese emperor.  The mere presence of the Japanese community in America scared the majority of the population.  The government felt that they had to implement a new war measure to ensure the safety of the west coast and prevent any further damage.  The precautionary measure was delivered through Executive Order No. 9066 on February 19th, 1942 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  He consented to the Letter of Pacific Coast Congressional Delegation to the President, recommending “the immediate evacuation of all persons of Japanese lineage and all others, aliens and citizens alike, whose presence shall be deemed dangerous or inimical to the defense of the United states, from all strategic areas” (Fisher 146)1.  One can blame the executive order on the mass hysteria or on the different principles at the time, but it is hard to deny the fact that completely loyal Japanese American citizens were imprisoned solely because of their lineage.  This ineffective precaution against the Japanese empire is an unprecedented event in our history that will forever be looked down upon.  Looking back, the imprisonment of a whole race seems ridiculous and out of line, but it seems that America is coming dangerously close to its past mistakes.  A little over 60 years after the Pearl Harbor attack, on September 11th, 2001, our nation felt the devastation of another attack.  The World Trade Center was destroyed by two planes as an attack on America.  Similar to Pearl Harbor, this attack initiated our involvement in the War on Terror.  Terrorism is a bit different than a war against another country as it has become a domestic problem and a matter of homeland security.  Keeping in mind that airports are the most effective place to preemptively prevent terrorist activity similar to the September 11th attacks, the U.S. has come up with a tool that they believe will fight terrorism.  But what is racial profiling?  It literally is drawing a summary or conclusion of someone by his/her racial features.  Racial profiling of Arab’s in America during the War on Terror is a dangerous step toward the injustices of the Japanese internment during World War II. 

Much like the mass internment of the Japanese American citizens, racial profiling is also a security precaution that is founded on little evidence to show the necessity of such racially based security measures.  When implementing such a drastic and extreme policy within the U.S., it would be logical to only proceed with compelling evidence.  Mass interment, although a product of wartime hysteria, was based on the idea that the whole Japanese American community posed a threat to America and was part of the enemy race.  The ironic part of this basis is that the Japanese Americans were considered to be the least aggressive race in America.  The U.S. government, however, only saw their potential loyalty to their “homeland”.  The Japanese American community had been under watch by the FBI and various military intelligence units for years, both of which had “conducted extensive studies both in Hawaii and on the west coast, accessing loyalty and looking for spying activities or other sabotage.  Nothing had been found” (Levine 12)2.  Looking back at the investigations done by the government, it is obvious that they ignored some of the information that contradicted their suspicions.  When President Roosevelt wanted a direct report for himself, he sent Curtis B. Munson into the Japanese American community on the west coast in October 1941.  He reported back that “for the most part the Japanese are loyal to the united states… we do not believe that they would be at least any more disloyal that any other racial group in the United States with whom we went to war.’ Indeed, he said, ‘There is no Japanese problem’” (Levine 12)3.  With intelligence that clearly showed the Japanese Americans to have little or no loyalty to the Japanese empire, the Executive Order 9066 still reigned as an effective tool against the Empire of Japan.  The Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) was alarmed at the accusations of their loyalty to the Japanese Empire.  Despite their frustration with the injustice of the order enforced upon them, they simply tried harder to convince the public of their loyalty.  Instead of coming together to revolt, they came together and “petitions were signed and meetings held, all pledging support for the war effort [against the Japanese].  The Nisei pleaded with their fellow Americans to act fairly, and that ‘our greatest friend is a man who is the greatest living man today – President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’” (Davis 37)4.  There were no outbreaks of anger or rioting throughout the streets; they simply complied with the evacuation notices.  So many years have past and we can see now that the Japanese American community was never a threat to the U.S., it was apart of it.  The U.S. has shamefully admitted that they should have never made accusations about the Japanese American citizens based on their racial background and their ancestral homeland’s actions.  Making generalizations based on religion is no different that making assumptions based on race.  We cannot base a whole religion on the actions of a few terrorists who happened to be Muslim, just like we cannot imprison a whole race based on the actions of an enemy who happens to look the same.  Islamic people are a naturally peaceful people and “Islam is a religion of peace (ABC News, 9/25/01)” (Extra! 109)5.  It is not only white Caucasian Americans who are innately patriotic, “Arab-Americans ‘love the flag’ too (Buffalo News, 9/25/01)” (Extra! 109)6.  Racial profiling itself is based on physical and cultural appearances.  The U.S. government encouraged airline staff to apply a higher level of security for those fitting the profile of the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center.  The actions of these few terrorists have convinced the government that all terrorists have Arabic and Muslim physical features.  We do know what they look like; they look like “the 19 hijackers of Sept. 11th, but they also look like Richard ‘Shoe Bomber’ Reid, John Walker Lindh, Jose Padilla and don’t forget Timothy McVeigh” (Raspberry 2)7.  Looking at the big picture, “All terrorists, even the majority of terrorists, are not Arabs, Middle Eastern, or Muslim. In fact, of the 87 terrorist incidents in the United States between 1984 and 1998, only two were linked to an Arab group. Just as very few Christians are extremist and perform violent acts, such as bombing abortion clinics, only a tiny proportion of Arabs are extremists, and only a minute number of extremists are terrorists” (O’Brien 6)8.


During World War II, the Japanese American citizens were imprisoned without trial, an action that is hard to justify in the present day.  The overwhelming presence of lawyers and lawsuits, media coverage, and different political groups have put several necessary checks and balances on the government to prevent an action like the Japanese American internment from ever happening again.  To strip a person or a whole race of their rights and completely ignore due process of law is inexcusable, but the U.S. government is inching closer and closer to repeating similar injustices to citizens of Middle Eastern descent.  45 days after the September 11 attacks, Congress easily passed the USA Patriot Act.  This gives the government the power to look through any personal records or files and conduct secret searches within the subject’s house or workplace without a probable cause or the knowledge of the subject.  Suspected Middle easterners can now be convicted with suspiciously obtained evidence or secret evidence”, an effect of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, resulting in an unfair trial.  Kit Gage, one of the representatives of the National Coalition to Protect Political Freedom, spoke about secret evidence “in light of the recent surge of government attacks on Arab and Muslim communities with the passage of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (which permits the use of secret evidence), and the Immigration Bill of 1996 […] Gage pointed out that ‘the umbrella of those acts allowed the government to do extreme acts of injustice’ to Arabs and Muslims. The issue of secret evidence is a violation of basic civil rights, Gage said, as the defendants "have no ability to fight back against charges [whose contents] they don't know.’” (Masood 1)9.  The government is reserving the right to hold “potential terrorists” which, in many ways, resembles the government’s actions in 1942.  Although not charged with crimes, many post-September 11 detainees are held in punitive conditions in jails, sometimes alongside people charged or convicted of criminal offenses.  The government is abusing its power by using the vaguely large field of “potential terrorists” as a justification to arrest anyone who falls under the very fragile and indistinct profile.  The government has “used its arrest power to detain individuals as part of an investigation that is widespread in scope and secrecy Plaintiffs voice grave concerns about the abuse of this power, ranging from denial of the right to counsel . . . to the failure to file charges for prolonged periods of detention to mistreatment of detainees in custody” (Sramek 2)10.  To err is human, but to continue a faulty course of action is wrong.  The imprisonment and detaining tools of both the past and the present have been proven to be very inefficient from an early stage.  The government’s irrational interpretation of the fact that during the 12 year study of terrorist attacks, only two out of the 87 were committed by a Middle Eastern group has already been discussed.  This terrorism statistic obviously did not stop the government from using racial profiling, but according to Amnesty International, “as of January 2002, only 317 individuals-out of a total of 718 INS detainees at the time-had even been charged after 48 hours. In 36 out of the 718 cases, the suspects were charged 28 days or more after their arrests. In all 718 of those cases, the charges that the U.S. government eventually filed were merely immigration violations, some of them routine. Two Pakistani men were held for forty-nine days in custody and another man for thirty days before the INS charged them with overstaying their visas” (Sramek 2)11.  Barbara Olshansky, an attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, said, “The INS has taken a different approach with post-9/11 detainees, not because they violated the immigration laws, but rather because federal law enforcement authorities deemed them potential (but not actual or even probable) terrorists often based on vague suspicions rooted in racial, religious, ethnic, and/or national origin stereotypes rather than in hard facts” (Sramek 2)12.

The blatant racism of the internment of the Japanese American citizens was undeniable and inexcusable, but the U.S. Government is presently using a racially motivated security tool that is dangerously similar to the unjust imprisonment of the past.  The Japanese American internment was a radical and extreme case of racial profiling.  There had been racial tension with Asians since the Chinese Immigration Act of the late 1800’s.  Asians were labeled as heathens that could not be assimilated and a general threat to society and the white man’s economy.  Pearl Harbor elevated the anti-Japanese hatred to the “dreaded ‘Yellow Peril,’ […]  The decisions to evacuate and the incarnate the Japanese Americans illuminate several key sources of a powerful nativism that made this ethnic minority a likely, if not inevitable, target.  The intense opposition of Americans to the Japanese was racially based, but also contained themes of ethnic and cultural counter subversion that tied the anti-Japanese crusade to previous nativist episodes” (Smith 45)13.  The Japanese Americans of the 1940’s were easy to identify with the bombings of Pearl Harbor; they looked different, they looked like the enemy, they were not the Caucasian race.   We were at war with Germany and Italy, but there was no relocation of the German and Italian Americans.  The government and the people of the U.S. saw no physical distinction between Japanese in Japan and Japanese Americans in the United States, so they imprisoned a whole race.  Racial profiling is simply a prejudgment on the basis of ethnic features, and this tool is only “efficient” to the government if a particular suspect race is identifiable and a minority.  Why would they not base a profile off of the more likely Caucasian terrorist, Richard “Shoe Bomber” Reid, John Walker Lindh, Jose Padilla or Timothy McVeigh?  Instead, they know that it is far more “efficient” to set a profile to the Muslim terrorists of September 11th.  Even this so called efficiency snlarges the targeted suspects considering “the broad range of features found in the Middle East, the term ‘Arab-looking’ is virtually meaningless, encompassing not only Latino and South Asians but also many whites and African-Americans” (Extra! 110)14.  There is no way to visually distinguish between a Saudi citizen and an Arab American and even of those who are classified as “potential (but not actual or even probable) terrorists often based on vague suspicions rooted in racial, religious, ethnic, and/or national origin stereotypes rather than in hard facts” (Sramek 2)15.  Sadly, not even the ineffectiveness and the inefficiency of this method stopped the government from using such racially based tools as “more than 100,000 of the nearly 7 million Muslims in the United States have experienced some form of racial profiling. Fewer than 50 were charged with any crime and five were convicted of something related to national security” (Swanson 2)16.

After any attack the size of  Pearl Harbor or of September 11th, people will naturally be concerned for their safety, but it shouldn’t be at the cost of the rights of fellow citizens.  The people of America are all entitled to their own reactions and emotions after attacks, but the media and government took both attacks to a new level by publicly fuelling wartime hysteria and paranoia against certain ethnic groups, stripping them of their rights.  Many people turn to the media during these times of sorrow and grief to receive their information and reassurance.  Following the bombings of Pearl Harbor, a media outburst supporting and fueling American paranoia against the Japanese race began.  Television, radio, newspapers, were magazines all filled with hatred towards the Japanese and the Japanese Americans.  The events of Pearl Harbor “resurrected the image of Pacific Coast Japanese as advance agents of the dreaded “Yellow Peril,” and subjected them, ultimately, to the most broadly based and effective nativist crusade in American history” (Smith 45)17.  All the most popular media outlets “charged that Japanese Americans were disloyal and urged their removal from the West Coast” (Davis 33)18.  A popular columnist Henry McLemore wrote, “I am all for immediate removal of every Japanese on the west coast to a point deep in the interior…Herd ‘em up, pack ‘em off and give them the inside room in the Badlands.  Let us have no patience with the enemy or with anyone whose veins carry his blood” (Davis 33)19.  By claiming military necessity, because of the “Yellow Peril” campaign that swept across America, “military officials suspended the rights of approximately 112,000 residents of Japanese heritage, evacuated them from their homes, forced them into internment camps, and seized their property. Lt. Gen. John L. DeWitt, the commander of one such area, declared ‘In the war in which we are engaged, racial affiliations are not severed by migration. The Japanese race is an enemy race...A Jap is a Jap.” (O’Brien 2)20.  Today, we begin to see a surfacing stereotype unfairly bound to Muslims or even those who resemble Muslim features.  Even those who are not Muslim are being sought out as many Americans have been “looking askance at Indians (especially Sikhs, who wear beards and turbans), Pakistanis, or people of myriad other ethnic backgrounds and nationalities, believing them to be Arabs and therefore suspicious.  Arab Americans and people of other ethnic backgrounds have had property vandalized and destroyed; adults and children have been harassed and beaten up” (O’Brien 6)21.  Eric Shakir, the civil rights coordinator at the Council on American-Islamic Relations spoke on “civil rights and the status of employment discrimination, indicating that for the past three years it has steadily increased by 30 percent annually […] the U.S. media, by the manner in which they approach Islamic issues, are building up negative stereotypes about Muslims” (Masood 1)22.  It is true that the media, as it had taken advantage of an emotional audience after Pearl Harbor, is again encouraging stereotypes.  In a discussion of legal issues facing Muslim communities in the united states, Hussein Ibish, the national communications director at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), speaks about how the discrimination of Arabs and Muslims has “gone beyond the Anti- Terrorism Act and includes racial profiling at airports and ports.  Ibish said that a "climate of fear" in the United States toward terrorism has given birth to paranoia and extreme stereotyping against Arabs and Muslims, not just by the government, but also the entertainment industry. Hollywood productions such as "True Lies," "The Siege", and "Rules of Engagement" depict the most extreme and openly offensive remarks and images of Arabs and Muslims so that even exposing the stereotypes does not dispel or debunk their power. All of this, Ibish concluded, calls for a long process to extinguish myths and negative stereotypes against Arabs and Muslims” (Masood 1)23. 

In many people’s eyes, these two events and their security tools should not be compared because it is holding us back from protecting ourselves and the guilt that the American people feel about the Japanese American interment of WWII is keeping us from using the useful and effective tool of racial profiling.

Some say America’s past and present security responses of internment and racial profiling are useful and effective.  They believe that it is not a question of whose feeling is hurt or who will have to feel some discomfort, but rather a question of safety.  The protection of our country greatly outweighs the minor sacrifices that some Americans must make.  It is a utilitarian philosophy that homeland security and the protection of the whole take first priority over the rights of one group.  When looking back, the internment of the Japanese Americans was one of America’s worst showings of injustice, but many say that people seem to forget that there was a trial that made the Japanese American’s curfew and internment “constitutional in Korematsu v. United States.  In Korematsu, Justice Hugo Black said that ‘Hardships are a part of war, and in greater or lesser measures, citizenship has its responsibilities as well as its privileges’.  Even Justice William O. Douglas, one of the most liberal justices ever to sit on the Supreme Court, concurred in Hirabayashi saying, ‘Where the perils are great and time is short, temporary treatment on a group basis may be the only practical expedient’” (O’brien 4)24.  People believe that just as the Japanese Americans sacrificed some of their rights for our country’s safety through internment, Arabic and Muslim races must now comply with racial profiling.  Given the wartime circumstances, some justify racial profiling as an acceptable and effective tool for investigating.  They say that our present day sensibilities are hindering us from taking all of the precautionary measures to protect our country, such as racial profiling.  People argue that racial profiling is also acceptable because it is technically allowable and legal under federal law.  The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees “all persons equal protection”.  This however has exceptions that come far lower in priority than homeland security. The exceptions come commonly as the state “routinely, and quite properly, makes common-sense distinctions: A seven-foot-tall naval officer may be ruled ineligible for duty in the tight ‘s’ confines of a submarine; women are excluded from combat missions; members of both sexes may be barred from employment as firemen or police officers if unable to meet physical-strength criteria; and so on.  Moreover, if the state interest at issue is compelling enough, even suspect distinctions such as those based on race or ethnicity are permissible. The Supreme Court has recently held that states may use race and ethnicity as grounds for denying qualified Americans admission to universities-and for no better reason than to achieve a critical mass of student diversity. How much more compelling is our interest in saving lives?” (McCarthy 3)25.

People also argue that paranoia and wartime hysteria are healthy and natural reactions to further protect ourselves and our country and that, within paranoia comes a heightened security which was needed in 1941 and 60 years later in 2001.  They say that without internment, a product of wartime hysteria, the Japanese Americans could have been an actual threat to the west coast.  Right after the attack of Pearl Harbor, Earl Warren, the attorney general of California, showed a map of California’s irrigations system to a select committee of congress and then thoroughly proved that the “Japanese American population lived in close proximity to virtually all strategic locations” (Murphey 64)26.  In 1938, U.S. Navy code breakers broke the Japanese diplomatic code.  By May of 1942, under the codename “MAGIC”, the U.S. Navy uncovered that the Japanese were and had successfully recruited first and second generation Japanese Americans to spy on west coast shipments of airplanes and war materials (Murphey 65)27.  Those arguing this point are simply naming some of the millions of things that could have happened with any group of specific nationalists. They say that without wartime hysteria and paranoia, the Japanese could have invaded again or the Japanese Americans could have destroyed the west coast’s irrigation system.  Despite what could have happened, there is still no justification for the type of hysteria and wartime paranoia that sent imprisoned a race, guilty only of the color of their skin and the slant in their eyes, to internment camps.

Another argument is that both the internment of the Japanese Americans and racial profiling of Arabs and Muslims are not racially motivated.  They say that although certain groups were singled out, instead of a racist selection, it was strictly a security based operation and investigative tool.  They point out that it was not only the Japanese Americans who were relocated; Germans nationalists and Italian nationalists were also held in camps across America and “were classified as ‘enemy aliens’ and subject to curfews and other restrictions. The father of Joe DiMaggio, one of the nation's most popular baseball players, for example, was not allowed to go to his son's restaurant in San Francisco during the war” (O’brien 3)28.  Although Germans and Italians were arrested, they could be considered nationalist because they were NOT citizens “There was some internment of Italian Americans on the West Coast, though the numbers, compared to the numbers of Japanese Americans, were very small (about 250)“ (O’brien 3)29.

Others argue that racial profiling is a tool that strictly identifies a possible subject through the descriptions and features of a profile.  They say that a profile may consist of racial features and cultural features, but a profile “is not a judgment of guilt. It is not even an accusation of guilt. It is an investigative tool. It enables law enforcement to organize suspicions and husband resources rationally, in a manner related to a known threat. It is not foolproof, but no one who utilizes it is under any such misimpression. Its point is not to cast aspersions but to improve the odds of thwarting an attack the fallout of which could be catastrophic. It is essential in any strategy aimed at preventing a strike rather than prosecuting the guilty after the victims have been slaughtered” (McCarthy 2)30.  To them, there is a lot of common sense in racial profiling that point to it not being a racially motivated tool.  They say that if you are looking for a certain group of people, then you must identify what the group looks like.  On a recent television show, author William F. Buckley said, “It makes sense to check Arabs who are traveling. It is less likely that a non-Arab-looking person is going to hijack an airplane.”  Neil Livingstone, an expert on terrorism security with Global Options, an international risk management firm, said “Ethnicity is the single most important determinant of who is going to cause a problem on an airplane. If you are going to give the same attention, because it is mandated, to a little old lady with blue hair, or to a young African American...as you give to a Middle Easterner, you are undermining the system already” (O’brien 7)31.

The counter Argument “glides over crucial differences. The targeted German and Italian ethnics were aliens, not American citizens. (Japanese aliens were barred from US citizenship under the racist policies of that era; only their US-born children became citizens.) And most internees of European origin were targeted on suspicion of specific subversive activities, not solely for their ancestry” (Young 1)31. Others also claim that racial profiling and the internment of the Japanese Americans are incomparable.  They say that the groups and circumstances are far too different to be compared and in turn hinder our security strategies for the war on terror.  It has been established “federal law since the Alien Enemies Act of 1798 that, in a time of declared war, the United States may imprison or deport nationals of enemy nations. (What was excessive about internment camps during the Second World War was that they included American citizens of Japanese descent; there was nothing objectionable in principle about holding Japanese, German, or Italian nationals.) In the War on Terror, the enemy is a global network rather than a nation” (McCarthy 3)33.  This statement is completely true.  The war on terror is an enemy that has a global network that extends to any terrorist of any race and of any appearance.  Terror is not a nation; it is a destruction that can be done by anyone.  One does not need an undying allegiance to a certain country to be a terrorist.  Racial profiling is still narrowing the government’s sights and our homeland security’s targets down to the terrorists of Arabic appearance.

            The ongoing presence of lawsuits, lawyers, media, and different political groups has given the United States and other minority groups the protection that is needed to prevent a security measure, or any measure of that matter, that is as unjust as the internment of the Japanese American citizens.  Racial profiling is the problem we have today that, unfortunately, singles out a race and forces the members of its group to pay with their rights.  The internment of the Japanese Americans will always be the warning sign for America and the U.S. government to show how seriously all the side effects of a war can affect the rights of our citizens.

© 2006 Philosophy Paradise