A richly earned honor for Gordon Hirabayashi
The Seattle Times editorial board salutes Gordon Hirabayashi, who posthumously wins the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Seattle Times Editorial
PAUSE for thanks to Gordon Hirabayashi, who died earlier this year at 93. Along with some Americans more famous than he, and one other person from the Seattle area, epidemiologist William Foege, Hirabayashi is being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama.
On Feb. 19, 1942, following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, ordering the removal of all persons of Japanese ancestry from the Pacific Coast.
Hirabayashi was a senior at the University of Washington. He had been born in Seattle, was a U.S. citizen, and there was no case of disloyalty against him. No matter; he was subject to an Army order, the first part of which was an 8 p.m. curfew that applied to persons of Japanese ancestry only.
Hirabayashi broke curfew, was arrested and filed suit. He said that as an American, he couldn't accept a curfew applying to one race only. He took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Americans celebrate those who fight and win. Hirabayashi lost. It was the middle of the biggest war in American history, and even his fellow Washingtonian, Justice William O. Douglas, was against him.
"We cannot sit in judgment on the military requirements of that hour," Douglas wrote.
The push for those "requirements" had not come from the military or from the FBI. They came from politicians. West Coast politicians. Nor did the court decline to sit in judgment. It did, and it ruled for the government and against Hirabayashi.
Public opinion was against him, too. Yet, in hindsight, he was right. The internment was not necessary, and it did violate the rights of citizens.
In wartime, government is more likely to go beyond the bounds of reason, and it is especially difficult to say no.