Presidential Studies Quarterly
Volume 28, Summer 1998
Ronald Reagan and Redress for Japanese-American Internment, 1983-88by Timothy P. Maga
Oglesby Professor of American Heritage,
Blood that has soaked into the sand of a beach is all one color. America stands unique in the world, the only country not founded on race, but on a way, an ideal.1In 1984, shortly before his landslide reelection victory over former Vice President Walter Mondale, President Ronald Reagan was faced with an intense lobbying effort by Japanese Americans and their allies in Congress. At issue was the moral, legal, and economic redress of the forced evacuation, relocation, and internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. To most Americans in the 1980s, Franklin Roosevelt's internment decision of forty years earlier was considered "an American tragedy."2 For nearly five years, President Reagan opposed redress legislation, reversing his position only after the political pressure reached a fever pitch during the waning days of his second term and at the height of the Bush-Dukakis presidential campaign. This article examines Reagan's reasoning in the matter, the worthiness of the redress legislation itself, and the significance of Reagan's reversal.
Be it through the written word, documentary films, or both, most Americans are familiar, or should be, with the sad tale of wartime Japanese-American internment. The postwar Japanese-American effort to win redress, and its high point of the 1980s, is not that well known.3 Without question, the internment story continues to stimulate a variety of emotions. They vary from rage and revenge to withdrawal and escapism. The campaign to win redress from the U.S. federal government was not immune from these conflicting emotions. Indeed, the "you owe me" argument was difficult to organize into a unified coalition that hoped to win on all fronts (moral, political, legal, and economic).
Given these emotions and struggles, the most hopeful venue for those who desired any form of redress was always the courts. Divorced (theoretically) from the political battles that beset a legislature, the courts held out, to some, the promise of a binding, no-nonsense resolution. Hence, the legal challenge came first. When that fight brought mixed results, the political agitation phase of the redress effort truly began. This political venue was particularly obvious in the area of congressional influence and clout. From Japanese-American Congressmen (such as the California Democrats Norman Mineta and Robert Matsui) to sympathetic African-American Congressmen such as Mervyn Dymally (D) (who represented one of Los Angeles's largest Japanese-American populations in the 1980s), the Japanese-American community could count on tireless congressional allies. Yet, how enforceable was the redress legislation that they proposed? President Reagan had his doubts. He also saw conflicts with the then very delicate U.S.-Japan relationship. In the name of national security, he could never fully explain to Congress or his Japanese-American critics what those conflicts were.
Thanks to the 1996-97 declassification of documents at the Ronald Reagan Library, the redress battle can now be thoroughly analyzed.4 Without a doubt, the cause for redress was a well-intentioned one and, in its legal form alone, quite overdue. Stripped of emotion, the legal case for redress was rooted in a fundamental American principle: the victims of injury and injustice deserve compensation that is meaningful and proportional to their suffering. More than 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry were forced from their homes in 1942 and herded at gunpoint into barbed-wire compounds that were located in deserts and swamps. They were all either American citizens or resident aliens who had been lawfully admitted but were barred from citizenship by discriminatory laws. Not one had been charged with a crime, given the right to counsel, or provided a chance to establish his or her loyalty to the United States. These victims of wartime hysteria spent an average of 900 days in captivity, held as retribution for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. To all but a few of their fellow citizens, Americans of Japanese ancestry were faceless and nameless. The military official who recommended their internment, General John L. DeWitt, put a common prejudice into ugly words: "A Jap's a Jap." American birth and citizenship could not dilute the "racial strains" that united all members of this "enemy race," DeWitt claimed. He even adopted the worst features of the politics of America's wartime adversaries: "There isn't such a thing as a loyal Japanese and it's just impossible to determine their loyalty by investigation."5 Stripped of their names and faces and subject to injustice and indignity, DeWitt's internees (or "wards," as he preferred) were reduced to simple wartime stereotypes.
One of those "wards," Fred Korematsu, entered the legal history books in a landmark case that challenged internment and during the internment era itself. Korematsu's defeat in this case would serve as the foundation for the postwar legal redress effort, but only after Korematsu decided to resume the effort after years of trying to forget it. In short, Korematsu had challenged the military curfew and exclusion orders that preceded the internment program. Along with Gordon Hirabayashi and Minoru "Min" Yasui, Korematsu was convicted of a criminal offense and had pressed his case all the way to the Supreme Court (which upheld his conviction in 1944). The year before, in affirming the convictions of Hirabayashi and Yasui, the Court adopted the FDR administration's thesis of "racial disloyalty." The Court also accepted without inquiry the government's claim that "military necessity" required the challenged curfew and the orders to protect the West Coast against sabotage and espionage.6
These decisions did not sit well with some in the American legal profession. In late 1945, less than one year after Korematsu's conviction, Eugene Rostow of the Yale Law School, for instance, lambasted the Supreme Court's actions. The Court, he said, had caved in to racial stereotypes and bowed to military arguments. Consequently, the justices had "abdicated their responsibilities." Rostow insisted that "the basic issues should be presented to the Supreme Court again, in an effort to obtain a reversal of these wartime cases."7 It would take forty years.
Throughout these four decades, the Supreme Court successfully attacked racial segregation in public schools, the civil rights movement championed and won many battles for racial equality, and Congress responded with acts to protect everything from voting privilege to equal employment. Finally, Japanese Americans awakened from what has been called their "silent years" and, during the 1970s, advocated the creation of a congressionally mandated commission that would seek the proper path to redress.
As the 1970s champion of post-Vietnam, post-Watergate "open government," the always candid President Jimmy Carter said he welcomed the Japanese-American cause. Near the end of his term and while fighting a losing battle for his political life against the advancing campaign of former California Governor Ronald Reagan, Carter established the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC). But it would be the Reagan administration that inherited its work and recommendations, and that fact, in itself, would soon be a problem for the redress cause. President Reagan told his cabinet that he had little use for "left-over Carterisms like the CWRIC," for his Reagan Revolution was supposed to be an obvious alternative to Carter's so-called liberalism.8
Between late 1980 and 1983, the CWRIC held hearings in which 750 witnesses appeared, including internment camp survivors and their former wardens. One of those witnesses, for example, was FDR's former Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy, who under intense examination by Judge William Marutani, the only commissioner of Japanese ancestry and himself a camp survivor, shouted that the internment had been justified because of the "Jap sneak attack on Pearl Harbor." Nevertheless, beyond the drama of public testimony, the CWRIC's greatest endeavor involved the difficult task of examining old War Department, FBI, and military records in reference to internment. Largely based on this research, the CWRIC made its recommendations to the Reagan administration on the eve of the 1984 election.
First, the commissioners agreed without dissent that Japanese Americans had been victims of the "misconduct of justice," stimulated by "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership." Franklin Roosevelt, Secretary of War Henry Stimson, McCloy, and the entire American government system were indicted in the commission's final report. Whereas some members of Congress offered encouragement to the commission's work, the federal courts still suggested the best course of redress. The reason behind this suggestion involved the CWRIC's 1981 discovery that Justice Department officials, during the days of the original Korematsu case, had deliberately suppressed evidence, lied to Korematsu case investigators, and intentionally misled the Court about alleged Japanese-American security threats.
The damning documentation of this conduct stretched across the case records of 1943 and 1944. This evidence had been unavailable to critics, such as Yale's Rostow, at the end of the war, ensuring that the case would not be reopened anytime soon. Consequently, the aging Fred Korematsu, along with codefendents Min Yasui and Gordon Hirabayashi, revived their case thanks to a team of volunteer lawyers (most of whom were Hirabayashi, Yasui, and Korematsu grandchildren and relatives). In late 1983, legal petitions were filed in the same locations as the case of forty years earlier (i.e., San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle). The government's own records refuted the Pentagon's military necessity argument for internment, including the charge that Japanese Americans had been preparing for acts of sabotage to U.S. military installations on the West Coast.9
When the new case began, more than 300 spectators, most of them elderly survivors of internment, packed Judge Marilyn Hall Patel's courtroom in San Francisco. The government's lawyer, Victor Stone, admitted that internment had been "an unfortunate episode" but refused to admit "legal misconduct." The case dragged on for nearly a year. Quite a few tearful tales were told about the dark days of internment, while the government refused to budge from its position of "no misconduct." But in April 1984, Judge Patel had heard enough.
I find substantial support in the record that the government deliberately omitted relevant information and provided misleading information to the Supreme Court on the crucial military necessity issue. The judicial process is seriously impaired when the government's law enforcement officers violate their ethical obligations to the court. Although I can not wipe the Supreme Court opinion from the books, it stands as a constant caution that in times of war or declared military necessity our institutions must be vigilant in protecting constitutional guarantees and protecting all citizens from the petty fears and prejudices that are so easily aroused.10In Portland, Min Yasui had his criminal convictions erased, and in Seattle, Gordon Hirabayashi was cleared as well. Nevertheless, Hirabayashi had to endure the most scrutiny by government lawyers, and the presiding judge, Donald Voorhees, permitted it. Dozens of witnesses were brought to the Seattle trial to testify that the FDR administration had more than enough reason to doubt Japanese-American loyalty at the beginning of World War II. Formerly top-secret cables from the War Department's Operation MAGIC decoding/counterintelligence operation were introduced, and former American espionage agents testified about Tokyo spies in the Japanese-American community. Yet, Hirabayashi's lawyers demonstrated that the Operation MAGIC cables were quite interpretive, and the former espionage agents could not identify or name the alleged Tokyo spies and their contacts.
Although many Japanese Americans found the Hirabayashi trial an unnecessarily long exercise, if not outright cruel to the elderly Hirabayashi, Judge Voorhees, in the end, offered one of the more intriguing posttrial challenges to the American political community. "The internment of an entire ethnic minority," he said, "on the basis of such deceit, disregard, and fraud requires more than an apology." He urged the Reagan administration to "make up for the misery of the early 1940s."11
The Voorhees pronouncement became a call to arms to Hirabayashi and his supporters. According to Hirabayashi, his specific trial and the entire case of Hirabayashi-Korematsu-Yasui had not been truly resolved. The clearing of a personal criminal record was not good enough. The Court, he believed, should have taken the next step or, at least, empowered Congress to make that next step. The federal government's "significant financial restitution" to former internees, along with Washington's formal apology to them and the nation, constituted those steps.
Indeed, to Hirabayashi's lawyers, the case for monetary compensation derived from the legal and moral principle that American law "make whole" the victims of injury in a meaningful way and at the cost of those who inflicted the injury or bear its responsibility. This was not without recent precedent. And how much compensation was enough? In 1971, some 1,200 peaceful demonstrators had gathered on the U.S. Capitol steps to listen to members of Congress who opposed the Vietnam War. The demonstrators were unlawfully arrested and held without charges for up to two days. In 1975, each person received a $10,000 award for the violation of their constitutional rights and unlawful detention.
Given this precedent, the Hirabayashi family concluded that $20 per day to Japanese Americans for each day of internment (totaling to $20,000) would be a "modest request." Sadly, from their view, the Court had not even considered a modest request. To Gordon Hirabayashi, "the evidence was clear that Americans had inflicted a grave injustice on an entire group of fellow Americans." Calling for "national fairness and repentance" in the form of a Reagan administration apology, a $20,000 stipend, and the blanket clearing of any and all Japanese-American criminal records from the internment era, Hirabayashi offered a grand motto to the energized political phase of the redress effort. "Ancestry," he said, "is not a crime."12
The CWRIC shared Hirabayashi's ambitions, adding teeth to the call for "fairness and repentance." Together, the CWRIC's final report to Congress and the conclusion of the court case constituted a powerful argument for legislative action. The result was H.R. 442. This legislation was deliberately numbered in honor of the 442d "Go-for-Broke" regiment of Japanese Americans who emerged from World War II as the army's most highly decorated unit. Echoing, although not perfectly, the Hirabayashi family, H.R. 442 called for a U.S. government apology, a $1.5 billion trust fund, a $20,000 stipend to each internee, a review of criminal convictions associated with the refusal to comply with internment procedures, and possible pardons.
President Reagan's response was negative, at first complaining to his staff about the "bad timing" of the legislation. By bad timing, he was referring to the 1984 election, his accomplishments on behalf of fiscal conservatism, and his call for a balanced budget and a line-item veto.
Establishing a $1.5 billion trust fund in this matter saddled him with the sins of his Democratic predecessors, from Franklin Roosevelt who interned the Japanese to Jimmy Carter who established the CWRIC. Forever railing against the "big-spending liberals" of the Democratic Party, Reagan worried that his fast approval of H.R. 442 (sponsored by a bipartisan group of 166 House members) might put him in the same category as the reviled big spenders. This political contradiction to his presidential career could be easily avoided through opposition to H.R. 442.13
But Reagan's opposition to H.R. 442 went beyond matters of fiscal conservatism and political purity. Upon further study of the issue, he found much of H.R. 442 already duplicated in law. For instance, during 1976, President Gerald Ford, in a certain bicentennial spirit of goodwill, issued a proclamation officially terminating the executive order that led to the relocation and internment of the Japanese Americans. To Reagan, that was good enough, although he asked his staff to "come up with something" that might please the Japanese-American community "beyond restitution payments."14 As governor of California, and then as the 1980 Republican nominee for president, Reagan had enjoyed significant support from the Japanese-American community. Naturally, he did not want to lose those supporters.15 But as the easy 1984 victory over Mondale came and went, the president's opposition to redress grew rather than lessened.
The strategies of the Reagan opposition ranged from attacks on the legislation's viability to doubts of congressional competence. Hence, Congress was assaulted for trying to break the budget with a new form of "pork" legislation. Specifically, the attorney general's office also opposed pardons for certain criminal convictions, and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said the restitution arrangements were "vaguely worded and its effect uncertain." The OMB reported to Reagan that the House-proposed trust fund, in reality, would cost the taxpayer much more. Meanwhile, the American-Japanese Evacuation Claims Act of 1948, claimed the OMB, had provided "meager and selective" restitution to some internees, but the point was that the government had responded. The federal government had no further obligations in this matter. Congress's action, both the OMB and Attorney General Edwin Meese III agreed, "could establish a bad precedent for other groups who feel that they have suffered injustices." The courts, they concluded, had already addressed "the hard issues" in reference to all internment matters.
Joseph Wright, the deputy director of the OMB, once told Reagan that Congress had even "demonstrated its incompetence with the redress legislation through its dangerously vague rhetoric" in H.R. 442 and lack of "homework." By lack of homework, Wright was referring to the fact that H.R. 442 did not reference the 1948 American-Japanese Evacuation Claims Act and the early 1980s court results. Reagan agreed with the Wright assessment. Nevertheless, the president had little to say to the press about the redress legislation, and his discussions with Wright and Meese were kept confidential.16
Whereas Congress and the Japanese-American community could speculate about the Reagan administration's domestic policy reasons to oppose H.R. 442, they had little knowledge of Reagan's national security concerns. Upon the introduction of H.R. 442, the Japanese government of Yasuhiro Nakasone criticized the Reagan administration for not passing it immediately. Implying that H.R. 442's quick approval by the White House would also benefit harmonious U.S.-Japan relations, Nakasone also noted that soon-to-be revised Japanese high school history texts were now going to address the Japanese-American internment issue. Would it not be a "fine footnote to America's black page," he surmised, if those new books could also proclaim the Reagan administration's apology for this ugly chapter of the World War II past?
To Craig Fuller, a special assistant to the president on issues ranging from Japanese affairs to international education, the Nakasone reaction to H.R. 442 constituted a back-handed slap to American pride and honor. Given the recent history of Japanese militarism and aggression, including horrific war crimes, Japan had no right to preach moral policy to the United States, Fuller explained to Reagan. Fuller also believed that Nakasone's mentioning of U.S.-Japan relations in his H.R. 442 statements was "dirty pool." Somehow, the Reagan administration's approval of H.R. 442 would be seen in Tokyo, Fuller reasoned, as a rejection of "Japan bashing," which the Japanese government believed was ever present in ongoing trade and defense negotiations.
Reagan agreed with Fuller, insisting that "some measure had to be made" to inform Tokyo that the White House "did not make legislation at the whim of the Japanese Diet."17
This top-secret Reagan position was not a typical one. Publicly, his administration considered the proliferation of Japanese corporations setting up shop in 1980s America as "good for the economy," while the booming success of Japanese electronic and automobile products within the United States was seen as "good for the American competitive spirit."18
Hence, outwardly, the Reagan administration was a friend to Japanese policy and in spite of Democratic Party and labor union complaints. Privately, at least in the case of H.R. 442, Reagan saw a Japanese insult to the integrity of the American government.
President Reagan won the opportunity to inform a senior visiting Japanese politician of this concern. Yoshiro Mori, Japan's Minister of Education, came to Washington, DC, shortly after Nakasone made his H.R. 442 statements. The purpose of the visit was to sign a math and science educational exchange program agreement between Japan and the United States. Reagan asked for "deep background" on Mori from both Fuller and the National Security Council (NSC). According to the president's sources, Mori was a "nationalist" and "ruthless tactician" for Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Positioned to replace Nakasone someday, Mori might have even influenced Nakasone, the "deep background" reports suggested, to make his H.R. 442 comments.
Upon meeting Mori, Reagan's position was clear and unswerving. Japan had no right, he explained, to influence American domestic politics. Since the Reagan administration was attempting to penetrate the Japanese market at the time (stressing U.S. Midwest agricultural products) and complaining about Japanese efforts to halt and even sabotage the American effort, Mori might have asked Reagan to stop interfering in the Japanese economy. This did not happen. Instead, he urged the White House to change its mind on H.R. 442, and these urgings, he insisted, were that of "one good friend to another."19
This would be the end of the direct U.S.-Japanese confrontation over internment redress. The points had been made. But Reagan would continue to list (privately) what he simply called "national security concerns" as a reason for redress legislation opposition. In reality, these national security concerns were rooted more in pride and emotionalism than security policy.
Nevertheless, it was not the first time that the plight of Japanese Americans had been confused with matters of "security."
On September 17, 1987, H.R. 442 passed the House by a vote of 243-141. It was not a straight party vote, and the opposition to redress included some members of Congress who, by reputation and political credentials, were expected to champion Japanese-American rights. For instance, one of Congress's powerful legislators, Claude Pepper (D) of Florida, also the nation's leading spokesperson for the rights of the elderly, thought a fight with Reagan on H.R. 442 would be counterproductive to his pro-senior citizen legislation. Although a Democrat with a liberal pro-civil rights/civil liberties record, Pepper hoped that Reagan's own status as a senior citizen and the well-cultivated Pepper-Reagan friendship would influence the conservative president's decision to approve liberal-leaning senior citizen rights measures from Congress. H.R. 442 suggested a threat to the Pepper-Reagan relationship and, despite the irony of voting against his career as a champion of the rights of the downtrodden, Pepper voted with the fate of his senior citizen legislation foremost in mind.20
>From the House, H.R. 442 passed to the Senate. Its new Senate version was numbered S.1009. This Senate measure differed little from H.R. 442, preferring a compensation budget of $1.3 billion for an estimated 60,000 Japanese Americans. Thanks to the Alaska delegation, S.1009 also added a rider offering $12,000 apiece and an apology to those Alaskan Aleutian Islanders who were also relocated in World War II. A budget of $21.4 million was set aside for the Aleutian compensation package. This Aleutian rider only added to the Reagan administration's complaint of Congress's "fiscal irresponsibility" in a time of government cutbacks and proposals for a balanced budget.
Events continued to move slowly, particularly in the atmosphere of "Irangate" and time-consuming debates over Reagan's Contras policy in Nicaragua. Redress was an important issue, but it was never a top White House or congressional priority. Consequently, one of the president's staunchest congressional supporters, Representative Daniel Lungren (R-CA), recommended a compromise to break the deadlock. Although a member of the House, Lungren urged his Senate colleagues to write a simple, non-binding resolution that employed "apologetic rhetoric" and no compensation budget. Senator Orin Hatch (R-UT) praised this compromise, vowing to introduce legislation on behalf of the Lungren "initiative."21
In response, the Japanese-American community moved against Lungren in a political offensive that won results.
The Lungren initiative coincided with California Governor George Deukmejian's nomination of Lungren for the post of state treasurer. Lungren was interested in the post and, for a time, no one doubted this Reagan favorite would be confirmed. Pulling together a coalition of Asian-American political activists, San Francisco attorney and redress champion Donald Tamaki blocked the Lungren appointment. Tamaki's attacks on Lungren's "race politics" worked, and it shocked Washington.
Representative Matsui, who offered advice and staff assistance to Tamaki's "Stop Lungren" movement, violated an unwritten California delegation rule of congressional collegiality by aiding Tamaki. Both Matsui and Tamaki made it clear to the press that the Japanese-American community "could not be taken for granted anymore" and that the "kid gloves were off." Even though the entire Asian-American community constituted no more than 7 percent of California's population, it maintained a disproportionate number of the state's university students and professors, scientists, engineers, and CEOs. It was time to flex political muscle, Tamaki argued, and he thanked non-Asian Republicans and Democrats for recognizing the importance of full redress through their support of the Stop Lungren effort. Indeed, public opinion across California indicated strong support for both H.R. 442 and S.1009. Reagan, Deukmejian, and other Republican luminaries, Tamaki argued, should have realized that Lungren's antiredress position would lead to unfortunate political consequences. It was unclear whether Tamaki was, in fact, talking about Lungren or Reagan here, but the warning to antiredress politicians was obviously made. Deukmejian countered that Tamaki and his Democratic friends would use any issue to achieve political power. The Stop Lungren movement, he proclaimed, had been "emotional blackmail" and "gutter politics at its worst." Few agreed, and even The Washington Post predicted that, as the 1988 election heated up, Reagan's opposition to redress would falter thanks to the new, aggressive politics of the Japanese-American effort.22
Reagan discussed this developing situation with an old friend from his days on the National Governors Council, Thomas Kean (R), Governor of New Jersey. Reagan told Kean that he had difficulty understanding the "motivations" of Japanese-American redress activists and their congressional backers. He wondered if the whole matter constituted little more than a Democratic Party measure to embarrass his administration in time for the 1988 election. More to the point, he noted that over the many years since World War II, he had never been convinced that Japanese Americans had been "forced into internment." Many, he believed, had gone to the camps "on their own volition."23
Kean, who disagreed with his old friend's assessment, pursued the matter, urging East Coast redress activist and former internee, Grant Ujifusa, to write the president on behalf of the people of New Jersey. Ujifusa's mission, said Kean, was "to educate the White House." Indeed, Ujifusa put together a powerful package of letters, petitions, and photographs from former internees. "We did not voluntarily leave our homes, our neighborhoods, and our work," Ujifusa wrote Reagan. "We were ousted from our rights and our property."(FN24)
In his own personal letter to Reagan, Ujifusa resurrected an old story about Reagan's late 1945 involvement in a military ceremony honoring a dead Japanese-American soldier. What happened in that ceremony soon became an issue in the redress effort itself. After more than forty years, the Reagan story took on quite a few versions. They varied from Reagan being present at the military ceremony to leading it in prayer. His exact words uttered at this ceremony also grew in eloquence and significance as his role there became a matter of concern to anyone interested in redress.
The most accepted version of this tale had Captain Ronald Reagan, on December 9, 1945, taking part in a special ceremony honoring Kazuo Masuda, who was killed in action on the banks of the Arno River in Italy one year earlier. Masuda had been part of the 442 Regimental Combat Team, and the ceremony involved the posthumous awarding of the Distinguished Service Cross.
General Joseph Stilwell, and not actor/Army Captain Ronald Reagan, presided over the ceremony. The medal was offered to Masuda's parents, and Stilwell had flown 3,000 miles to Santa Ana, California, for this event. A tired Stilwell bowed to movie star and former broadcast announcer, Ronald Reagan, to say a few words. This he did, but the exact words were not recorded by the press corps, including the Japanese-American reporters working for California's Pacific Citizen. The latter was even present at the scene. Perhaps exhausted by so many military funerals and awards ceremonies, the 1945 press appeared much more fascinated by the flashy clothes of Louise Allbritton, the attractive Universal movie starlet who accompanied Reagan to the ceremony, than they were by the event itself.25 Reagan was there to represent the Santa Ana chapter of the American Veterans Committee.
Accompanying Ujifusa's letter to Reagan was also a powerful treatise by June Masuda Goto, the late Kazuo Masuda's sister. She reminded Reagan of his "heroic words" at her brother's award ceremony in which she remembered him saying, "Mr. and Mrs. Masuda, just as one member of the family of Americans, speaking to another member, I want to say for what your son Kazuo did--Thanks." Mrs. Goto urged the president to sign redress legislation into law in the name of her brother "Kaz" and in the name of a "young, courageous Ronald Reagan."26
It was not too long before members of Congress were talking about Reagan's 1945 "heroism" and contrasting it to the present. Although its true origins remained suspect, the "discovery" of the Masuda eulogy or speech more than assisted the redress cause. By summer 1988, Reagan's Masuda comments in their entirety mixed the metaphor of World War II idealism and sentiment with the 1980s goals of his administration.
The real American is the man who calls it a fair exchange to lay down his life in order that American ideals may go on living. And judging by such a test, Sgt. Masuda was a better American than any of us here today. Blood that has soaked into the sands of a beach is all one color. America stands unique in the world, the only country not founded on race, but on a way -- an ideal. Not in spite of, but because of our polyglot background, we have had all the strength in the world. That is the American way.27The above represented Reagan's favorite version of the speech, or so he later told Representative Mervyn Dymally. The congressional supporters of redress now had the president's own words to use against him in any coming battle. Indeed, Dymally warned Reagan of tough times ahead in congressional-Reagan administration relations and perhaps in a number of legislative fields of endeavor, if the White House's opposition to redress continued.
Dymally told Reagan that the resurrection/manufacturing of the Masuda speech "would have him eating crow before the election was out." Going against redress, Dymally explained to the president, was not only going against the American people's sense of fair play, but it was also "going against common political horse sense as well as America's decent image abroad."28
Simply known as "Merv" in the Reagan White House, Mervyn Dymally was a former president of the California state senate during the days of Governor Reagan. As a senior member of the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee for Asian/Pacific Affairs and as the director of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), Dymally was an unswerving champion of redress for the Japanese-American community. Despite his liberal Democratic Party credentials, he remained within Reagan's tight circle of transplanted Californians. And although their relationship was never as strong as in the days of the California state house, Reagan respected Dymally's no-nonsense approach to politics. Dymally, Reagan once said of his old Democratic Party chum, "always brought me down to earth."29
During the last year of his presidency, Reagan began to consider the historical significance of his two terms in the White House. These musings were not unusual to ending presidencies but, in Reagan's case, they were not without certain political ironies. Presiding over an America that watched the 1980s dismantling of Soviet communism, Reagan had moved from the staunch cold warrior of 1981 to a position reminiscent of the mediocre anticommunists he once attacked with a vengeance. In domestic affairs, the 1981 Reagan had doubted the objectives and motivations of environmentalists. In the spring of 1988, he made a series of speeches in the American Midwest proclaiming the immediate need to provide a lasting heritage to the nation's children (i.e., a clean environment).30
Although there is no solid evidence to suggest that Reagan's 1988 reversal of opposition to redress was part of this effort to leave what Vice President George Bush called "a kinder, gentler America" behind, it was in keeping with the ending days of his presidency.
But the campaign of 1988 began with the president still supporting a firm veto position. Through a new comprehensive review of its results, Reagan hoped to counterattack those who said the 1948 American-Japanese Evacuation Claims Act was insufficient. Reagan's domestic policy staff did indeed accomplish this review, finding that the act had spent $37 million (in pre-inflation dollars) to settle 26,568 claims. Perhaps this might have been a noble effort in its day, but it might be too late, Jack Kemp (R-NY) told the president, to convince the American voter of that nobility. From football star to member of Congress to close Reagan confidant and presidential hopeful, Kemp enjoyed the president's respect. Like Dymally, but from a raw Republican partisan point of view, Kemp warned that the 1988 general election posed certain dangers to the Republicans if they stood tall against redress. Kemp, in what would soon be a common theme in his career, urged his Republican colleagues to be more open to ethnic minority participation in Republican Party politics. The support for redress, he concluded, might eliminate a significant ethnic vote-related "danger" to the 1988 Republican ticket.31
There was reason for White House nervousness. The Democratic Party nominee, Michael Dukakis, also the governor of Massachusetts, stressed the development of an ethnic vote coalition to ensure a November 1988 victory. He even delivered his nomination speech in several languages. The ethnic vote once represented a key component of the old Democratic New Deal coalition, and Reagan had effectively broken apart that coalition in the 1980 election. Certainly, the Japanese-American community would lead a rallying cry for Dukakis, Kemp warned Reagan, and to the detriment of many Republican candidates in many races. In the presidential contest, early public opinion polls usually supported a Dukakis win over Vice President Bush. Indeed, the emotional redress debate was bad baggage to drag into the heat of the campaign. For a time, Reagan contemplated a compromise with Congress whereby a lower redress compensation budget would be acceptable to his administration.32 But the president's allies in the House had already tried this approach during the opening arguments over H.R. 442. An amendment to cut the H.R. 442 budget, and with a precise figure to be determined later, had failed in a 237-162 vote.
A better tactic to destroy the redress legislation would be to amend it to death while (1) exposing any Japanese government pressure to pass it and (2) "turning" a key Japanese-American spokesperson to support the president's opposition. White House Chief of Staff Howard Baker, a former Tennessee senator, offered these suggestions to his former colleagues in the Senate. Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC) on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee offered to denounce Tokyo's interference in American domestic affairs, while Senator Phil Gramm (R-TX) on the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee offered amendments to S. 1009 that would lower annual payments over a ten-year period, delete the so-called Title III section entirely (reparations to Alaskan Aleutian Islanders), refuse payments to former internees no longer living in the United States, and require further "discussion" into the next congressional year.
Grant Ujifusa, meanwhile, would be asked by White House aides Ken Duberstein and Alan Karnowitz to support the "delay" of the legislation in the interest of building a better bill after the election. From the beginning, Senator Spark Matsunaga (D-HI), the chief sponsor of S.1009, correctly determined the nature of this White House counteroffensive. He reminded the Reagan administration that a good number of the original seventy-three cosponsors of S.1009 were Republicans and that Hawaii would remember the president's position when his vice president attempted to succeed him on that first Tuesday in November 1988.33
Given the political reality and, perhaps, Reagan's own growing sense of his place in history, the president informed his cabinet and Senate allies that he was removing the veto threat. On August 10, 1988, in a special signing ceremony, Reagan wrote the Congress's full redress legislation into law. He made no mention of his previous opposition to it. In fact, his comments echoed the sentiments behind both H.R. 422 and S.1009. Although brief, the legislation's required "apology statement" from Reagan was well put. "No payment," he said, "can make up for those three lost years. So what is most important in this bill has less to do with property than with honor. For here we admit a wrong. Here we reaffirm our commitment as a nation to equal justice under the law."34 Reagan closed the ceremony by repeating his alleged Masuda speech of December 1945, noting that the "ideal of liberty and justice for all is STILL the American way."35
With this action, the U.S. government closed a certain chapter of the internment and internment redress period. Whether it assuaged the pain and concern of the Japanese-American community was a different matter.
In hindsight, the Reagan administration's opposition to redress could be considered an irrelevant matter, for redress legislation, eventually, became part of the Reagan record. President Reagan recognized injustice and did something about it, demonstrating that he could be strong on principle but flexible on policies. Consequently, his administration should be recognized for the successful passage of redress legislation and, to some, that is the final word on the matter.
To others, the tale is more involved and less interested in Reagan's skill as a pragmatic politician. For years, the Reagan White House had opposed the effort to confront one of America's saddest chapters in its twentieth-century history. Ranging from the purely moral to matters of constitutionality and economic justice, the redress legislation was not an example of typical congressional lawmaking. It was the product of forty years of quiet retreat and reflection, court cases, citizen action, and bipartisan congressional agreement. Its historical significance was also obvious to many, including the Japanese government. Yet, the Reagan administration labeled it "pork," an example of big-spending liberalism, a thorn in the side of balanced budgets, and more beneficial to Japanese policy than to the United States.
Reagan learned the hard way that redress legislation transcended the usual conservative versus liberal arguments. The bipartisan support for H.R. 442 and S.1009 proved the point. After forty years of national discussion and analysis, Reagan still believed that many Japanese-American families went to internment camps willingly. Indeed, his national security objection to the legislation was misnamed, for it was based on cultural misunderstanding, fear, and an exaggerated assessment of the Nakasone government's objectives.
More to the point, Reagan's conclusion that there were connections between the goals of Japanese foreign policy and American redress legislation smacked of the same type of reasoning that, forty years earlier, connected Japanese spies and saboteurs to the Japanese-American community. Luckily for the redress legislation's sponsors and supporters, Republican Party struggles and worries in the early 1988 presidential campaign took its toll on the Reagan opposition. Ironically, as the comfortable Bush victory over Dukakis soon proved, the Reagan team's concerns were unfounded. In the 1940s, the presidency had been responsible for the final internment decision. It was unfortunate that in the 1980s, it fought so hard against its proper redress.
1. Quoted in June Masuda Goto to President Ronald Reagan, November 19, 1988, Box 2/Japanese American of the HU 013-22 Collection, at the Ronald Reagan Library, Simi Valley, California (hereafter referred to as Reagan Library).
2. See the introduction to Jerry Stanley, I Am an American: A True Story of Japanese Internment (New York: Crown, 1996).
3. The secondary literature that goes beyond the World War II internment tale is growing, although nearly all of it is still written in a certain memoir fashion by former internees and their lawyers. See especially Peter H. Irons, Justice at War: The Story of the Japanese-American Internment Cases (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993); Peter H. Irons, ed., Justice Delayed: The Record of the Japanese-American Internment Cases (Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University, 1988); Donna K. Nagata, Legacy of Injustice: Exploring the Cross-Generational Impact of the Japanese American Internment (New York: Plenum, 1993); Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston, Farewell to Manzanar: A True Story of Japanese American Experience during and after the World War II Internment (Toronto: Bantam, 1979); Ann Koto Hayashi, Face of the Enemy, Heart of a Patriot: Japanese-American Internment Narratives (New York: Garland, 1995).
4. Much of that documentation (especially relating to Reagan administration policy making vis-a-vis internment redress) was declassified for this article.
5. For a concise review of the impact of General DeWitt's argument in the FDR administration and its legal significance, see Peter Irons, "Justice Long Overdue," New Perspectives 18, no. 1 (Winter/Spring 1986): 2-8. This journal is published by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in Washington, DC. Irons served as counsel to Fred Korematsu in the 1980s' reopening of the 1944 Korematsu case.
6. The Korematsu, Hirabayashi, Yasui case transcripts from both the 1940s and the reopened case record of the early 1980s can be found in Box 2/Japanese American (576683-583999) of the HU 013-22 Collection of the Reagan Library.
7. "Issue Paper: Japanese-American Internment," Office of Policy Development to Reagan, February 8, 1985, Box 071-079/CO 078-294010 of the Countries Collection, Reagan Library.
8. Reagan to Howard H. Baker Jr., chief of staff, March 29, 1988, Box 071-079/CO 078 554863 of the Countries Collection, Reagan Library.
9. See the "Background" reports to H.R. 442 and S.1009, James Miller, director of the Office of Management and Budget, to Baker, November 5, 1987, Box 2/Japanese American of the HU 013-22 Collection, Reagan Library.
10. Patel's position is neatly discussed in Irons, "Justice Long Overdue," p. 6.
11. See the trial case file at Box 2/Japanese American (576683-583999) of the HU 013-22 Collection, Reagan Library.
12. Floyd D. Shimomura, president of the Japanese American Citizen League (JACL), to Reagan, plus the report, "The Japanese American Incarceration: A Case for Redress," July 16, 1984, Box 13752/Japanese-American Reparations, Luis Acle Papers, Reagan Library. Luis Acle was the associate director for ethnic Americans in the Reagan administration's Office of Public Liaison. His papers include some information on 1980s redress issues.
13. "Issue Paper: Japanese-American Internment," Office of Policy Development, February 8, 1985; S. Stephen Nakashima to Reagan, October 7, 1987, Boxes 071-079/CO 078-294010 and 071-079/CO 78 522340 of the Countries Collection, Reagan Library. Nakashima was a senior official in the 1960s Reagan for Governor campaigns and president-elect for the Japanese-American Republican Committee for the State of California during the 1980s. He was very good at analyzing Reagan's redress position and discussing it with him.
14. Statement of Administration Policy: H.R. 442, September 10, 1987; Joseph Wright, deputy director, Office of Management and Budget, to James C. Miller III, director, Office of Management and Budget, November 5, 1987, Box 2/Japanese American (576682) of the HU 013-22 Collection, Reagan Library.
15. Reagan to S. Stephen Nakashima and Jann M. Nakashima, October 7, 1987, Box 071-079/CO 078 522340 of the Countries Collection, Reagan Library.
16. Lee L. Verstandig, special assistant to the president for intergovernmental affairs, to Senator John T. Doolittle (California State Senate), January 3, 1984; Joseph Wright to Miller and Baker, November 5, 1987; John R. Bolton, assistant attorney general, to Representative Claude Pepper, chair, U.S. House of Representatives Rules Committee, September 14, 1987, Box 3/ND016-194015 of the ND 016 Collection, Box 2/Japanese American (576682) of the HU 013-22 Collection, Box 071-079/CO 078-533350 of the Countries Collection, Reagan Library.
17. For the U.S.-Japan relations aspects of the redress issue, see the series of memos and reports, particularly in reference to U.S.-Japan policy discussions with Yoshiro Mori, the Nakasone government's minister of education, dated from August 20, 1984, to September 12, 1984, in James K. Coyne, special assistant to the president, Private Sector Initiatives, to Frederick J. Ryan, presidential appointments and scheduling, and Reagan. See also T. H. Bell, Department of Education, to Craig Fuller, August 3, 1984; "National Security Council Decision Directive on United States-Japan Relations, #62," October 25, 1982; "Preparatory Process for the Visit of Prime Minister Nakasone and the U.S.-Japan Follow-Up Effort: National Security Council Directive, #151," December 10, 1984; "U.S.-Japan Trade Policy Relations, National Security Council Directive, #154," December 10, 1984; Box 071-079/CO 078-Japan of the Countries Collection and Box 1 of the Collection of National Security Council Decision Directives, Numbers 1-250, Reagan Library.
19. See the Mori visit documentation cited above in note 17.
20. Pepper to John R. Bolton, assistant attorney general, September 14, 1987, and Bolton to Pepper, September 14, 1987, Box 071-079/CO 078-533350 of the Countries Collection, Reagan Library.
21. Wright to Miller and Baker, plus legislative history of S. 1009, March 28, 1988, Box 2/Japanese American (576682) of the HU 013-22 Collection, Reagan Library.
22. Rawlein G. Soberano, president of the Asian and Pacific Americans Civil Rights Alliance, to Gordon Wheeler, associate director for Legislative Affairs-OMB, February 25, 1988; Jay Mathews, "Quiet Minority Shifts Tactics in California," The Washington Post, February 25, 1988, p. A3, Box 2/Japanese American (576682) of the HU 013-22 Collection, Reagan Library.
23. Reagan to Kean and Kean to Reagan, Baker, and Deputy Chief of StaffKen Duberstein, February 6, 1988, Box 2/Japanese American (576683-583999) of the HU 013-22 Collection, Reagan Library.
24. Ujifusa to Kean, November 24, 1987. The Reagan correspondence is noted here.
25. "Film Actor," Pacific Citizen, December 15, 1945, Box 2/Japanese American (576683-583999) of the HU 013-22 Collection, Reagan Library. Although this article has no byline, its authors, most likely, are John Kitasako or Bill Hosokawa of the Pacific Citizen.
26. June Masuda Goto to Reagan, November 19, 1987, Box 2/Japanese American (576683-58399) of the HU 013-22 Collection, Reagan Library.
27. Reagan administration documentation submitted to Congress in reference to the "Signing Ceremony for Japanese Internment Legislation, Wednesday, August 10, 1988," August 9, 1988, Box 2/Japanese American (576682) of the HU 013-22 Collection, Reagan Library.
28. Author interview with Dr. Mervyn M. Dymally, member of Congress, retired, Bradley University, Peoria, Illinois, April 2, 1997.
30. Office of Communications-White House to Senior White House Staff: "The President's Principle Achievements in 1988," December 1988, Box 1 of the papers of Beryl W. Sprinkle, Reagan Library. This report stressed Reagan's "growth" as America's chief executive, accenting his final year in office. Sprinkle was chair of Reagan's Council of Economic Advisors from 1985 to 1989.
31. Baker to Reagan and memo on internment redress, n.d. (most likely July 1988), Box 071-079/CO 078525426, Reagan Library.
34. "Presidential Remarks: Signing Ceremony for Japanese Internment Legislation, Wednesday, August 10, 1988," Box 2/Japanese American (576682) of the HU 013-22 Collection, Reagan Library.
35. Ibid. f the rights of the downtrodden, Pepper voted with the fate of his senior citizen legislation foremost in mind.20
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