19 February 2023

Slow Learners

Eighty-one years ago today — just about ten miles from where I'm writing this — America demonstrated that it's a nation of slow learners. On 19 Feb 1942, jackbooted thugs US government agents visited the sins of their fathers (and grandfathers) on residents of Bainbridge Island, Washington, in response to an executive order signed by President Roosevelt.

That sin was one of ancestry: Those fathers (and grandfathers) had been born — themselves involuntarily — in Japan. They looked different. They often didn't speak fluent, local-tinged English (although many of them could say "Puyallup" correctly, but none of those in DC who ordered their internment could). Apparently, we had learned little from eighty years before that; and would further demonstrate that inability to learn sixty and seventy-five years later, no matter the utterly inadequate, self-serving rhetoric that came decades after the underlying facts had been refuted.

Korematsu remains on the pages of our legal and political history. As a legal precedent it is now recognized as having very limited application. As historical precedent it stands as a constant caution that in times of war or declared military necessity our institutions must be vigilant in protecting constitutional guarantees. It stands as a caution that in times of distress the shield of military necessity and national security must not be used to protect governmental actions from close scrutiny and accountability. It stands as a caution that in times of international hostility and antagonisms our institutions, legislative, executive and judicial, must be prepared to exercise their authority to protect all citizens from the petty fears and prejudices that are so easily aroused.

Korematsu III, 584 F.Supp. 1406, 1419 (N.D. Cal. 1984) (granting writ of coram nobis on ground of admitted prosecutorial misconduct).

That the elderly have as a group ("on average") lost some cognitive function perhaps explains a bit about the two executive orders described above: EO9066 came from the pen of a sixty-year-old survivor of polio, EO13769 came from the pen of a seventy-one-year-old narcissistic sociopath. Perhaps this is some facial justification for cognitive tests for elderly politicians <SARCASM> (although, ironically, these two individuals would have been outside the suggested scope, as would this one and this one, so perhaps any such test should be applied to all sitting and aspiring constitutional officers — notwithstanding life tenure — including the particular proponent of such testing). </SARCASM>1 But then, EO9066 continued a tradition relevant to my own family history… "slow learners" indeed, although the irony that learning a language is marginally more relevant to potential "disloyalty" concerns than is the identity of one's ancestors is rather bitter. And directly applicable to the proponent of those cognitive function tests.

  1. Cf. Ursula K. Le Guin, "The Diary of the Rose" (1976) and "SQ" (1978), both reprinted in The Compass Rose (1982). We could probably do worse than having a "personal assistant" and a janitor in charge; on all evidence, we have.