Excerpt from the Congressional Record of the 106th Congress, Second Session, Washington, Tuesday, June 13, 2000
The Honorable Daniel K. Inouye, United States Senator (Hawai‘i):
What is the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy? What is the rationale and purpose of the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy? I will do my best to respond to the above questions.
The National Center for the Preservation of Democracy will be headquartered in the renovated and transformed Historic Building of the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, CA. The Historic Building is a National Historic Landmark as designated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This space will keep alive and teach about a remarkable time in U.S. history, a period of shame and sacrifice and insult that ended with a burst of glory demonstrating the majesty of our government to recognize its errors and make a public apology and some restitution.
Daniel K. Inouye, United States Senator
The Japanese American story illustrates the splendor of the United States and the magnificence of the Constitution. Since their initial immigration in the late nineteenth century, Japanese Americans have believed strongly in the American dream and have sought to make America their home. Although confronted by prejudice and discrimination, Japanese Americans have utilized that very democratic process in the spirit intended by the Framers of the Constitution. The story of Japanese Americans is about democracy in action. Like other immigrants, Japanese journeyed to the United States seeking opportunity and dreams of a better life. From the moment they arrived in the late nineteenth century, however, they were confronted with social prejudice and discriminatory laws already in place. The Naturalization Act passed by Congress on March 26, 1790, which restricted naturalization to “free white men,” was unavailable to persons of Japanese ancestry. Designated as “aliens ineligible for citizenship” (the only racialized group so defined until 1952), Japanese immigrants were rendered as perpetual aliens, a condition that prevented their full enjoyment of life, liberty and property. Nonetheless, the Issei—Japanese immigrants—courageously maintained their belief in America and moved forward to establish their new lives in the United States. More than that, through hard work and perseverance, Japanese enterprise prospered in the face of indifference.Without citizenship, Japanese immigrants were subject to alien land laws, which prohibited ownership of land by “aliens ineligible for citizenship.” Although denied full participation as Americans, Japanese immigrants consistently sought, through non-violent legal efforts, to undo the intent of discriminatory laws through public campaigns, litigation, and other peaceful strategies.When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, America was stunned and angered. For Japanese Americans, who had been subject to discrimination because of their ancestry, the whole world turned dark. However, as the United States confronted the threat of fascism in Asia and Europe, American democracy itself was put to a challenge and, for Japanese Americans, it fell short. Because they “looked like the enemy” and were thought to be a military threat, 120,000 individuals of Japanese ancestry, two-thirds of whom were American born citizens, were excluded from the West Coast, forcibly removed, and incarcerated in concentration camps. These prison camps were at first operated by the Army, and then the War Relocation Authority. This event has become the largest violation of constitutional rights in American history.
For Japanese American males, the beginning of the war was especially humbling and painful as the Selective Service designated them as, IV-C, enemy aliens. Although they were loyal to the United States, these American born citizens were rendered ineligible to enlist in the armed services. Nonetheless, when the government announced the formation of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a segregated unit of Japanese Americans, thousands of young Japanese American men enthusiastically volunteered to serve. Stigmatized by the classification as enemy aliens, they were eager to prove their loyalty to the United States. Government officials were surprised by the overwhelming response. While family and friends were incarcerated behind barbed wire, the soldiers of the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, as well as the Military Intelligence Service fought and died for the United States and for the preservation of democracy with no guarantee that their civil rights would be restored. Their service demonstrates the ultimate in patriotism and love of country.
In 223 days of combat, the 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team became one of the most decorated units in United States military history. Among the many awards and decorations received by the men of the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team are 21 Congressional Medals of Honor, 52 Distinguished Service Crosses, 560 Silver Star Medals, over 4,000 Bronze Stars, 9,486 Purple Heart Medals, and 7 Presidential Unit Citations. Their distinguished record includes the rescue of the “Lost Battalion” and participation in the assault that cracked the Gothic Line of Nazi strongholds. Affirming the unending truth that loyalty to one’s nation is not modified by racial origin, these soldiers fought two ways, one for democracy overseas and the other against racial discrimination back home in the United States. As President Harry Truman said, “You fought not only the enemy but you fought prejudice and you have won.”
In response to their heroic achievements, President Harry Truman challenged “Keep up the fight and we will continue to win and to assure that this republic stands for what the Constitution says it stands for: the welfare of all of the people, all the time.” Many members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team took President Truman’s words to heart. Several soldiers went on to fight for democracy through their service as elected officials while others continued to serve in the armed forces. Eventually, Japanese Americans went on to fight in the Korean War and later the Vietnam War.
Inevitably, the impact of the heroic service of Japanese American soldiers during World War II went on to enhance the civil liberties of all Americans. In 1948, segregation in the armed services ended in large part from the efforts of the 442nd and in 1952 the Walter-McCarran Act made all races eligible for naturalization and eliminated race as a bar to immigration. Thus, Japanese immigrants, many of whom were parents of World War II veterans, were able to finally attain their citizenship as Americans.
One of the more magnificent examples of American democracy at its most powerful form is the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, signed into law by President Ronald Reagan, in which the United States recognized its grave and fundamental injustice of violating the civil liberties of its own citizens. Advanced by many Japanese American war veterans, the law makes a formal apology and provides token restitution to former internees. No other country in the world can make the claim of acknowledging and apologizing for its mistakes—a point that further illustrates the grand majesty of the United States. More importantly, to demonstrate its commitment of assuring that similar events do not happen, the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 provided funds to educate all Americans about the lessons from the incarceration.
While $50 million was authorized in the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 for educational purposes, the appropriations were significantly reduced because of the lack of funds available to pay the eligible individual claimants. The Civil Liberties Public Education Fund received only $5 million to fulfill its congressional mandate to educate the public about the lessons learned from the incarceration. With the limited funding, the education of the exclusion, forced removal, and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II was dramatically compromised and the government’s commitment to educating the public has yet to be effectively fulfilled. The National Center for the Preservation of Democracy established in the Historic Building of the Japanese American National Museum will achieve that objective.
The National Center for the Preservation of Democracy will be assisted by the Japanese American National Museum in the examination of the rights and freedoms of Americans in the United States through the Japanese American experience. Because its mission is dedicated to the study, preservation, and interpretation of democratic issues, the National Museum maintains extensive expertise that will enable the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy to:
Develop and exhibit nationwide programs about the issues of democracy;
Have ready access to significant collections relating to these issues, especially the legacy of Japanese American military service, including artifacts of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and other military units;
Benefit from the relationships established and maintained by the National Museum, especially with federal institutions and related community organizations; and
Provide a dynamic visitor experience in a historic building.
The National Center for the Preservation of Democracy will be created as a dedicated space where visitors can learn about the enduring fragility and ultimate success of individual and constitutional rights. The headquarters will be established in a renovated and transformed historic building provided by the Japanese American National Museum.
The National Center for the Preservation of Democracy will provide educational programming that includes exhibitions, media arts presentations, public programs, conferences, and civic dialogue/public forums. The National Center for the Preservation of Democracy will:
Present a permanent, audience-focused exhibition addressing American democracy through the Japanese American experience, including the military service of Japanese Americans (in World War I, World War II, the Korean war, and the Vietnam war);
Maintain and pursue key civil and military materials for a comprehensive collection;
Create and establish new opportunities for civil and military research, especially through collaboration with federal institutions such as the National Archives and the Smithsonian Institution to make documents more accessible;
Conduct education and public programs examining democracy in action; and
Produce educational media arts productions that present and interpret related issues of democracy for broad national and international broadcast and distribution as well as for on-site exhibitions.
I respectfully believe that the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy is most worthy of our support.