“Their nation”

Today marks the 30th anniversary of a very important milestone for all Americans. On August 10, 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act into law.

This Act, as President Reagan explained, purposed to address the Japanese American Internment during World War II, in which 120,000 Japanese immigrants and American citizens of Japanese ancestry were “forcibly” sent from their homes and businesses to live in “makeshift internment camps”.

A Japanese-American internment center. This assembly center has been open for two days. Only one mess hall was operating today. Photograph shows line-up of newly arrived evacuees outside of this mess hall at noon. Tanforan Assembly Center. San Bruno, CA, April 29, 1942. Dorothea Lange. Credit: National Archives and Records Administration

He said they were held there “without trial, without jury”, and “based solely on race.”

Manzanar Relocation Center, Manzanar, California. Mealtime at Manzanar, a War Relocation Authority center for evacuees of Japanese ancestry. Clem Albers, Photographer (NARA record: 8452194)

He said while it is “not for us today to pass judgement on those who may have made mistakes while engaged in that great struggle” (World War II), the Japanese Internment was indeed “a mistake.”

President Reagan acknowledged that “no payment can make up for those lost years,” but that the government was offering reparations for any person held in the camps.

President Reagan signs the bill in an official ceremony. Left to right: Hawaii Sen. Spark Matsunaga, California Rep. Norman Mineta, Hawaii Rep. Pat Saiki, California Sen. Pete Wilson, Alaska Rep. Don Young, California Rep. Bob Matsui, California Rep. Bill Lowery, and JACL President Harry Kajihara. Courtesy Ronald Reagan Public Library.

The Civil Liberties Act was named HR442 in honor of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, whose soldiers were almost all of Japanese ancestry. Many in this brave and successful unit left family members behind barbed wire all across the United States, while they went to Europe and the Pacific fighting for freedom. A veteran himself, President Reagan had great respect for the 110th/442nd, saying that they “served with immense distinction to defend this nation – their nation.”

Photograph of President Truman saluting as he passes the color guard during his review of the Japanese-American 442nd. Abbie Rowe, 1905-1967, Photographer (NARA record: 8451352)

Watching this 9 minute clip of the signing ceremony in 1988 would be well worth your time.