Japanese-Americans not surprised by internment lies

Tuesday's revelation that the World War II internment of thousands of Japanese-Americans at camps throughout the West, including at the Merced Fairgrounds, was based on lies by a top U.S. official was not actually news to some local Japanese-Americans.

"For me, it confirms what we knew back in the 1940s," said Kerry Yo Nakagawa of Fresno, whose grandparents and parents were interned in Jerome, Ark.

"It's so unbelievable that just a handful of people could do that by suppressing the truth."

The admission also "was not surprising" to Marsha Auchard of Fresno, whose mother was interned at the Gila River camp near Phoenix. "But it's sad because [the internment] didn't have to happen."

Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal said Tuesday that the internment of Japanese-Americans was based on lies and deliberate deception by the wartime solicitor general.

Katyal said it was time to "set the record straight."

He said Charles Fahy, solicitor general appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, purposely withheld an intelligence report that concluded Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast were not a military threat.

As the U.S. government's top attorney, Fahy was duty-bound to be impartial and truthful, Katyal said. Instead, Fahy lied to the Supreme Court, saying the government and the military had concluded just the opposite – that Japanese-Americans were a threat and interning them was a "military necessity."

Based on Fahy's testimony, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Roosevelt's Executive Order No. 9066 to exclude Japanese-Americans from "military areas" in the West. The internment lasted until the war ended in 1945.

Nakagawa's grandparents lost a restaurant and general store they ran in Fresno's Chinatown. When his grandfather returned to Fresno, the lease on his store had changed hands. Also, his grandmother had died while they were interned in Arkansas.

"They got their civil liberties and homes and businesses taken away. Once they came back, they couldn't start over," Nakagawa said. "A lot of people [at the time] said it was a land grab.

"I hope the new generation and students who read about it will appreciate their civil liberties and Constitution and never take them for granted."

Japanese-Americans from throughout California, Oregon and Washington were held at two assembly centers in Fresno – one in Pinedale and the other at the Fresno Fairgrounds – before being sent to internment centers in other parts of California, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Utah and Wyoming.

Today, memorials have been built to honor the more than 10,000 Japanese-American citizens held at the two centers from May to July, 1942.

Fresno County Superior Court Judge Dale Ikeda, who served on the memorials committees, said Katyal's admission provides "further vindication."

Ikeda's grandparents and parents were held at the Fresno Fairgrounds before being interned at Jerome, Ark. After the war, his father served in military intelligence under Gen. Douglas MacArthur in Japan.

Although Fahy's deception was discovered in the 1980s, Katyal's acknowledgment "is very welcome, even though it is long overdue," Ikeda said.

"Nevertheless, a sincere apology is very much appreciated by the Japanese-American community and is deserving of praise," Ikeda said.

Roberta Barton of Fresno, the daughter of an internee, called the news "a great milestone, but it's such a shame that it took the government so long to admit their wrongdoing. Maybe it's a testament that persistence eventually pays off."