The choice of Fred Korematsu is more than honoring a man, it honors an idea in short supply these days. Too often today our heroes are manufactured. As we've seen in the past few weeks, this sort of hero, while able to demoralize an entire field of golfers, has foibles just like the rest of us, but their worship is derived from excellence, not ideology. Therefore, athletes and movies stars are programmed to be perfect and when they are found to be anything but, they feed the tabloids and become fodder for water cooler discussions of the inane.
Fred Korematsu is a hero because history searched for him and not the other way around. While he believed Executive Order 9066 was deeply offensive to his sense of being an American, it was not until his arrest in San Leandro did history find the man who could fight back against the injustice of Japanese internment. It must be remembered, speaking out against the government was deeply frowned upon by the very Japanese-Americans who were forced to uproot families and live in dusty squalor. These were also deeply proud Americans who held the pain and humiliation of internment deep in their psyches. It is very common for the children of those sequestered during World War II to have known nothing of their parents experience into adulthood.
The U.S. government inflicted one of the most unkindest cuts in the 20th century and it took one man and a team of tenacious lawyer to reverse this immoral wrong. When Korematsu stood before District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel in 1983 and said, “If anyone should do any pardoning, I should be the one pardoning the government for what they did to the Japanese-American people” it did more than chastise the actions of U.S. government, it summoned the ghosts of the American colonists who eloquently and bravely fought for our cherished independence. It bore the essence of millions of laborers who fought for rights which are slowly eroding in the present.
It is imperative that the inspired choice of naming the new ninth grade campus after Korematsu must also include current references to the post-9/11 handling of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and the overall treatment of all Muslim-Americans in the years since. History has already repeated itself. This current saga in American history already has its own Fred Korematsu. Like the civil rights leader, the case of Salim Ahmed Hamdan aims to the core of overactive presidential authority just as Korematsu claimed back in 1942. Hamdan, a Yemeni who was detained and sent to Guantanamo sued the government in Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually ruled the Bush administration's desire to try defendants in military tribunals was unconstitutional and ran afoul of the Geneva Convention. The charges against Hamdan were dismissed in June 2007.
Stephen Cassidy is right when he said the honoring of Fred Korematsu is a civics lesson for the youth of San Leandro. There is no better historical figure who can inspire the centuries old desire of Americans to fight against injustice to forge a better nation. The San Leandro School Board did the right thing Tuesday night. They should be proud and the city will one day soon bask in the spirit of Fred Korematsu's accomplishments as it begins to filter into the minds of a new generations of courageous Americans next fall.
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