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Republican Vehemently Opposed 1942 Japanese Internment

Image: Republican Vehemently Opposed 1942 Japanese Internment
Actor George Takei. (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

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Monday, 28 Dec 2015 09:57 AM Current | Bio | Archive

Recent comments by Donald Trump and other politicians invoking the internment of Japanese Americans after the start of World War II prompted a firestorm of commentary about one of the most controversial actions taken by a U.S. president.

But what critics of Trump and others on the internment issue fail to mention is the one high office-holder who did condemn the controversial action was a conservative Republican: Gov. Ralph Carr of Colorado.

Republican presidential hopeful Trump refused to say last month that he would have opposed the internment of Japanese American citizens. His comments came on the heels of a statement from the Democratic mayor of Roanoke, Va., David Bowers, recalling how “President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt compelled to sequester Japanese foreign nationals after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and it appears that the threat of harm to America from ISIS now is just as real and serious as that from our enemies then."

Actor George Takei—famed as “Mr. Sulu” on TV’s original “Star Trek” series —wrote a much-discussed op-ed in “USA Today” recalling how he, his parents, baby sister “and 120,000 others of Japanese descent became the enemy, simply because we looked like those who had attacked us.”

“On Feb. 19, 1942, President Roosevelt issued an order authorizing our evacuation from the West Coast,” recalled Takei. He went on to liken Trump to California’s most vigorous advocate of internment: State Attorney General Earl Warren, liberal Republican and future governor and chief justice of the United States.

“Like [Trump], Warren harnessed the power of fear,” Takei wrote, “In a masterful stroke, Warren acknowledged that there were no reported acts of espionage or sabotage by our community, but he argued this was compelling evidence of some unknown, massive, and coordinated activity yet to come.”

In nearby Colorado, however, another Republican office-holder was deploying his political capital to stop the internment of Japanese Americans. A former U.S. attorney, Ralph Carr was elected governor in 1938 on a conservative, no-tax platform. He balanced the state budget without a tax increase and became a vigorous foe of FDR’s “New Deal” (“Socialist” is how he privately described the federal government agenda). In 1940, Carr was reportedly on the “short list” as a running mate to Republican presidential nominee Wendell Willkie.

Mentioned by various newspaper columnists as a future presidential candidate himself, Carr in 1942 took the unpopular stand of denouncing FDR’s Executive Order 9066 to “evacuate” and intern Japanese Americans.

Noting that many of those being interned were American citizens and were as entitled to be governor as he was, Carr declared that to "imprison American citizens without evidence or a trial, what's to say six months from now, we won't follow them into that same prison without evidence or a trial?"

When the War Authority Board ordered a group of Japanese Americans resettled in a camp near Grenada, Colo., the governor decided to welcome them and call on Coloradans to respect their rights.

“An American citizen of Japanese descent has the same rights as any other citizen,” Carr told a large and hostile audience of farmers, “If you harm them, you must first harm me. I was brought up in small towns where I knew the shame and dishonor of race hatred. I grew to despise it because it threatened [pointing to various audience members] the happiness of you and you and you.”

There were no incidents against the Japanese and by 1943, it was obvious that Carr was correct when he had predicted there would be no sabotage or espionage committed by those relocated to the Centennial State.

But he would pay dearly for his decision to accept and welcome the Japanese Americans. In 1942, as the Republican nominee against Democratic Sen. Edwin “Big Ed” Johnson, Carr was forced to play defense for his position. As Adam Schrager wrote in his much-praised biography of Carr “The Principled Politician,” “Democrats were spreading the message that Carr had invited the Japanese into Colorado . . . and that even more enemy aliens were on their way.”

This message, according to Schrager, “was specifically sent to the state’s Hispanic population in Southern Colorado [which] had seen their neighbors in New Mexico endure a staggering amount of casualties.”

“I have never seen such a campaign of hatred as was manifested over certain classes of the population,” jurist Joe Thomas later wrote, “that Johnson cultivated so carefully.”

In a Republican year nationwide, Carr lost to Johnson in a squeaker. Few doubted the reason why.

“My position toward the Japanese evacuees caused me no end of trouble in the last campaign,” Carr wrote a friend shortly after the election, “but I am honored by that very fact because I feel that no fair-minded man could have taken any position other than the one which I did.”

After years in private law practice, Ralph Carr returned to politics in 1950 and sought the governorship. Times had clearly changed. In a campaign that featured a brochure proudly highlighting his action in wartime and Japanese Americans who stayed in Colorado canvassing vigorously for “our friend,” Carr won the primary in a landslide. Certain of a return to his old job, he died suddenly on Sept. 22, 1950, at age 63.

Earl Warren would later regret his actions, writing in his memoirs that “it was wrong to react so impulsively, without positive evidence of disloyalty.”

George Takei wrote that “Trump and his supporters would do well to heed Warren’s personal lesson.” But he might just as easily have written that they should study Ralph Carr, who had nothing at all to regret.


John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
 

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When the War Authority Board ordered a group of Japanese Americans resettled in a camp near Grenada, Colo., the governor decided to welcome them and call on Coloradans to respect their rights.
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2015-57-28
Monday, 28 Dec 2015 09:57 AM
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