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Executive Orders

Work Type: Choral / Vocal, Classical

Instrumentation: SATB chorus, soloists, string quartet, and electric guitar

Duration: 20 minutes

A. Whereas
B. Attention
C. Letter from Louise 1
D. Now, therefore
E. Questionnaire
F. Letter from Ted
G. Hereby
H. Majority
I. Letter from Louise 2
J. Hereby further
K. We acknowledge

 

Executive Orders is a setting of texts relating to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.  As a wartime precaution, all persons of Japanese heritage were relocated from the West Coast and housed in camps around the country unless they agreed to serve the military in some capacity.

Please note – I am not of Japanese ancestry; I have no personal connection to any of the families isolated in the camps.  At the time, my own family was trying to survive the Japanese occupation of the Philippines.

I was moved to write this piece after stumbling across correspondence between Clara Breed, a San Diego schoolteacher, and teenagers confined in a camp in Poston, Arizona.  Rather than filled with vitriol and resentment, the letters and postcards offer snatches of daily life in Poston from people simply trying to make the best of what they had.  They’re filled with small victories and defeats: being hired for a good job; hoping to receive a good enough education to attend college; celebrating the occasional appearance of meat in their meals, or the arrival of a new set of books; arguing with Dad about being allowed to go out on dates.

From this extremely personal starting point, I searched for texts that fit into a range of more impersonal points of view, and eventually decided to set excerpts from these documents:

–          Executive Order 9066, signed by President Roosevelt, authorizing the internment;

–          A poster ordering Japanese-American families to turn themselves in for relocation or be arrested;

–          A loyalty questionnaire handed out to all camp residents;

–          Supreme Court Judges’ opinions from Korematsu v. United States (1944), which upheld the constitutionality of suspending the civil rights of American citizens based on their race in a time of war

–          A letter of apology issued by President Clinton as the completion of a redress effort begun by Presidents Reagan and Bush. I hope to offer a snapshot – necessarily incomplete – of the mindset andatmosphere that led to this part of our history, and a reminder of the results and consequences born from allowing fear and paranoia to dictate policy.

Executive Orders was commissioned by the Arlington-Belmont Chamber Chorus and premiered on March 16, 2008.  Many thanks to the Japanese-American National Museum for their permission to use excerpts from their “Dear Miss Breed” exhibit.

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A. Whereas

Whereas the successful prosecution of the war requires every possible protection against espionage and against sabotage to national-defense material, national-defense premises, and national-defense utilities;

– President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Executive Order 9,066 7 ed. Reg. 1,407

 

B. Attention

Instructions to All Persons of Japanese Ancestry:

All Japanese persons, both alien and non-alien, will be evacuated by 12:00 o’clock noon [Tuesday, April 7, 1942].

Evacuees must carry with them on departure for the Reception Center, the following property:

  1. Bedding and linens (no mattress) for each member of the family.
  2. Toilet articles for each member of the family.
  3. Extra clothing for each member of the family.
  4. Sufficient knives, forks, spoons, plates, bowls and cups for each member of the family.
  5. Essential personal effects for each member of the family.

– Lieutenant General John L. Dewitt

C. Letter from Louise 1 

In my last letter I said the fence was torn down — well, it is up again. This time a few feet further out. We have been told that the reason for the fence building was so the cattle won’t come near our homes. But as yet, we have not seen any. Yes, I think the fence tends to weaken the morale of the people.

– Louise Ogawa; Gift of Elizabeth Y. Yamada, Japanese American National Museum (93.75.31AC)

 

D. Now, therefore

Now, therefore, I hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of War and the Military Commanders whom he may designate to prescribe military areas in such places and of such extent as he may determine, from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War may impose in his discretion.  The Secretary of War is hereby authorized to provide for residents of any such area who are excluded therefrom, such transportation, food, shelter, and other accommodations as may be necessary, in the judgment of the Secretary of War until other arrangements are made.

– President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Executive Order 9,066 7 ed. Reg. 1,407

 

E. Questionnaire

[27.] Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty, wherever ordered?

[28.] Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any or all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and foreswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, or any other foreign government, power, or organization?

 

F. Letter from Ted 

I am in good health and my arm is getting along fine. I received a doctor’s order so I am allowed to have milk with my meals. [The food here is about the same as the food at the county hospital with the exception of less meat here. Now that we have a number of San Diego men working in the kitchens the food has improved quite a bit, especially with the salads.] I have heard that we are to receive meat soon, but I think it will be mostly stew because we are not allowed knives, just a spoon and fork as eating utensils.

– Ted Hirasaki; Gift of Elizabeth Y. Yamada, Japanese American National Museum (93.75.31G)

 

G. Hereby

I hereby further authorize and direct the Secretary of War to take such other steps as he may deem advisable to enforce compliance with the restrictions applicable to each Military area hereinabove authorized to be designated, including the use of Federal troops and other Federal Agencies, with authority to accept assistance of state and local agencies.

– President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Executive Order 9,066 7 ed. Reg. 1,407

 

H. Majority 

Regardless of the true nature of the assembly and relocation centers – and we deem it unjustifiable to call them concentration camps with all the ugly connotations that term implies – we are dealing specifically here with nothing but an exclusion order. Korematsu was not excluded from the Military Area because of hostility to him or his race. He was excluded because we are at war with the Japanese Empire, because the properly constituted military authorities decided that the military urgency of the situation demanded that all citizens of Japanese ancestry be segregated from the West Coast temporarily.  We cannot – by availing ourselves of the calm perspective of hindsight – now say that at that time these actions were unjustified.

– Justice Hugo Black; Toyosaburo Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1944)

To infer that examples of individual disloyalty prove group disloyalty and justify discriminatory action against the entire group is to deny that under our system of law individual guilt is the sole basis for deprivation of rights. Moreover, this inference, which is at the very heart of the evacuation orders, has been used in support of the abhorrent and despicable treatment of minority groups by the dictatorial tyrannies which this nation is now pledged to destroy.

I dissent, therefore, from this legalization of racism. Racial discrimination in any form and in any degree has no justifiable part whatever in our democratic way of life. All residents of this nation are kin in some way by blood or culture to a foreign land. They must accordingly be treated at all times as the heirs of the American experiment and as entitled to all the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution.

– Justice W. Frank Murphy; Toyosaburo Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1944)

 

I. Letter from Louise 2 

You asked in your last letter if I applied for leave.  To my surprise, my Eastern Defense Clearance Papers came the other day.  I am trying awfully hard to convince my father that I should go out, but he believes I am too young in mind, if not in age.  But at the rate I am pestering him, he’ll give in sooner or later, unless his patience holds out!

– Louise Ogawa; Gift of Elizabeth Y. Yamada, Japanese American National Museum (93.75.31AE)

 

J. Hereby further 

I hereby further authorize and direct all Executive Departments, independent establishments, and other Federal Agencies, to assist the Secretary of War in carrying out this Executive Order, including the furnishing of medial aid, hospitalization, food, clothing, transportation, use of land, shelter, and other supplies, equipment, utilities, facilities, and services.

– President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Executive Order 9,066 7 ed. Reg. 1,407

 

K. We acknowledge 

Over fifty years ago, the United States Government unjustly interned, evacuated, or relocated you and many other Japanese Americans.  Today, on behalf of your fellow Americans, I offer a sincere apology to you for the actions that unfairly denied Japanese Americans and their families fundamental liberties during World War II.

[In passing the Civil Liberties Act of 1988], we acknowledged the wrongs of the past and offered redress to those who endured such grave injustice. [In retrospect,] we understand that the nation’s actions were rooted deeply in racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a lack of political leadership. We must learn from the past and dedicate ourselves as a nation to renewing the spirit of equality and our love of freedom. [Together, we can guarantee a future with liberty and justice for all.  You and your family have my best wishes for the future.] 

            – President William Jefferson Clinton