After the Army decommissioned the Presidio, I was quite excited about playing golf there. It was billed as “the poor man’s” Olympic Club, with similar small greens, tall trees, and cool misty air permeating the fairways. But the Presidio, with its Western Defense Command, also played a big role in incarcerating the Japanese during World War 2.
The Presidio was the source of 108 civilian exclusion orders and other military directives that enacted President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066. These actions forced my Mom’s and Dad’s families, along with all people of Japanese ancestry, citizens or not, from the west coast. It incarcerated them in concentration camps for the duration of the war.
“The Presidio of San Francisco played a pivotal role in the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II,” explains Presidio Trust Curator Liz Melicker. “This exhibition encourages reflection and invites visitors to investigate the issues and decisions that led to this dark chapter in American history. How did leaders arrive at the decision to incarcerate Japanese Americans, two-thirds of whom were U.S. citizens? How did Japanese Americans and others respond to the violation of their civil liberties? And what, as a nation, have we learned that can help us address present-day issues such as mass incarceration, immigration reform, and racial profiling?”
It has been 75 years since the Western Defense Commander Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt signed those 108 orders in Building 35. It led to the removal of 120,000 Japanese Americans from the West Coast, primarily California. The exhibit, Exclusion: The Presidio’s Role in World War II Japanese American Incarceration will run for a year in the Presidio Officer’s Club.
From the website: “The Presidio Trust staff worked with collaborators from the Fred T. Korematsu Institute and the National Japanese American Historical Society (NJAHS), both tenants at the Presidio. The Korematsu Institute and NJAHS provided input from concept development through script review, contributed objects and images to the exhibition, and are collaborating on public programming at the Presidio Officers’ Club’s Moraga Hall and school program development throughout the duration of the exhibition.”
“Exclusion explicitly invites visitors to contemplate what can be learned from this shocking time in our history to help us contend with present-day issues—namely racial profiling, anti-immigrant sentiment, mass incarceration, and civil rights discrimination, as well as questions regarding the Constitutionality of Executive Order 9066,” said Karen Korematsu, Founder and Executive Director of the Fred T. Korematsu
Two-thirds of those imprisoned were American citizens by birth; the others were non-citizens unable to obtain naturalized citizenship by federal law. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor and under the pretext of “military necessity,” these civilians were removed from their homes and detained without due process. Nearly 40 years later, the federal government unequivocally stated that “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership” had motivated this mass incarceration during World War II—not “military necessity.”
“Now more than ever, we need to teach the lessons to be learned about the injustices of Executive Order 9066 and the World War II forced removal and mass incarceration of Japanese Americans,” explained Rosalyn Tonai, Executive Officer of the National Japanese American Historical Society. “This is a significant event in our collective American history and we are sure the Presidio’s exhibition will be the starting point for much meaningful dialogue.”
As you can probably figure out, I have been spending a great deal of time learning more about Relocation, and Executive Order 9066. I have asked many friends and relatives about it as well. And yes, I will probably put it in a book that I am writing about Sansei, the third generation Japanese Americans, of which I am a part.
Yes, it always makes me sad, even brings tears to my eyes. But what I think about most is that such illegal incarceration can happen again. And to then draft the young Japanese American men (Nisei) into the service, I often wonder what my Grandfather must have thought about his wonderful new country and land of opportunity. My Uncle was drafted and served in the Military Intelligence Service for the duration of the war, and in Occupied Japan.
Anytime a single race, religion, or group is singled out as “dangerous” or “the enemy”, this saddest chapter in American freedom is replayed in my mind. Yes, it could be African-Americans, or Latinos, or Muslims, or perhaps even you!
PS: It was a relatively small display, well done, and focused on the role of the Presidio in EO 9066.