Densho Digital Archive
Steven Okazaki Collection
Title: Peter Irons Interview
Narrator: Peter Irons
Location: San Francisco, California
Date: November 11, 1983
Densho ID: denshovh-ipeter-03-0014

<Begin Segment 14>

Q: Peter, can you tell about what the significance of these cases are today and why not just let it go? It happened a long time ago.

PI: The Supreme Court decisions in these cases forty years ago set forth the principle that military necessity or the claim of military necessity, whether it's true or not, will allow the Court to uphold discrimination on the grounds of race, the internment of an entire group of citizens without any searching judicial review. That is, the Court will not look behind the military's reasons. They won't subject them to the test of evidence, they Won't force the government to prove their charges that the members of this group are dangerous or that their race makes them a danger to the country. Those decisions have never been reversed. They remain on the books, even though most legal scholars, constitutional lawyers, today feel that the Supreme Court decisions were decided wrongly at the time, have been undermined by subsequent decisions. Nonetheless, they're still there. They're in the law books. They can be cited by the government as precedent. They can he used in some future occasion. to justify a similar kind of action against another group, a different crisis. That's why I think that the cases are, as Justice Jackson said, in his dissent in Korematsu, "a loaded weapon lying around for the hand of any authority with a plausible claim." Any loaded weapon is dangerous, even if it's just in a law book, in fact, perhaps more dangerous because it can be used to validate an action that cannot be challenged any other way.

Q: What's been the reaction of the Japanese community to the reopening of the cases?

PI: The Japanese American community has responded, I think, overwhelmingly with support for the reopening of these cases. A lot of the old wounds have been healed, the divisions between the Japanese American Citizens League and its critics. The younger generation of Japanese Americans, many of whom are involved in these cases as lawyers, feel that it's important for them to have the courts look at the cases again, reopen them, and ultimately to reverse them. It's important for symbolic as well as legal reasons. Symbolically, Japanese Americans still feel the stigma of being the only group in the history of this country singled out because of their race for this kind of treatment. What happened to them obviously could affect another group at another time. But personally for them, I think the desire to remove this stigma, the shame and humiliation, is really an important factor, and they have almost totally come together in support.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.