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-03-0015

<Begin Segment 15>

Q: Peter, let's move back. The government wants to vacate the charges. Is there any point, do you think the... is the government afraid of this issue of suppression of evidence and having everything out?

PI: The government's response in these cases, essentially the argument that we should let bygones be bygones, put this unfortunate episode behind us, as they put it, I think is simply an evasion of the issues. The issues raised in the petition about the suppression of evidence, the lack of any real evidence the Japanese Americans constituted a danger to the country. The government doesn't want to confront these issues, partly because it knows that the petition is based on its own files. The government's own lawyers made these charges, not the petitioners. So for the government to deal directly with them would require them to admit the facts in the petition, which are incontestable in terms of the evidence they're based on. And secondly, the government, I think, as a political issue, is afraid of raising or reopening these issues for political reasons, it has a desire to portray itself as being sympathetic to minorities, a position which many people disagree with, and I think the government would simply, wants to walk away from these cases.

Q: Were you completely happy with yesterday?

PI: I think what happened in court, in Judge Patel's court, in the Korematsu case, was an amazing, extraordinary kind of judicial happening. It represented, first of all, the first time in history that the district court judge has in fact ruled that a Supreme Court opinion was wrong. Secondly, I think it's of enormous importance to the Japanese American community that the cases were concluded with a reversal. And thirdly, I think that it represents a tremendous amount of courage on Judge Patel's part to face up to these issues, to make the ruling that in effect has little precedent. Because there's never been a case before in which a lawyer court judge has wiped out a Supreme Court ruling.

Q: What, how do you think Fred felt about having won the case yesterday?

PI: Fred's reaction was, I think, understandable. He was overjoyed. He was delighted that he finally had a chance to make his case to the court in a sympathetic setting with the facts on his side, the facts that should have been there to begin with, forty years ago, but which were withheld. His own feeling, I think, is evident in his response when he was questioned afterwards, he said, "I had to do a lot of rethinking before I reopened this case. But now I'm glad I did."


Q: Peter, how do you feel about having the reversal of the Korematsu case?

PI: I'm delighted, obviously, with the reversal of the Korematsu conviction. I don't think that it depended solely on evidence that I discovered that was the basis of the petition. I think eventually this evidence would have come out, either through the Commission investigations or the press looking at it, but I do think that my own personal satisfaction is that it represents to me the ability of somebody to participate in the legal process in a way that can help change what was one of the most outrageous decisions ever handed down by the U. S. Supreme Court. That, to me, is vindication enough.

Q: Does this affect the redress and reparations at all?

PI: I think the reversal of the Korematsu case and the other cases, obviously, is going to have an impact on the redress question. The judicial declaration by Judge Patel that the internment was not based on military necessity, that the government had suppressed the evidence of loyalty and espionage, is going to make the argument for redress stronger, give it some more backing. When it comes up for debate in Congress, I think that Judge Patel's opinion is going to cited and going to be used as a basis for the argument. Whether that can ultimately bring about the passage of redress legislation is hard to say, but at least it I'll make it easier to do.

Q: Can you foresee any negative reactions from the public in these cases?

PI: I think that every time the internment issue is raised in public, when the Commission was founded, when it issued its report, its recommendations, when these cases were filed, there is a reaction from one part of the public, those who are motivated, I think, partly by racism, partly by their own feeling that Japanese Americans were responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbor, this group will never be satisfied. Their minds cannot be changed. No kind of evidence can convince them that Japanese Americans were unlawfully detained, for no reason other than their ancestry, that they do not share any guilt for the attack on Pearl Harbor, that they were not responsible. But aside from that small and increasingly small group, as time passes, I think a much larger number of Americans are beginning to realize that this was an episode which was not only unfortunate -- which is the government's characterization -- but in fact, a tragedy. A tragedy to the legal system, a moral tragedy, a political tragedy, the kind of thing that requires a lesson. And I think that Judge Patel's opinion, in particular, will form the basis for that lesson, that is, if it's communicated to the public, people read it, people understand it, then the lesson will be learned.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.