The Passing of a True American Hero

Gordon K. Hirabayashi

On January 2 Dr. Gordon K. Hirabayashi entered his final rest from the world in which he lived for 93 years.  Gordon Hirabayashi was born April 23, 1918 in Seattle.  He was raised in the Quaker faith, and thereby he was a pacifist.

When Gordon was attending the University of Washington, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942. The US Congress on March 21, 1942 passed Public Law 503 which became the means to enforce EO 9066.

The Justice Department protested Public Law 503 on grounds of its legality and its violation of the Constitution.  Therefore, the US Army was given the task of enforcing a national law passed by Congress and the President.  By this time the West Coast was divided into military zones by a previous executive order.

Gordon Hirabayashi decided to defy the law.  Civil disobedience was part of the American way.  He believed the judicial system would have the final say over the two other branches of government which had allowed fear, prejudice and paranoia to rule.

As an American citizen, I wanted to uphold the principles of the Constitution, and the curfew and evacuation orders which singled out a group on the basis of ethnicity violated them. It was not acceptable to be less than a full citizen in a white man’s country.”

He was an American citizen who was Japanese-American.  He had the constitution on his side.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Harlan F. Stone with the other eight justices failed Gordon and his fellow citizens as well as the constitution and the American people.  Now, all three branches of the US Government had in essence declared the internment of American citizens justifiable in a time of war.

This order and law stripped civil rights from Japanese-American citizens and authorized the removal of any person deemed “a threat to national security” from the West Coast. Ten relocation centers (internment camps) were established in the states of Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Utah and Wyoming.

Internment Camps 1942-1946

120,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans were confined to these ten camps with guard towers, dogs, barbed wire, and the shanty barracks where American citizens were treated shamefully by their government.  Few people raised their voices about these Americans being placed into isolation by the US Army with the blessings of the President, Congress and a blind Supreme Court.

As history showed, not one Japanese-American was convicted of any “sabotage or espionage” during the war.  The President, Congress and Supreme Court allowed American citizens to be incarcerated for the national good, “national security”.  They took away their properties, their jobs and their rights without cause.

People like Republican Governor Ralph L. Carr of Colorado were one of the few to question the law.  His quote and references are below.  Of course, his stand cost him dearly in the political arena, but his stand for what was right against overwhelming opposition is a testament of a true American.

Gordon Hirabayashi returned to the University of Washington after the war to earn his BA, MA and PhD.  However, the injustice that he and his fellow Japanese-Americans suffered never departed from him.

In the 1980s with help from others he challenged his convictions and the “military necessity” of relocation.  He won his challenges.  The judicial system finally got it right.

Gordon and his fellow Japanese-American citizens were true Americans in every sense of the word.  Was Gordon a hero?

Yes he was, because he stood on principle, a fundamental principle of American justice.  When the shadows of night fell on this country, he was one of the few lights to pierce the darkness.  He never gave up his belief.

Dr. Gordon K. Hirabayashi

When my case was before the Supreme Court in 1943, I fully expected that as a citizen the Constitution would protect me.  Surprisingly, even though I lost, I did not abandon my beliefs and values. And I never look at my case as just my own, or just as a Japanese American case. It is an American case, with principles that affect the fundamental human rights of all Americans.” Dr. Gordon Hirabayashi


G. D. Williams       © 2012


Gordon Hirabayashi

Hirabayashi v. United States

Colorado Governor Ralph L. Carr (1939-1943)

America is made up of men and women from the four corners of the earth, of every racial origin and nationality. It is truly the melting pot of the world. There is no place here for the man who thinks that his people or those who speak his language are in turn entitled to preference over any others. When we reach the United States, we have been transformed into new people, and we have left behind us everything but our memories and our relatives. We have become new men and women with new interests and new devotions and new loyalties.

 “I am not in sympathy with those who demand that all evacuees be placed in concentration camps, regardless of their American citizenship or of the legality of their presence here. Our Constitution guarantees to every man, before he is deprived of his freedom, that there be charges and proof of misconduct in a fair hearing.”

Executive Order 9066

The War Relocation Centers of World War II: When Fear was Stronger than Justice