Success Stories By Dick Kazan - Valuable lessons on how to succeed in business and in life
Entertaining and compelling real-life stories with valuable
lessons on how to succeed in business and in life.
The author is successful business, real estate, and media entrepreneur Dick Kazan.
Published on Tue Jan 03, 2006

If your government ordered you to do something that violated your principles, would you have the courage to say no?

Fred Korematsu did and he paid the price for it. But what he did made history that affects you and me today.

At first, there was nothing unusual about his life. Korematsu was born in Oakland, CA in 1919, to Japanese immigrants. After his high school graduation, he became a shipyard welder, he bought a convertible and he had a girlfriend.

Then one day, his life dramatically changed.

On December 7th, 1941 Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and anti-Japanese hysteria gripped the U. S. Would Japan bomb or even invade California next? Would Japanese Americans help them?

Newspaper headlines and radio broadcasts claimed an attack could be imminent and in what was then a highly racist society, something drastic had to be done to stop the “Japs” who were already here.

The day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, Korematsu got fired from his job and soon police seized anything they thought Japanese Americans could use to help the Japanese military.

Then in February, President Roosevelt issued an Order authorizing the internment (a lock up) of all people of Japanese heritage. The U.S. was also at war with Germany and Italy yet didn’t treat citizens of German or Italian descent this way.

A national emergency overrode the constitutional rights of 120,000 people of Japanese heritage, 70% of whom were U.S. citizens, 40% of whom were children. With no congressional hearings or court proceedings, their legal rights were suspended and they were put indefinitely into primitive, barbed wired camps, surrounded by towers with armed guards.

They had to report to those camps with just 10 days notice and in most cases; their property was sold at fire sale prices and often, a lifetime of hard work was gone.

Rather than comply with authorities, Korematsu fled and to avoid detection had facial surgery and a name change. But on May 30, 1942, he was arrested and thrown in jail.

The American Civil Liberties Union urged him to file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the interment policy and after extensive soul searching; he did. But this suit made him the poster boy for being disloyal to his government in time of war and a lightening rod for racists.

Korematsu was prosecuted and was sentenced to five years probation. He spent two years in an internment camp in Utah with his family. In the camp, others avoided him for bringing dishonor to the Japanese American community.

He appealed his conviction to the Supreme Court but in 1944 that court ruled against him 6 to 3, siding with the military that internment camps were a necessity for the safety of the nation. But writing for the minority, Justice Murphy said the internment was “legalization of racism.”

He appealed his conviction to the Supreme Court but in 1944 that court ruled against him 6 to 3, siding with the military that internment camps were a necessity for the safety of the nation. But writing for the minority, Justice Murphy said the internment was “legalization of racism.”

Then in 1981, Peter Irons, a U.C. San Diego professor was researching the internment and in reading the old case files, learned prosecutors had lied repeatedly to the Supreme Court. Among many examples was their claim that Japanese Americans were doing “extensive radio signaling and shore-to-ship signaling” to Japanese ships, a claim they knew was false.

This began a two and half year legal process to overturn Korematsu’s conviction. He was offered a pardon, which he rejected, believing he hadn’t committed a crime. His case was heard in U.S. District Court and on Nov. 10, 1983 he was invited to address the Court.

In a large court room that included other internees and their families, the room grew silent as 64 year old Korematsu rose to speak. He spoke for several minutes and as he spoke, people began to cry as they recalled the terrible circumstances of the internment.

Korematsu said, “As long as my record stands in federal court, any American citizen can be held in prison or concentration camps without a trial or a hearing.” Judge Marilyn Hall Patel agreed and overturned Korematsu’s conviction.

In her ruling, she said, “(Korematsu) stands as a caution that in times of distress the shield of military necessity and national security must not be used to protect government actions from close scrutiny and accountability…” (Los Angeles Times, 4-1-05)

Also in 1983, a federal commission concluded that the internment policy was a result of “race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership.” In 1988 President Reagan called the internment a “grave injustice” and signed legislation authorizing reparation payments to interment survivors.

As for Fred Korematsu, in 1998 in a White House ceremony, President Clinton awarded him the Medal of Freedom, the U.S.’s highest civilian honor to acknowledge the courage he had shown in opposing ironically the U.S. government.

Success Tip of the Week: In learning from the Fred Korematsu case and the Japanese American internment, we must be ever vigilant to protect our civil liberties from an overzealous government that may try to avoid accountability as it pursues its “War on Terror” or any other matter it deems “National Security.”

In the next KazanToday, A heart-warming story about a big city mayor who helped a woman who stole a loaf of bread to feed her starving grandchildren during the Great Depression.

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Many of these short stories are about people from all walks of life who overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles to achieve remarkable results. These stories contain practical advice and a recipe for success for each of these renowned individuals. Some of their stories may help you to avoid some of the costly and time consuming mistakes that many of us make in life and at work. Learn from some of history's greatest winners on how to become a winner yourself, no matter what the obstacle, and no matter how daunting the task before you may seem. Good luck!
2005 Kazan Today