FDR delivered his State of the Union address on the eve of his third inauguration as president. World War II was underway in both Europe and Asia, but the United States hadn't yet entered into its dark, swirling vortex.
Still entrenched in isolationist policies and sentiment, FDR worried that the United States would be unprepared for an attack by Germany or Japan. The threat of military aggression by the Axis powers loomed on the horizon, and America's valued democratic way of life was in danger.
So he took the opportunity during his address to scare the bejeezus out of people.
He warned that, should the Axis powers gain the upper hand in political and military control at the global level, individual freedoms would inevitably be lost worldwide.
These freedoms weren't just things like eating breakfast for dinner or wearing stripes and plaid. They were fundamental freedoms that form the basis of democracy and a way of life that was in peril.
This address is commonly known as the "Four Freedoms" speech (check out our "Four Freedoms Speech" guide to get the nitty-gritty) because FDR distilled his ideas on democratic freedom into four main points:
1. Freedom of speech and expression...everywhere!
2. Freedom of religion...everywhere!
3. Freedom from want (which means freedom from suffering for lack of things like food, shelter, clothing, security, and other basic quality of life things)...everywhere!
4. Freedom from fear (by which FDR specifically means fear of military aggression from other nations)...everywhere!
Thanks to FDR's expert rhetoric, the United States battened down its hatches and prepared for an oncoming war to protect its democracy and itself.
You know that saying, "if you can't say something nice, then don't say anything at all"? Well, apparently John L. DeWitt didn't...but he sure had a lot to say.
DeWitt's "Final Report: Japanese Evacuation from the West Coast" is a vitriolic official document that directly contributed to the creation and implementation of E.O. 9066. Its original version was heavily edited and rewritten because it was so incredibly racist—even in the midst of the rampant anti-Asian racism in the 1940s.
Regardless, the sanitized version still convinced FDR, the great convincer himself, to sign E.O. 9066…and we all know what happened from there.
Not only did "Final Report: Japanese Evacuation from the West Coast" claim that Japanese Americans simply couldn't be trusted because of their race (which is a horrendous conclusion), it also outlined a plan of just exactly how to gather them up and put them away.
The report is now widely reviled despite its influence on national security during the war. If you feel up to it, or just simply want to be outraged, the link above takes you to a scanned copy, where you can flip through one awful page after another.
In sharp contrast to DeWitt's vicious report, the aptly named "Personal Justice Denied" is a report compiled by the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, which was created under President Jimmy Carter.
In the early 1980s, the commission conducted their own review of the alleged threats that Japanese Americans posed to the United States during World War II. And guess what? They discovered there was no threat. And they also concluded that the imprisonment of 120,000 people was motivated by racism—that they were denied justice and forced to suffer.
The commission's research and subsequent report greatly impacted the U.S. government's response to the misdeeds of the past and contributed to the creation of the Civil Liberties Act, ratified later that decade. It also undid the false claims supported by John L. DeWitt that caused the mess in the first place.
In one of Reagan's last actions as president, he ratified the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. Informed by the findings of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, the Civil Liberties Act provided reparations (i.e., cash money) to Japanese Americans who were interned during World War II. It also functioned as an official apology and an admission of gross injustice by the U.S. government.
Though the damage caused by the internment of Japanese Americans would never be fully repaired—especially not with money—the act sought to at least seek restitution for and reconciliation with the victims.
Ringle-dingle-dingle! That's the sound of an injustice being exposed.
The Ringle Report was an official document written by the Office of Naval Intelligence in 1941-1942 that determined Japanese Americans posed no significant threat to the peace and security of the United States.
This report was suppressed during the court cases of Hirabayashi, Yasui, and Korematsu. As a result, the three Japanese American men were found guilty of violating policies enacted under E.O. 9066, and they were charged with hefty fines and harsh imprisonment.
Forty years later, the Ringle Report was wrangled out of some archives. Its rediscovery eventually prompted the overturning of Hirabayashi's and Yasui's convictions. While Korematsu's conviction was never officially overturned, the resurfacing of the Ringle Report validated his lifelong struggle for personal and civil rights.
Furthermore, it necessitated admission of wrongdoing on the part of the U.S. solicitor general, who was forced to hang his head in shame and apologize for the extremely unethical practices conducted by his forebears.
Good, we say, with our best Grumpy Cat frown.