by Helen Wong, Attorney at the Federal Trade Commission
The recent attacks in Paris—and in Beirut and Bamako—have gripped our country with fear and anxiety at levels not seen since 9/11. But this has led not to an outpouring of compassion, but instead knee-jerk reactions framed along racial and prejudicial lines. Rather than uniting us, these reactions divide us.
We know well the dangers of such a response from the curtailment of civil liberties after 9/11, but also during World War II. As in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, our nation found itself indulging a loud, vocal minority after Pearl Harbor was bombed. These voices first called on the nation to refuse admission to European Jewish refugees out of unfounded fears of “sleeper agents.” The consequence of these fears was that many Jewish men, women and children - including Anne Frank – were refused entry to this country and left to the hands of Nazis.
As those fears continued to escalate, suspicion eventually turned onto our own citizens, resulting in President Roosevelt signing Executive Order 9066. Long regarded as an enormous stain on American history, 9066 called for the internment of over 100,000 people of Japanese descent, most of them American citizens. In essence, this country resorted to race-based policies that blatantly violated civil rights, where U.S. citizens were deprived of life, liberty and property, simply because of their ancestry. All out of unfounded fear – in 2011, then Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal admitted that the United States government hid intelligence reports that plainly stated that Japanese Americans posed no such threats. Yet, we interned them anyway.