71 Years Ago Today, FDR Signed “NDAA of 1942″ Authorizing Internment Camps

February 19th, 2013

There is a certain type of activist that monitors government policy with regard to civil liberties. Each year, new bills are introduced that would severely restrict human rights. In some cases, emergency powers are granted to government that could lead to unlawful detentions, suspensions of natural rights by law enforcement or the military, and the creation of internment camps. Activists that point out these types of bills are oft accused of promulgating baseless conspiracy theories, as their detractors lean on the nationalist argument that America is somehow immune to political crises of this nature. “That could never happen here” is the mantra of the citizen lulled to sleep by blind allegiance to arbitrary power.

History, however, proves that it can in fact happen here. The Tenth Amendment Center reminds us of this fact with a look back to 71 years ago today, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. This NDAA-like executive action led to the creation of domestic military zones which were under the authority of military commanders. Shamefully, these zones were eventually used as internment camps which held Japanese and German Americans in indefinite detention for no other reason than their racial and ethnic background. This dark moment in American history reminds us that it is important to remain vigilant as we begin to face new threats to civil liberties like the NDAA indefinite detention language and presidential kill lists.

How the Creation of Military Zones Led to Indefinite Detention

War is the biggest possible threat to civil liberties. In a climate of fear, people often waive their fundamental rights. As World War II raged, anxieties mounted. Despite the fact that few attacks ever reached US soil, FDR moved to create military zones on the west coast to allow commanders additional flexibility in the event of an attack. However, the zones were chosen by commanders and maintained on an ongoing basis, whether or not there were any attacks incoming. Also, military commanders were given so much power through the executive order that they were able to use it to legally justify utilizing these zones as concentration camps.

From the text of FDR’s order, “Now, therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me as President of the United States, and Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, I hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of War, and the Military Commanders whom he may from time to time designate, whenever he or any designated Commander deems such action necessary or desirable, to prescribe military areas in such places and of such extent as he or the appropriate Military Commander may determine, from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion. The Secretary of War is hereby authorized to provide for residents of any such area who are excluded therefrom, such transportation, food, shelter, and other accommodations as may be necessary, in the judgment of the Secretary of War or the said Military Commander, and until other arrangements are made, to accomplish the purpose of this order.”

The text above granted military commanders the authority to declare martial law anywhere, to remove anyone from that location, and to transfer them to another location from which they could be denied the ability to leave. It was later used to authorize the detention of Japanese and German Americans in concentration camps, based only on their ethnic and racial background.

Panic-Induced Public Paranoia and Indefinite Detention

It’s hard to imagine a time when the government would want to put Americans in a concentration camp. However, what would happen if there were another major terrorist attack along the lines of 9/11, but bigger? What if the US were under an attack from a foreign nation? What if an economic crisis slipped so far out of control that looters ruled the night? In times of public paranoia, politicians grab on to power and strike viciously against any demonized figure. That’s the very reason we have due process rights in the first place.

Let us not ignore the lessons of history. 71 years ago today, the stroke of FDR’s pen ushered in one of the darkest moments in US history. American citizens were kidnapped and placed in concentration camps based only on their race. Rather than denigrating civil liberties activists as conspiracy theorists, we should be thanking them for helping America remain tyranny-free by keeping a watchful eye on policies that could affect our fundamental human rights.

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About the Author: Barry Donegan

Barry Donegan is a singer for the experimental mathcore band Look What I Did, a writer, a self-described "veteran lifer in the counterculture", a political activist/consultant, and a believer in the non-aggression principle.