Honorable James A. Ardaiz Speech

[Speech given February 19, 2007, by the Honorable James A. Ardaiz, Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Fifth Appellate District, at the groundbreaking ceremony for Remembrance Plaza concerning the Pinedale Assembly Center]

Sixty-five years ago today this spot where we now stand was part of mostly barren land on the outskirts of the small San Joaquin valley community of Fresno and the much smaller community of Pinedale. At that time, to envision that it would have any significant place in the history of this country would not be conceived of by anybody. Sixty-five years ago it was simply one more patch of alkaline soil in what were then endless acres of valley land.

On that day so long ago, our country was pitched in war. All of the chaos, suspicion, fear, courage, cowardice, nobility of spirit and failure of resolve that are part of such conflict confronted us. We can look back now on our victory in World War II as symbolic of noble human endeavor―of sacrifice, of courage and of triumph. But we can also look back on that time as bringing upon our nation a failure of character. On this day in 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, setting in motion events unparalleled in our history, ultimately setting these few acres apart from the prairies, mountains and valleys of this nation and making this patch of ground a place to be remembered by succeeding generations.

As a consequence of Executive Order 9066 over 120,000 residents of the United States of Japanese descent, most citizens by birth, many from our own community, all caught up in the maelstrom of war, were detained and incarcerated in the name of national security, tarred with groundless whispers of suspected disloyalty. Four thousand eight hindered and twenty-three were brought here, others to the Fresno fairgrounds or to Santa Anita racetrack or to the Tulare fairgrounds or to other such places that could be used to house and control large groups of people in stables and tar papered barracks. They came here because of hate and suspicion and bigotry. They walked through the gates voluntarily in response to the orders of their government with young soldiers standing guard with bared bayonets. They remained involuntarily from May until July of 1942 before they were scattered to permanent detention centers with names like Manzanar, Jerome, Poston and Heart Mountain.

Out of these detention centers came the noble endeavors of the 100th Infantry Battalion of Hawaii and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, both forged from young Japanese American men, many of whom left their parents in those detention centers to volunteer to fight to prove their loyalty, whose exploits became the stuff of legends and whose blood purchased ground in the combat of Italy and France. Men who marched up a narrow ridge in the Vosges Mountains of France and rescued the over 200 men of the lost Texas battalion at the price of 800 of its own. Men who broke the Nazi gothic line helping to open the path into the German homeland. Men whose members would be among the first into Dachau, one of the worst of the Nazi concentration camps. Men who would come to be known as the Purple Heart battalion, the most decorated military unit in American history. Such men walked on this ground.

But it is not for those exploits that this ground should be remembered. This ground should be remembered for the failure it represents: a failure to honor our constitution, a failure to honor our heritage of opportunity before the heritage of privileged birth, a failure to remember that those who were scorned by Executive Order 9066 were also our neighbors.

With the sweep of Executive Order 9066, the President of the United States gave the military the power to choose who should go and who should stay, where some could live and where some would live. It was a singularly un-American act and yet it was America’s decision. The leadership of this country allowed the anger over Pearl Harbor and the need to blame somebody to be focused on people who looked different. Our leadership was passive in the face of hysteria and hate. By our country’s actions we did not take money. We did not take land. We took days and years that cannot be given back. We took the one thing that Americans prize above all else. We took freedom away. And we took it away from innocent people. The result was a stain on our national honor that we have never been able to wash clean, even with apologies, even with redress. That our leaders could do such a thing, that our citizens could condone such a thing, that people would submit to such a thing is a lesson that should be marked by something other than fading memories of those who lived through it.

To mark a stain upon our heritage as a nation, to memorialize it not with pride but with acknowledgment, makes a statement to succeeding generations and to the world. To learn from history we must remember it. We must teach it. And we must admit our failures lest we repeat them blindly again and again.

So we stand here today to acknowledge the mistakes of our preceding generations, to honor those who were denied honor and to mark for succeeding generations a place of remembrance and a place to aspire that we have learned from the lessons of the past. By this monument for all to see we will mark this ground as once a place of hatred and shame. By this memorial acknowledging the sins of our past we will make it a place of hope for our future.