Markkula Center of Applied Ethics

We Must Stand Up for the Innocent while Demanding Justice

By Jim Purcell
October 9, 2001

"JUSTICE WILL BE DONE" blared a headline on September 21, 2001, quoting a speech by President Bush. But will it be justice for all? Not if we continue to read about airline authorities refusing to fly certain passengers because they look like Arabs or Muslims. Not if assaults on "foreigners" continue and grow in number. Not if the civil liberties of American citizens and others legally present are trampled upon in the name of "national security."

We have been through this before. The day after Pearl Harbor, the San Francisco Chronicle under the headline "This is a Tough Time for American Japanese" said, "There is no excuse to wound the sensibilities of any persons in America by showing suspicion or prejudice. That ... is [only] a help to fifth-column spirit. An American-born Nazi would like nothing better than to set the dogs of prejudice on a first-class American Japanese."

But less than two months later, the California State Legislature passed a resolution ordering the State Personnel Board to "make such rules as may be necessary to provide for the dismissal from the service of such persons as may be proved to be disloyal to the United States." One of the bill's authors, Senator D. Jack Metzger, was quoted in the Oakland Tribune on February 3, 1942, "I don't believe there is a single Japanese in the world who is not pulling for Japan. They will spy, commit sabotage, or die if necessary. I don't believe we can afford to have any Japanese … handling State records." Three weeks later, after President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 authorizing the Japanese internment camps, the Chronicle caved, "We have to be tough, even if civil rights do take a beating for a time."

Earl Warren, then the California attorney general, declared the Personnel Board's action to dismiss state employees with Japanese sounding names to be unconstitutional. The Board ignored his opinion. Many employees in question were innocent even of the most benign "charges" made against them: most could not read Japanese (and thus did not subscribe to Japanese newspapers), did not attend Buddhist temples, and had renounced their Japanese citizenship.

My father, James C. Purcell, a San Francisco attorney, represented some of those state employees in their unsuccessful fight to keep their jobs. On October 12, 1944, he stood before the U.S. Supreme Court to argue for the release of Mitsuye Endo. Two years before, at the age of 22, this American-born clerical worker in the Department of Motor Vehicles in Sacramento became one of the 120,000 Japanese Americans forced into internment camps. Raised as a Methodist, she did not speak or read Japanese and had never visited Japan. She even had a brother serving in the U.S. Army. On December 18, 1944, the Court ruled in favor of Ms. Endo, but it also ruled against Fred Korematsu, another U.S. citizen, who was also interned in one of the camps.

On September 20, 2001, a Mercury News headline noted, "U.S. Expands Power to Detain Immigrants." The Chronicle of Higher Education reported the next day that the U.S. Department of Education was easing student-privacy rules for the sake of the FBI's terrorism investigation. A few days earlier, my daughter Jamalle e-mailed me from her graduate school in Chicago, "I'm still in shock. People were weepy all day in class, and so many were angry. I can't believe the hate that has risen for Muslims. So sad and scary." Jamalle's name means "beautiful inside and out" in Arabic. She was named after one of my aunts who like my mother is 100% Lebanese.

I want those responsible for the murder of innocent people in New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania brought to justice. I also want moral leadership from our elected officials, the media and our communities to overcome the evil aftermath that has surfaced as a result of the tragedy of September 11. Fear combined with hate and the desire for vengeance often leads to punishing the innocent. We must stand up for the innocent at home and abroad as we demand justice for the guilty.

Reprinted by permission of the San Jose Mercury News. Edited by permission of the author.

Jim Purcell is Vice President of University Relations at Santa Clara University.

For more ethical perspectives on the news, click here.

New Materials

Center News