Advantageous Factors That Made The JACL Redress A Human Rights Victory

In 1988, the President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act to announce an official apology and make restitution for the injustice that Japanese American community had to suffer during World War II. This work seeks to highlight the symbolic pathway JACL used to appeal against their civil rights abuses.

The redress campaign aimed to clear popular misconceptions about the Japanese-American community in WWII, and then to achieve general legislative pronouncement from Congress rather than negotiate over the provisions of any specific act. In this case, symbolic pathway was the fastest means to win support. The miserable fate of Japanese Americans in WWII was likely to be evocative and elicit a strong emotional reaction from both the public and the bipartisan politicians. Additionally, the sad story of Japanese-Americans was simple to grasp and aimed at winning over the larger public because Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness are the fundamental rights of a human. The mistreatment to this community, including the sentencing of many to concentration or detention camps (a move one could easily regard as racist and inhumane) completely violated the declaration’s implicit rights. The US administration needed a reaction from Congress to fix the many faults illustrated by this reproachful past and reaffirm those eternal values the US constitution sought to embody.

There are a number of uniquely advantageous factors that made the redress a human rights victory. First is the fruitful utilization of the media. JACL had published numerous stories concerning their internment via both local and national news media. This outreach campaign aimed at making Americans aware of the serious human rights violations and, subsequently, awaken their sympathy. Secondly, the campaign sought solidarity and support amongst diverse stakeholders, including the public, nine members of Congress, and numerous allied interest groups. The broad appeal of this coalition gave the campaign weight and moral authority. Furthermore, except minor concerns related to restitution, the frame issue of the campaign seemed universally unopposed by politicians. Last but not least, this campaign succeeded due to the pivotal role of political entrepreneurs, such as Aiko Yoshinaga. However, the symbolic pathway brought some unforeseen drawbacks. Due to issue’s regarding human rights, the campaign found itself involving the Supreme Court, an institution infamous for its extended time requirements and often surprising outcomes. Secondly, three parallel campaigns starting from the initial one of JACL could have led to unanticipated outcomes, such as deferring crucial policy choice.

Given the above characteristics, neither pluralist nor partisan pathways could have been adopted to the JACL redress campaign. Advocates lacked a leading politician to mobilize and rally resources in favor of the redress, and the pluralist pathway entailed an insignificant and slow process of change. In contrast, the expert pathway could have been engaged to help shed light on the unjustifiable activities against the rights of Japanese-Americans during WWII, particularly as reflected in the collaborative role played by a Japanese-American member of Congress in (1) drafting the initial compensation and trust fund and (2) persuading other Senators to agree to a new redress payment for survival victims. Unfortunately, these steps brought only a slow change in policy.

In contrast to ineffectual motions in the senate, allies made huge contributions to the success of the redress through the media, civil rights organizations, and politicians. Media helped educate the American about the incarceration, and, due to a deep sense of consciousness regarding individual rights, the public rapidly recognized the inequitable activities of the government. This sentiment lent to significant support for the campaign and made the Congress quick to respond to the appeal. Other allies, such as NCJAR, NCRR, and numerous notable civil rights and antiwar group help to keep the community informed and built local support. The campaign would have remained stagnant and not succeeded without the support without the support of individuals such as the chairman of House Subcommittee on Administrative Law and the Senate Governmental Affair Committee. Regretfully, experts should have involved in the campaign by raising their voices and opinions. Another thought was that if the redress could receive the support from the media and government of Japanese, the influence would have definitely intensified more dramatically. Although the campaign received tremendous support, it was not without opponents. The Supreme Court opposed certain elements involving the interpretation of basic constitution’s rights, having officially endorsed the initial activities of the American military. Additionally, interest groups appealing for the campaign distracted the Congress with disparate, conflicting, requests. Lastly, it is believed that a high restitution, particularly in the budget deficit, reduced sympathy from elements of the Senate and the public.

It would have been challenging for Congress if they had not responded to the campaign. At the same time, Congress could have used the expert pathway to prevent progress in the legislative agenda. This method would have helped Congress not only avoid the responsibility, but also extend the time of the public campaign. Controversial arguments between experts would have made a perfectly acceptable base for Congress to delay making decision. Over the long term, the Congress could have also used the interpretation of the Supreme Court to frustrate JACL’s campaign. Neither Congress nor the President has the power to reject or change a Supreme Court decision. Therefore, the Congress could have requested the Supreme Court to open an investigation about the violation against human rights. The possibility of the Supreme Court overruling itself is very low and would have required a great deal of time.

The most notable success of JACL’s campaign comes in the form of a lesson for NAHSS. The image of genocide against American Indian is evocative, containing persuasive power that makes all of modern American feel sense of regret. The media had sufficient ability to appeal and convey the meaning of NAHSS’s campaign to both the broader public audience and contemporaneous politicians. A second noteworthy lesson shines on the support of experts shaping public policy. These stakeholders contribute their knowledge to shed the light on the genocide and communicate to the American people. Moreover, they were seen to maintain access to policymakers in such a way as to provide checks and balances to demands from the interest group and the Congress. Lastly, NAHSS should have found some way to connect independent political entrepreneurs, individuals who may have known how to push forward and negotiate against otherwise insurmountable forces of opposition.

03 December 2019
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