In 2008, the Museum celebrated the 20th Anniversary of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. At our Gala Dinner that year, one of the key players that we recognized who helped turn what was considered an impossible dream into reality was Senator Inouye, who suggested the creation of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) in 1979 as a stepping stone to enabling a successful redress bill to pass through Congress. He also helped to turn redress payments for Japanese Americans into an entitlement, keeping it from the difficult annual budget process.
In our member magazine that year, we published a special edition commemorating the anniversary. Fittingly, it was the inaugural issue for our new member magazine format called inspire.
It included this message from Senator Inouye:
Today, as I consider the significance of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, I first reflect on the important moment when President Reagan signed the bill into law on August 10, 1988. At that moment, it had been more than 46 years since President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, leading to the displacement of thousands of people of Jpaanese ancestry and their unconstitutional imprisonment by the U.S. government.
In so many of these individuals, treated unfairly solely because of their ethnic origin, there was a remarkable spirit, an incredible determination, and an unshakable belief that they, too, were Americans. We saw this in the actions of Japanese American soldiers who volunteered from behind barbed wire and gave their lives in hopes that their familiies, held prisoner by their own government, would one day share the promise of America. I have said before—and it bears repeating—that I have often asked myself if I would have volunteered for military service under these circumstances, and in all honesty, I cannot give you a forthright answer.
So when President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which authorized an official apology and token reparations to thousands of persons of Japanese ancestry, it was our government’s belated acknowledgment that what had been done during World War II was wrong and that the spirit held by so many Japanese Americans at the time had been vindicated. As I said back in 1988, Americans of Japanese ancestry now know in their hearts that the letter and the spirit of our Constitution hold true for them. We honor ourselves and we honor America. America demonstrated to the world that we are a strong people, strong enough to admit when we are wrong.
Today there are similar challenges facing our government and our country. We would be wise to look back at the historical importance of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 and what it means to our Constitution and to all Americans. The passage of this law required the dedication and hard work of thousands of individuals. It required that individuals with no direct or political interest understand its relevance to our way of life, and it required that they do what was right. In challenging times like today, such an example is one that we should strive to emulate. If we do, Americans will once again show the world and ourselves that the United States is truly a great country.