Daily Archives: 19 February 2014

February 19, 1942 (a Thursday)

Order posting.

On this date, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the War Department to define military areas in the western states and to exclude from them anyone who might threaten the war effort.  Key U.S. leaders claimed that all people of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast of the U.S. posed a risk to national security. This led to the internment of tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans in what Roosevelt called “concentration camps,” often located in Native American reservations.

When war had seemed imminent with Japan in the Fall of 1941, Roosevelt had assigned a Chicago businessman, Curtis B. Munson, to be a special representative of the State Department and to go to the West Coast and Hawaii to determine the degree of loyalty to be found among the residents of Japanese descent.  Munson toured Hawaii and the Pacific Coast and interviewed Army and Navy intelligence officers, military commanders, city officials, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The overall result of his twenty-five page report was that:

…there is no Japanese “problem” on the Coast. There will be no armed uprising of Japanese. There will undoubtedly be some sabotage financed by Japan and executed largely by imported agents.

…for the most part, the local Japanese are loyal to the U.S. or, at worst, hope that by remaining quiet they can avoid concentration camps or irresponsible mobs. We do not believe that they would be at least any more disloyal than any other racial group in the United States with whom we went to war.

Munson’s report was submitted to the White House on November 7, 1941. It was then circulated to several Cabinet officials, including Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, Attorney General Francis Biddle, and Secretary of State Cordell Hull. On February 5, 1942, Stimson sent a copy of the so-called Munson Report to President Roosevelt, along with a memo stating that War Department officials had carefully studied the document.

The Munson Report should have conclusively put to rest the existence of Japanese sabotage in the United States. The report also should have resolved any fears about the security of the West Coast as well. The lack of any evidence showing the Japanese-Americans being involved in espionage rings should have prevented the need for internment camps, but after the attack on Pearl Harbor the United States government chose to impound innocent people behind barbed wire. The results of Munson’s fact-finding mission were inexplicably suppressed until 1946.

Race prejudice and wartime hysteria.

Race prejudice and wartime hysteria.

Although two-thirds of the Japanese-American internees were U.S. citizens, they were targeted because of their ancestry and the way they looked. One internee, when told that the Japanese were put in those camps for their own protection, countered “If we were put there for our protection, why were the guns at the guard towers pointed inward, instead of outward?”

The living conditions in the concentration camps were often unsanitary, with families living in hastily constructed barracks near open sewers. Toilets were shared by everyone in the camp and had little or no privacy. Meals provided to the Japanese were meager and caused a great deal of malnourishment. Despite these poor conditions, programs were eventually put into place that improved the condition of the camps and allowed the prisoners to work for small wages.

On some occasions, riots broke out in the internment camps, resulting in death and injury. In January 1944, a military draft was produced by the government, forcing Japanese Americans in the camps to join the military and fight in World War II. Many of the draftees refused to join the military until they were given civil rights and the government, refusing, placed the resisters in federal prison.

Many prominent Japanese Americans formed lawsuits against the United States government during the internment. Among these were Hirabayashi vs. United States, Yasui vs. United States, and Korematsu vs. United States. These lawsuits placed a lot of pressure on the United States government and made many people question the constitutionality of the internment. On December 17, 1944, the United States declared an end to the internment and the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional on December 18, 1944.

After these events, Japanese Americans were allowed to leave the camps and return to their homes and live normally. By March 20, 1946, all of the internment camps had been closed, although most of the Japanese had become greatly disillusioned with the United States and continued to endure discrimination.

In 1983, a U.S. congressional commission “uncovered” the evidence from the 1940s proving that there had been no military necessity for the unequal, unjust treatment of Japanese Americans during WW II. The commission reported that the causes of the incarceration were rooted in ” … race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”

During the Reagan-Bush years Congress moved toward the passage of Public Law 100-383 in 1988 which acknowledged the injustice of the internment, apologized for it, and provided a $20,000 cash payment to each person who was interned.


February 19, 1859 (a Saturday)

Svante Arrhenius

On this date, physical chemist and Nobel Prize winner Svante August Arrhenius was born at Vik (also spelled Wik or Wijk), near Uppsala, Sweden. He studied at Uppsala University, then under a professor in Stockholm. His 1884 thesis, on the galvanic conductivity of electrolyes, won him the first docentship at Uppsala in physical chemistry, a new branch of science. Arrhenius was also awarded a traveling fellowship and worked with scientists throughout Europe. Arrhenius was appointed professor of physics in 1895 at Stockholm’s Hogskola. He won the Nobel Prize for chemical research in 1903, for originating the theory of electrolytic dissociation, or ionization. He also investigated osmosis, toxins and antitoxins. He was offered the position of chief of the Nobel Institute for Physical Chemistry, founded just for him.

Arrhenius wrote classic textbooks in his field, which were translated into many languages, and also popularized science for the general public, with such books as The Destinies of the Stars (1919). His wide interests in science are exemplified by his contributions to the understanding of such phenomena as the aurora borealis, or Northern Lights.  Arrhenius developed a theory to explain the ice ages, and first speculated that changes in the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could substantially alter the surface temperature through the greenhouse effect.

Arrhenius also was the first to present a detailed scientific hypothesis of panspermia.  In this, he argued that life arrived on Earth in the form of microscopic spores that had been propelled across interstellar space by the radiation pressure of star light.   His seminal 1903 paper on the subject was in response to “the failure of repeated attempts made by eminent biologists to discover a single case of spontaneous generation of life”.  In its fully-developed form, Arrhenius’s hypothesis reached a wide audience through his book Worlds in the Making (1908, first published as Varldarnas utveckling in Sweden in 1906).  Arrhenius was optimistic that, subject to the low temperatures in space, spores would be able to remain viable for very long periods.  As for the effect of solar radiation, although Arrhenius was aware of the potentially lethal effect of ultraviolet light on living cells, he insisted that “All the botanists that I have been able to consult are of the opinion that we can by no means assert with certainty that spores would be killed by the light rays in wandering through infinite space.”  His support for panspermia tied in with his fundamental belief that “all organisms in the universe are related and the process of evolution is everywhere the same.”  He thought life on other worlds might be common, though he opposed Lowell’s claims about canals on Mars.

In 1914, he was awarded the Faraday Medal of the Chemical Society. During World War I, he worked to get the release of many German and Austrian scientists who had been made prisoners of war. According to historian Joseph McCabe, Arrhenius was a “Monist.”

February 19, 1626 (a Thursday)

Francesco Redi

On this date, the Italian physician and poet Francesco Redi was born.

Spontaneous generation (abiogenesis), a long-held theory that life springs up from non-living or decaying organic matter, was based on observations of rotting food seemingly producing living organisms. Francesco Redi, a respected philosopher at the court of the Medici Grand Duke in Tuscany, was the first scientist to question the idea of spontaneous generation. By setting up a simple experiment in which decaying meat was placed in three jars, one uncovered, one sealed, and one covered by mesh, allowing air to circulate, he demonstrated that only the open jar which flies could access produced maggots. Thus, decaying meat does not spontaneously produce maggots. Partially due to the simplicity of Redi’s experiment (anyone could reproduce it), people began to doubt spontaneous generation.

It is important to note that what Redi and others demonstrated is that life does not currently spontaneously arise in complex form from nonlife in nature; they did not demonstrate the impossibility of life arising in simple form from nonlife by way of a long and propitious series of chemical steps/selections under conditions that do not exist on Earth today. In particular, they did not show that life cannot arise once, and then evolve. Neither Pasteur, who put to rest the notion of spontaneous generation for microorganisms, nor any other post-Darwin researcher in this field denied the age of planet Earth or the fact of evolution.