In one of those quirky fates of timing, Yosh Kawano died the day before the U.S. Supreme Court approved President Trump’s travel ban on people from several Muslim countries.
As any longtime Cubs fan can tell you, Kawano, 97, was the ageless clubhouse attendant made famous over the years by Jack Brickhouse, Vince Lloyd, Lou Boudreau, Harry Caray, and other legendary TV and radio broadcasters.
How many times did we hear Brickhouse allude to Kawano, followed by a cutaway to the man in his instantly recognizable white floppy hat, perched on the dugout bench?
He ran the clubhouse for more than 60 years, welcoming the likes of everyone from Ernie Banks to Ryne Sandberg to Kerry Wood.
What Brickhouse and the other announcers didn’t mention was that Kawano—born in Seattle and raised in Los Angeles—was unceremoniously, unfairly, and most unconstitutionally plucked from his home and interned in a concentration camp during World War II. It was the same for thousands of other Japanese-Americans.
His internment was for no crime other than being of Japanese ancestry—and that’s no crime at all. It was made possible by executive order 9066, signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt—to his everlasting shame.
In the months after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt deemed that loyal Americans like Kawano were a threat to the safety and security of the United States and should be locked away for the duration of the war.
Keep in mind that U.S. was also at war with Italy and Germany. But only Japanese-Americans got locked away in camps.
By the time Kawano was sent to the camp, he was 21 years old. He’d already started working for the Cubs as a clubhouse attendant at their spring training facility in California. Obviously, his Cub affiliation couldn’t keep him out of the camps.
You can find a copy of Kawano’s internment card on the Internet—it documents his name, address, age, and things like whether he’s been to Japan (once) and whether he speaks Japanese (yes) along with the file number the government assigned him.
He was dispatched to the Poston Internment Camp—the largest of the ten camps the government created to house the Japanese-Americans—in the desert of southwestern Arizona.
Poston was built by Del Webb, a fabulously wealthy developer and war contractor, who went on to buy the New York Yankees in 1945. Apparently, some people profited from the internments.
Poston was constructed on the Colorado River Indian Reservation against the wishes of the Mohave, Hopi, and Navajo tribes who lived there.
The feds built it anyway, even though the tribes were supposed to control development on the reservation. Hardly the first time the U.S. government broke a promise to the original Americans.
Among the detainees at Poston was a future congresswoman (Doris Matsui), a future decorated hero of the Vietnam war (Vincent Okamoto), and many other people who went on to distinguish careers in law, letters, and the arts.
There was also an unnamed poet who composed a poem that summed up the desolation of life in Poston:
We all love life, and our country best,
Our misfortune to be here in the west,
To keep us penned behind that DAMNED FENCE,
Is someone’s notion of NATIONAL DEFENCE!
The decision to intern Japanese-Americans was challenged in court by a man named Fred Korematsu. He took his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled against him in a 6-3 decision in 1944.
“Korematsu has been convicted of an act not commonly a crime,” Justice Robert Jackson wrote in his dissent. “His crime would result, not from anything he did, said, or thought, but only in that he was born of different racial stock.”
It was Kawano’s connection to the Cubs that won him a release in 1943. Essentially, Cubs owner William Wrigley testified to his good character.
In 1944, Kawano was drafted and sent to the Pacific Theater, where he won several combat medals in the war against Japan.
Talk about loyalty. Even after being locked up in Poston, Kawano retained a profound loyalty to the ideals of America.
Anyway, as I was saying, a day after Kawano died on Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed Trump’s ban on immigrants from five largely Muslim countries—Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen—in an echo of the Korematsu decision.
It was a five-to-four vote—the deciding vote being cast by Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s appointee. He’s on the court by virtue of the fact that Senate Republicans refused to allow President Barack Obama’s appointee, Merrick Garland, a hearing in the months leading up to the 2016 presidential election.
It’s a lesson I hope the Democrats never forget when they think they have to be civil and play by the rules against the Republicans, who play to win.
The five justices who ruled with Trump—Samuel Alito, John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy, and Gorsuch—argued that the travel ban wasn’t earmarked exclusively for Muslims.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor wasn’t buying it. “History will not look kindly on the court’s misguided decision today, nor should it,” she wrote as she ran down all the anti-Muslim quotes Trump has made over the years.
In an effort to save face, Roberts wrote that “Korematsu had nothing to do with this case and was gravely wrong the day it was decided.”
Man, they’re brazen, those Republicans. They denounce Korematsu while writing a ruling that, on some levels, essentially confirms it.
It’s a passive-aggressive act of desecration toward Kawano, Matsui, Okamoto, and all the other detainees at Poston.