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O [Category A]

Of Civil Wrongs and Rights: The Fred Korematsu Story
The Ox-Bow Incident

Of Civil Wrongs and Rights: The Fred Korematsu Story (2000)

Written and directed by Eric Paul Fournier, this documentary traces the 40-year struggle of the son of Japanese immigrants, a native of Oakland, California, who refused to be interned during WWII. Korematsu was 23 years old in 1942 when Executive Order 9066 was handed down, ordering 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry into internment camps in the Western desert without a hearing. Korematsu was one of a small number of Japanese American citizens to defy the order and refuse to go. He was arrested and sent anyway.

The Internet Movie Database continues: "Aided at first by a lone American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawyer, Ernest Besig, he appealed his felony conviction for resisting the internment order all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which, in 1944, accepted the government's claim of military necessity and affirmed Korematsu's conviction." Remember that three of the justices dissented from the majority opinion, Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1944). Justice Robert H. Jackson denied that the government could declare all members of a racial group guilty and order their imprisonment. He wrote that "guilt is personal, and not inheritable." Justice Owen J. Roberts condemned the imprisonment of a citizen "without evidence or inquiry concerning his loyalty." Justice Frank Murphy called the majority opinion "this legalization of racism."

The documentary features interviews with Korematsu himself, Rosa Parks, and Bill Clinton, who awarded Korematsu the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998. But the film is, in large part, the story of the lawyers who fought for Korematsu's rights over four decades. But it was a law professor, Peter Irons, who, when researching the case for a book, discovered documents that proved that the Justice Department and the Navy had suppressed information showing that Japanese Americans had not been signaling to enemy ships, or committing espionage, but posed no threat during the war. Racism, not military necessity, underlay the internment order. Prof. Irons approached Korematsu, and they re-opened the case. In 1984, a federal district court judge Marilyn Patel reversed the "great wrong" of Fred Korematsu's conviction.

There are few documentaries on this list, but I include this one because it is superb; it is a great teaching tool, being only 60 minutes long, and I do not know of another movie that deals with this case from a legal perspective.

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The Ox-Bow Incident (1943)

A classic film about a lynch mob. Directed by William A. Wellman, based on the novel by Walter Van Tilburg Clark, the film, which is barely 75 minutes long, shows how easy it is for a vengeful mob to form, and how difficult it is for two decent men (Henry Fonda and Harry Morgan) to stand up and stop it. (They feel they have to join the posse, since if they don't, suspicion would fall on them. At every point, it is easiest to just go along). It's the old West, and a rumor arrives saying that a man has been killed and his cattle stolen. A posse comes upon three strangers, Martin (Dana Andrews), an arrogant Mexican (Anthony Quinn) and a senile old man (Francis Ford). Circumstantial evidence points to the three men's guilt, and the mob votes to lynch all three.

I wonder sometimes to what extent a jury sometimes acts like this posse, with people going along with the more dominant, angry people on the panel.

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