PERSPECTIVE: Why is Minoru Yasui receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom?

President Barack Obama will award posthumously the Presidential Medal of Freedom to civil-rights lawyer Minoru Yasui. This medal is the country’s highest civilian honor “presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”[White House]

Why is someone who deliberately got himself arrested for defying military curfew order during World War II now recognized for his contribution to the “security or national interests of the United States”?

“Minoru Yasui was a civil and human rights leader known for his continuous defense of the ideals of democracy embodied in our Constitution. A graduate of the University of Oregon School of Law, Yasui challenged the constitutionality of a military curfew order during World War II on the grounds of racial discrimination, and spent nine months in solitary confinement during the subsequent legal battle. In 1943, the Supreme Court upheld the military curfew order. Yasui spent the rest of his life appealing his wartime conviction. At the time of his death in 1986, he had successfully convinced a trial court to vacate his arrest, and a case challenging the constitutionality of his conviction was pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Yasui also spent his life fighting for the human and civil rights of all people. [White House]

Minoru Yasui: “My contention … was that if you begin to erode the liberties and freedom and rights of  the individual, then you are indeed jeopardizing the safety of our whole nation.”

[“Minoru Yasui – Citizen Min”  by Michael Goldfein who wrote and produced this video in 1983 while working at KUTV, the NBC affiliate in Salt Lake City, Utah.]

Yasui joins two previous awardees of the Presidential Medal of Freedom who also had challenged the legality of the Japanese American incarceration, Gordon Hirabayashi and Fred Korematsu.


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