Korematsu

Characters (in order of appearance):
HARLAN F. STONE: The chief judge of the Supreme Court of the United States.
FRANK MURPHY: One of the associate judges of the Supreme Court
WAYNE M. COLLINS: Fred Korematsu’s civil attorney
CHARLES FAHY: The Solicitor General
FRED KOREMATSU: A Japanese American who is subject to the unjust Executive Order 9066, which ordered all Americans of Japanese descent to go to prison camps across the west coast.

Setting:
The Supreme Court of the United States. A large room, with two tables on Stage Left and Right. There is a long table upstage, at which the judge is seated. It’s 1944, and World War II is in it’s final stretch. Pearl Harbor was only three years ago, but many Americans still remember it as if it was yesterday. The court is not in the best shape, to say the least. You can feel dismay hanging in the air, stale.


Playwright’s Note:

When we think about World War II, we think about the battles in Europe, the people who died, the horrors the Nazis committed. Sometimes, we also think about the suffering America caused elsewhere, such as dropping the bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But we never talk about the atrocities that happened on American soil, here at home.

Shortly after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Americans, under the authority of the law, imprisoned other Americans of Japanese descent. Out of those thousands of innocent souls, three stood up to object to their treatment and that of their people: Minoru Yasui, Gordon Hirabayashi, and Fred Korematsu. This play images the Supreme Court case of Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 213 (1944), which, like the other two, was reviewed per certiorari.

KOREMATSU deals with the injustice this one man who wanted to make his case suffered. There’s an old Japanese saying, “Deru kugi wa utareru.”, which means “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” The proverb seems to advocate conformity. Who wants to be a nail hit in the head? My play attempts to show how those who are willing to challenge the system are the bravest. I want to show how we need long, hard nails to preserve justice during frightening times.

Since there is no court record, the dialogue is entirely fictional. I’ve tried to portray Korematsu as a contemporary Socrates and a precursor to Martin Luther King, Jr.. Like Socrates and King, my Korematsu shows his respect for America as a land governed laws by daring to break unjust laws.

I’ve purposefully chosen harsh language, and used racial stereotypes to attempt to shock my audience to see the evil behind the misuse of the legal system to deprive citizens of their fundamental rights. This is a lesson we seem still to need to be reminded of, since now we are treating American Muslims like potential enemies in places like Guantanamo. History repeats itself, yes, and this play is just a glimpse at that. Enjoy!

HARLAN F. STONE:

I now call this court to order! (Bangs his gavel.)

As the gavel hits the court table, the lights turn on. Upstage, a court table. Two men are seated at it: the Chief Judge, Harlan F. Stone, and the Associate Judge, Frank Murphy. Upstage right, we have Charles , the Solicitor General, and opponent to the main character, Fred Korematsu, who is seated upstage left, right next to his civil attorney, Wayne M. Collins.

MURPHY:

We are here today to discuss the internment of those of Japanese descent as ordered by Civilian Exclusion Order No. 34. The petitioner, Fred Toyosaburo Korematsu, was convicted in a federal district court for remaining in San Leandro, California, after the order was passed. He is here today to argue against Order No. 34, which falls under Executive Order 9066.

STONE:

Does the prosecution have any opening remarks?

WAYNE M. COLLINS:

Yes, your honor.

STONE:

Proceed.

COLLINS:

Thank you, your honor. This nation is reknown as the land of the free, a place of refuge for those escaping oppressive governments elsewhere in the world. The Constitution of the United States of America, the very same document that we based our democratic government upon, states specifically that, in order to form a more perfect union, we must insure domestic tranquility, promote the general welfare, and secure these blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. I think that the good gentlemen who wrote this document would be shocked by what is going on in our land today. While our country battles the enemies abroad, the Nazis, we also fight against ourselves. We are taking law abiding American citizens and putting them in prison camps! We are treating our own citizens as enemies do. We are putting our country in turmoil when it needn’t be in any, by secluding the population of Americans of Japanese descent. I am not arguing that what Japan did in Pearl Harbor was right. I’m saying that just because a person has the face of the enemy, doesn’t mean they are the enemy! I am also saying that beyond mistreating our own citizens, we are damaging ourselves. If we continue this practice, we will lose something fundamental about our nation, even if we win against Japan, even if we win against Germany. Thank you, your honor.

STONE:

Would the opposition like to make an opening statement?

CHARLES FAHY:

Yes, your honor.

STONE:

Proceed.

FAHY:

It is the opinion of the State that Executive Order 9066 is a prudent precautionary measure. The Japanese are known to have very, um, sneaky methods of attacking enemies, and kamikaze is just one of them. Many Japanese Americans, though they are loyal citizens, might feel torn by our war with Japan. They might want to fight alongside with their relatives, alongside with their people. We are not saying that every single person of Japanese descent is dangerous. We are simply stating that in times like these, extraordinary times, we must take extraordinary measures like these in order to keep America safe. We saw what happened in Pearl Harbor when we let down our defenses. 2,403 people. Dead. We must do what we can to prevent this from repeating itself. Thank you, your honor.

Court is in a turmoil. Everyone begins to whisper about what’s going on. STONE bangs his gavel. The commotion lessens but there is still audible chatter. STONE bangs harder and more furiously.

STONE:

Order! Order! Order in the court!

FRANK MURPHY:

Mr. Collins, you may call your first witness up to the stand.

COLLINS:

Thank you, your honor. I now call upon Fred Korematsu to testify against Executive Order 9066.

(FRED KOREMATSU cautiously walks up to the stand. MURPHY saunters over to him with a bible under his arm, and places KOREMATSU’s hand over the bible.)

MURPHY:

Do you solemnly swear you will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?

FRED KOREMATSU:

I do.

MURPHY:

Proceed.

COLLINS:

Mr. Korematsu, could you please state why you are here today?

KOREMATSU:

(Clears his throat. Takes a deep breath. Pauses, and finally begins to speak.) I am here today because I have seen how the glorified American people have become racist and cruel to those who look different. “Due to special circumstances, we are no longer allowed to employ you here because of your Japanese descent” is a canned speech to my ears. So is, “Get the hell out, you bloody Jap!” These sorts of comments I can tolerate. But when the government becomes just as bad as these bigots who roam the land of the free, when I am driven out of my home, deprived of my livelihood, my personal property… that is completely unacceptable. I have citizenship in this great nation. I have a driver’s license. I was born on American soil. Yet I am denied my basic unalienable rights. “We hold these truths to be self evident,” says the Declaration of Independence. Are any truths self-evident any more? Life. My job. Liberty. My home. The pursuit of happiness. All that I treasure. Taken from me. Ripped from my hands just because I have Japanese ancestry. Just because I look like the enemy. The Declaration also says that, “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it.” Which is precisely why I’m here today. To attempt to abolish the unconstitutional Executive Order 9066, the one which forced me out of my home and into a concentration camp. I’ll never forget my government treating me like this. And I really hope that this will never happen to anybody else because of the way they look.

COLLINS:

Thank you, Mr. Korematsu. (He sits down.)

MURPHY:

I will now allow the prosecution to cross-examine Mr. Korematsu.

FAHY:

Thank you, your honor. (He sharply snaps his head toward KOREMATSU.). Is it true you are Japanese American?

KOREMATSU:

Yes.

FAHY:

What generation?

KOREMATSU:

I’m a Nisei. A second generation–

FAHY:

You speak with lots of authority about the internment centers. Have you visited any of them?

KOREMATSU:

Yes.

FAHY:

How?

KOREMATSU:

I walked past one.

FAHY:

Did you have a good look?

COLLINS:

(Stands up quickly.) Objection, your honor. This question is irrelevant.

STONE:

Objection sustained. (Looks at FAHY.)

FAHY:

(FAHY pauses for a second, nervously, and then resumes his normal confidence.) Are you an American citizen?

KOREMATSU:

Yes.

FAHY:

Do you have a driver’s license?

COLLINS:

Objection, your honor. Asked and answered.

STONE:

Objection sustained.

FAHY:

(Exasperated) Mr. Korematsu, you refused to obey Order 9066, is that correct?

KOREMATSU:

That is correct, Sir.

FAHY:

You are an American citizen, but you refused to obey the simplest of wartime laws?

COLLINS:

Objection, your honor. Compound question.

STONE:

Objection overruled. Continue, Mr. Fahy.

FAHY:

Let me rephrase it, in order to satisfy the other side’s requests. You, who claim to be a faithful American citizen, have not obeyed United States Law?

KOREMATSU:

Yes, but it was un-

FAHY:

This just proves that even second generation Japanese Americans might not abide by the law.

COLLINS:

Objection, your honor. Sweeping generalization.

STONE:

Objection sustained.

KOREMATSU:

Couldn’t anyone disobey the law?

FAHY:

Yes, but as stated earlier, this order was created to move Japanese away from the West Coast area as a precautionary measure. Anyone can disobey the law, but in times like these, we must get rid of those who are prone–

COLLINS:

In times like these? They said the same thing about slavery before it was abolished!

FAHY:

You simply cannot deny the fact that the entire world is at war!

STONE:

Order! (Pounds his gavel.)

COLLINS:

The world might be at war, but America should not be in war with itself!

FAHY:

We are part of a global struggle.

COLLINS:

Yes, but against who and what? The Nazis? We have become the enemy. We are Nazis. Every single one of us. God bless America, for what it’s worth. We have been thrown to pieces. This war is tearing us apart, farther, and farther away from one another. Paranoia sweeps the nation, as we try to find yet another abomination to our civilization. We’re fighting for nothing. Not the American dream, no. We gave that up a long time ago, didn’t we!

FAHY:

My son, my only son, was drafted into the war. He is out there, and he is bravely risking his life to defend us. There’s worth to that!

COLLINS:

It doesn’t matter what we’re worth, as long as we stay (pounds table) by what we stand (pounds table) for!

STONE:

Order! (pounds his gavel) in! (pounds his gavel) the! (pounds his gavel) Court!

FAHY:

Those sneaky, squint-eyed Japs are the ones who don’t believe in America!

(KOREMATSU begins to look uncomfortable)

COLLINS:

Excuse me?

(The court is silent.)

FAHY:

What I am saying, is that the Japanese have committed crimes far worse than any other criminal. If you look at criminal records, sure, you see no Japanese there, but that’s because they are conspiring our demise. They are the vermin that are undermining the foundation of America. They are all guilty in some way or form.

(KOREMATSU leaps out of his seat and tackles FAHY. He punches him, over, and over, until COLLINS pulls him back.)

KOREMATSU:

You little, scheming, liar. You bastard! I believe in the American dream just as much as you do. Why do you think I came here?

MURPHY:

Ladies and gentlemen, the court is adjour-

FAHY:

(to STONE) You see? You see the monster behind the man? There is a demon behind that that innocent face! (Wipes blood from his mouth.) This is just one example of what the Japs do.

(KOREMATSU spits at FAHY)

STONE:

Ladies and gentlemen, the court is adjourned. We will announce our decision within the next hour. (Pounds his gavel)

KOREMATSU:

Good. I’ll be glad to get out of this hell hole. (To FAHY). Do you want to know why I’m here? When my parents were young kodomo, growing up in a rice field, working day and night, they dreamed at night of this, this… land of the people. Of the free. They raised up enough money, and got out of that country as fast as they could. It was a tough life, in America, but it was worth it. My parents have seen this nation decay.. They have seen battles fought and won. Our nation is collapsing as we speak. Our foundations are vanishing, as we tumble down, deeper and deeper into a bottomless cavern. People are giving up their lives in order to save it, but the biggest battle of WWII, the most meaningful one, is right here, right now. (Pounds his fist on the table every time he says America.) America vs. America in America of America starring American people and American lives. No, I’m sorry… just, no.

(STONE and MURPHY re-enter)

STONE:

It is my duty to deliver the opinion of the court: we find Fred Toyosaburo… guilty as charged.

(There is an uproar in the court. STONE bangs his gavel)

(Crowd fades out. Spotlight on KOREMATSU. KOREMATSU looks up, solemnly, and sheds a tear.)

KOREMATSU:

God bless America.

(Staticky radio plays in the background. Old news segments about the case, how Justice Frank Murphy dissented, and more recent ones about how Fred Korematsu is actually innocent play. Dramatic music mixes in throughout the segments.)

KOREMATSU:

(with conviction) God bless America! And God help us all!

(lights dim)

Tammuz Frankel, Age 12, Grade 7, Hunter College High School, Gold Key

This entry was written by NYC Scholastic Awards and published on November 7, 2013 at 4:00 pm. It’s filed under Dramatic Script, Writing. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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