The “Ground Zero [Whatever]” and Fred Korematsu

I’m not impressed with the quality of the “debate” (i.e., battling brain-dead monologues) over the Islamic Center near the World Trade Center site in lower Manhattan. Maybe the best “argument” was Charles Krauthammer’s: this is sacred ground. But that argument has gotten a bit of the luster knocked off by the “adult” businesses and gambling parlors just as close to sacred Ground Zero as the Cordoba Center would be. Is an Islamic Center a sacrilege while peep shows or hootchy-kootchy dancers aren’t? Why?

Most of the other arguments against allowing the Center are goofy (e.g., the “all Muslims are crypto-terrorists” meme) or morally dubious tit-for-tat (there are no Christian Church in Mecca but a big Mosque in Rome; ergo …). Repeat after me: two wrongs don’t make a right.

Many of the arguments for allowing the mosque are pretty banal, and maybe this little jeremiad of mine will strike you as banal, too. But ponder what’s at stake if we forsake the “banal” values I’m going to invoke at the end. Ponder carefully.

It seems to me that we’re simply at a juncture where whatever we do, it’s apt to have unintended consequences. If we retreat and smile benignly as the Center is built, it may turn out that the radicals will take over; or it may be that one of our own occasional crazies will bomb or attack it, or … well, it’s the nature of unintended consequences that they’re often unforeseen as well as unintended.

If we bully them off this location, we may radicalize more Muslims, belatedly finding that the proponents really were the moderates they claimed to be, or finding that almost as many think all of lower Manhattan is “sacred” as think that this particular location is, essentially nullifying by NIMBY the Muslims’ “right to build.” Again, there are innumerable other possible unintended and unforeseen consequences.

Does anyone here think all the consequences of bullying (or “persuading”) them off this site are foreseen and benign? Will our “persuasion” strike us in a few decades as shameful, as the name “Fred Korematsu” brings a flush to my face now?

Korematsu v. United States323 U.S. 214 (1944)[1], was a landmark United States Supreme Court case concerning the constitutionality of Executive Order 9066, which ordered Japanese Americans into internment camps during World War II.
In a 6-3 decision, the Court sided with the government,[2] ruling that the exclusion order was constitutional. The opinion, written by Supreme Court justice Hugo Black, held that the need to protect against espionage outweighed Fred Korematsu‘s individual rights, and the rights of Americans of Japanese descent.

(Wikipedia article on the Korematsu case). Executive Order 9066 was soon seen as a manifestation of political hysteria, and shameful chapter in American history. The Supreme Court opinion was even worse, because the Court is supposed (among other things, I hasten to add) to protect legitimate and truly Constitutional rights of all, but it caved in — probably aware that Roosevelt would not have budged and a Constitutional crisis of sorts would have resulted.

Dissenters Frank Murphy and especially Robert Jackson stand out as prescient. Justice Jackson suggested the court couldn’t stop the military odiousness, but was loathe to ratify it:

A military order, however unconstitutional, is not apt to last longer than the military emergency. Even during that period, a succeeding commander may revoke it all. But once a judicial opinion rationalizes such an order to show that it conforms to the Constitution, or rather rationalizes the Constitution to show that the Constitution sanctions such an order, the Court for all time has validated the principle of racial discrimination in criminal procedure and of transplanting American citizens. The principle then lies about like a loaded weapon, ready for the hand of any authority that can bring forward a plausible claim of an urgent need. Every repetition imbeds that principle more deeply in our law and thinking and expands it to new purposes.

(Emphasis added) Before the war was over, we dropped nuclear weapons with the intent of killing tens of thousands of innocent civilian Japanese. The rationale was to procure Japan’s unconditional surrender — not a negotiated peace, but to crush the (coincidentally slant-eyed) enemy — with lower loss of American life.

Richard Weaver wasn’t buying it:

The expediential argument for total war is usually expressed very simply: “It saves lives.” I have seen Sherman’s campaign in Georgia and the Carolinas defended on the ground that it brought the war to an end sooner consequently saving lives; the dropping of the atomic bombs upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki has been excused in the same way.
This argument, however, has a fatal internal contradiction. Under the rationale of war, the main object of a nation going to war cannot be the saving of lives. If the saving of lives were the primary consideration, there need never be any war in the first place… The truth is that any nation going to war tells itself that there are things dearer than life and that it proposes to defend these even at the expense of lives.

(Quoted in this article – emphasis added)

Fear and suspicion of The Other can lead us to do increasingly shameful things — unapologetically, rationalizing as right what we all learned around Kindergarten-age is simply wrong. Categorically wrong. Always wrong.

Whether it be nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki or aborting 1.5 million or so babies per year or euthanizing useless old eaters on the theory that they are lebensunvertes leben (which we will cooingly Anglicize as “they would want it that way”), “[c]hoosing to kill the innocent as a means to your ends is always murder.” (Elizabeth Anscombe, quoted in this powerful article.)

Whether it be Japanese-Americans or Muslim-Americans, depriving innocent people of their legal rights because of racial, national or religious animosity is wrong, too.

The rule of law, including religious freedom and local control of land use within constitutional bounds, is one of those things which we cannot logically give up to defend some higher good. The rule of law is already a higher good.

In the magnificent movie A Man for All Seasons, Thomas More said it better than I can:

When More was Lord Chancellor, his daughter, Margaret, and his son-in-law, Roper, urged him to arrest a man they regarded as evil.
Margaret said, “Father, that man’s bad.”
More replied, “There’s no law against that.”
And Roper said, “There is!  God’s law!”
More then gave excellent advice to judges: “Then God can arrest him . . . The law, Roper, the law.  I know what’s legal, not what’s right.  And I’ll stick to what’s legal . . . I’m not God.  The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can’t navigate.  I’m no voyager.  But in the thickets of the law, oh, there I’m a forester.”
Roper would not be appeased, and he leveled the charge that More would give the Devil the benefit of law.
More: “Yes.  What would you do?  Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?”
Roper: “I’d cut down every law in England to do that!”
More: “. . . Oh? . . . and when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you — where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? . . . This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man’s laws, not God’s — and if you cut them down — . . . d’you really think you could stand unpright in the winds that would blow then? . . . Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.”

(Quoted in Bork, The Tempting of America)

For my money, (1) “they have the right,” plus (2) “land use is a local matter,” equal “national commentators on both sides should bug off.”

But if people outside Manhattan must shoot off their mouths and keyboards, count me in for the proposition that in a world where some future consequences are unknown, I will choose the rule of law and religious freedom over ad hoc attempts to nullify either. Among other things, I’d rather risk the unintended consequences of honoring those values than risk the unintended consequences of transgressing them.


I should have realized that there’d be a website for the Cordoba Initiative. I suppose you can speculate that everything there is a gigantic lie, but here’s “the horse’s mouth” if you want to know first-hand.

We may be looking pretty paranoid elsewhere in the world, too.

But who are you going to believe: a bunch of radical Muslims, the effete British press, or a reliable source like Dick Morris, who can always be counted on to sell his soul to the highest bidder (remember, he worked for Slick Willie).