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Solicitor General Acknowledges Malfeasance in U.S. Handling of Japanese Internment

The imprisonment OF 110,000 Japanese Americans during World War II represents a low point in U.S. justice, and now that black mark seems even darker. Recently, the acting solicitor general, Neal Katyal, admitted that one of his predecessors, Charles Fahy, suppressed evidence while arguing for relocation before the Supreme Court. Most egregiously, Fahy claimed that a brief in Fred Korematsu v. United States (1944) was true, despite knowing that its claims of sabotage by Japanese Americans were false. Fahy also failed to disclose official findings that Japanese Americans represented a small security threat. Katyal put Fahy’s misdeeds on the record in a public speech, saying, “Ultimately, it harmed our commitment to those magnificent words carved on the front of the Supreme Court at the top: ‘Equal Justice Under Law.’”

The facts concerning Fahy’s misconduct have been known. Attorney/author Peter Irons has published two books on the relevant cases—Justice at War and Justice Delayed—and he organized the appeals that in 1983 overturned the conviction of Korematsu, Gordon Hirabayashi and Minoru Yasui. But says Irons, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of California, San Diego, “I think this admission was an unprecedented thing to do, and a very courageous act on Katyal’s part.” Aiko HerzigYoshinaga, an American-born citizen who was sent to a prison camp from her home in Los Angeles when she was a teenager, was “delighted” by the announcement. “It was distressing to be treated like this because of my ethnicity,” says Herzig-Yoshinaga, whose research uncovered crucial evidence on unethical behavior. “Just to have the government acknowledge the wrongdoing was very good news.”

George Washington Bust Rises From the Ashes

The 19th-century bust represents George Washington, appropriately enough, as larger than life—nearly 3 feet from head to shoulders to pedestal. And the story behind the marble sculpture (below), recently restored and now on display at the Huntington Art Collections in the Los Angeles area, seems even taller, depending upon who’s telling it.

Catherine Hess, curator of European art at the Huntington, believes this 400-pound work of art was created by Frenchman David d’Angers in 1832, given by the French government to the American government and put on display at the Capitol, burned in a major 1851 fire and thrown away, surfaced in a Brooklyn, N.Y., backyard and sold to Henry Huntington in 1924 for about $3,500.

The curator for the Architect of the Capitol doesn’t buy it. “We can’t prove it was here,” says Barbara Wolanin. “It’s an intriguing story, a wonderful bust, a wonderful artist. If we had proof that it was here, we might want it back.” But she isn’t convinced by an expert who recently cleaned the bust and concluded that it had indeed been through a fire, or the match between this bust and a plaster model by the artist—displayed at a museum in Anjers, France— and a bronze copy that sits in a corridor leading to the House chamber in the Capitol.

One thing cannot be disputed, according to Hess: “It now looks pretty damned great.”

Stonewall’s Tree Comes Tumbling Down

As a sesquicentennial event, the fall of Stonewall Jackson’s prayer tree came a year early. Considered the site of a June 1862 prayer by Lt. Gen. Thomas Jackson and his troops at the end of their Shenandoah Valley campaign, the oak was recently brought down by high winds near Grottoes, Va.

Tape Reveals JFK’s Questions About U.S. Reaching the Moon

Did JFK have second thoughts about lunar exploration? Twenty-eight months after a May 1961 speech in which President John Kennedy challenged Americans with “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth,” he asked NASA head James Webb to justify the mission. In a recording of the private September 1963 conversation, recently released by the Kennedy Presidential Library, JFK presses Webb for ways to sell the expense to Congress and to the American people, who seemed bored by the lull between the Mercury and Gemini programs. But Maura Porter, a declassification archivist at the library, says Kennedy wanted to continue lunar exploration: “When he asks about going to the moon, he’s almost asking like a little boy. Clearly you get a sense that he thinks this is a good idea and he doesn’t want to back off it.”


In the 19th century, anthropologist Samuel George Morton amassed about 900 human skulls from around the world and measured them, attempting to learn about anatomical variation. In 1981, he became a poster child for biased research when paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould charged in his book The Mismeasure of Man that Morton manipulated data to fit preconceived notions of racial superiority. Now a University of Pennsylvania team, after nine years of re-measuring and analysis, has found no evidence of improper data wrangling or racial stereotyping, while determining that Gould, who died in 2002, made some of the very miscalculations he had accused Morton of making.

Stamps Honor Industrial Designers

When you look at the Model 302 Bell telephone, fashioned by Henry Dreyfuss—or any of the objects featured on 12 new postage stamps devoted to industrial designers—you see how form followed function and became cool. Industrial design, when it emerged in the early 20th century, merged the idea that things had to work with the idea that they had to sell themselves. We may not dial phones any more—although we still use the verb—but the Model 302 is so much more beautiful than anything we carry in our pockets.

A Pox Descends on Virginia Museum

The Virginia Historical Society recently attracted hordes of visitors to an exhibition called “Bizarre Bits: Oddities From the Collection”—not to mention inspectors from the Virginia Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control. The CDC tested a squirm-inducing bit identified as a smallpox scab from 1876 that Lee Shepard, head of museum collections, says is about the size of a “really large tick.” Exhibited with a letter that explained how a son was sending the object to his father for possible use in vaccination, the scab proved not to be caused by smallpox, but by another pox virus that was no longer alive.

Young Johnny Cash Slept Here

When Johnny Cash was a young boy, he walked the line in Dyess, Ark., where his family lived in a 1,000- square-foot house. Now the sagging structure will be restored as a museum to the country star through the joint efforts of Arkansas State University, the town of Dyess (pop. 410) and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. A concert this year, featuring two of Cash’s performing offspring, Rosanne Cash and John Carter Cash, will help to pay the project’s estimated cost of $160,000.


Originally published in the October 2011 issue of American History. To subscribe, click here.