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Is Today's Google Doodle A Poke At The Trump Administration?

Fred Korematsu fought U.S. internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
Google/Screenshot by NPR
Fred Korematsu fought U.S. internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

Alphabet, the parent company of Google, is among the tech firms that are critical of the Trump administration's executive order barring Muslim immigrants from certain countries. This weekend, Google co-founder Sergey Brin took part in protests at the San Francisco International Airport.

Today, the Google Doodle — the picture that appears on the home page of the search engine — provided a subtle reminder of what happens when the U.S. targets a group of citizens because of their national origins. The Doodle is an illustration of the civil rights activist and survivor of the internment camps where the U.S. government put Japanese-Americans during World War II.

In 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed an executive order that incarcerated more than 115,000 people of Japanese descent. The order was based on fears that in the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the heritage of these Americans meant they might be spies for the enemy.

Korematsu, the son of Japanese immigrants but born and raised in Oakland, Calif., was 23 when the order came down. He went into hiding but was eventually arrested for refusing to report for relocation and sent to an internment camp with his family in Utah. His conviction was upheld by the Supreme Court in Korematsu v. United States.

Decades later in 1976, President Gerald Ford ended the executive order and apologized for the internment saying in part that "Japanese-Americans were and are loyal Americans." And in 1983, Korematsu's conviction was overturned as the court reconsidered the motivations behind the order.

Five years later, President Ronald Reagan signed The Civil Liberties Act of 1988, citing "racial prejudice, wartime hysteria and a lack of political leadership" as the real reason for the internment.

Today would have been Korematsu's 98th birthday. (He died in 2005.) It is officially recognized as Fred Korematsu Day in California, Hawaii, Virginia and Florida.

But Google's choice to make him the focus of the Google Doodle doesn't seem like a total coincidence.

The Trump administration says that the executive order banning entry from certain Muslim countries isn't targeted at all Muslims, but the order also says that refugee claims by religious minorities from those countries should be given priority for entry. And Trump suggested to the Christian Broadcasting Network that he wants to give priority to persecuted Christians.

At least someone at Google must think there are parallels between what happened to the Japanese during World War II and the questions that Muslim Americans are facing today about their loyalty to the U.S.

And they aren't alone in seeing the parallels. The actor George Takei has started a Care2 petition asking Americans to stand up for Muslims. Takei, who is gay and Japanese-American, is best known for his role as Sulu in Star Trek. He was also held, along with his family, in one of the internment camps for Japanese-Americans.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai was among several tech executives who have denounced Trump's immigration ban. In response, Pichai has created a $2 million fund to help refugees, calling it the company's "largest campaign ever."

Google Doodles have occasionally taken heat from conservatives for being liberal leaning. Past Doodles have included historical civil rights leaders such as Cesar Chavez, the founder of the National Farm Workers Association, and Yuri Kochiyama, who was friends with Malcolm X and showed support for controversial figures such as Che Guevara and Fidel Castro.

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Corrected: January 31, 2017 at 12:00 AM EST
A previous version of this story misspelled President Ronald Reagan's last name as Regan.
Laura Sydell fell in love with the intimate storytelling qualities of radio, which combined her passion for theatre and writing with her addiction to news. Over her career she has covered politics, arts, media, religion, and entrepreneurship. Currently Sydell is the Digital Culture Correspondent for NPR's All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, and
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