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Governors offer sympathy - but no money - for wartime internees

State governors say they sympathize with Japanese-Americans who were interned in the United States during World War II, but their sentiment stops short of a call for reparations.

Washington Gov. John Spellman (R) had asked the governors to support a measure that would compensate Japanese-Americans who were transported from their West Coast homes to detention camps. But in the end, the National Governors' Association (NGA) endorsement amounted to little more than an apology.

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Colorado Gov. Richard D. Lamm (D), who led the opposition to the Spellman proposal, said he was concerned that payments to the internees ''would set a precedent'' that could cost the states and the nation millions of dollars.

Although decrying the ''injustices'' involved in the 1942 dislocation of 120, 313 citizens of Japanese heritage, Governor Lamm and others warned colleagues that an endorsement of reparations would ''send the wrong message to Congress.''

Noting that the NGA firmly opposes increased federal spending, Lamm argued that providing ''just compensation,'' as proposed by the Spellman resolution, would be impossible. There is no way the nation can make it up to those who suffered the losses and indignities of internment, he said.

Several of the governors warned that other groups, such as American Indians disrupted by government actions over the years, would be entitled to similar compensation.

Gov. George Nigh (D) of Oklahoma, who supported the Lamm position, said that several Indian tribes from ''back East and the Northwest territory'' had been relocated in what is now his state.

Gov. Bill Sheffield (D) of Alaska noted that during World War II about 15,000 natives of the Aleutian Island chain in his state, then a territory, were moved by the government into internment camps. Although the Aleuts' situation appeared to be similar to the Japanese-Americans', it was different, he explained.

Unlike the Japanese-Americans, whose detention was intended to eliminate the possibility of subversive activities, the Aleuts were transplanted for their own protection from possible invasion by the Japanese.

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The special federal commission on World War II internment, which issued a report earlier this year, has recommended reparations for both Japanese-Americans and Aleuts. Many of those displaced from the Aleutian Islands died during their internment, and the survivors' property losses were considerable, Governor Sheffield says.

Hearings on the commission's recommendations began in late July before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee. That panel first will take up the question of interned Japanese-Americans. Later, the panel is expected to take up the Aleuts.

The NGA position, adopted at its annual convention here, specifies that the February 1942 executive order providing for the internment of Japanese-Americans (most of whom lived in California and Washington State) ''was not justified by military necessity.''

The NGA said ''an appropriate apology and national recognition for the victims of the wartime injustices'' was ''long overdue'' and suggested ''nonmonetary redress for these injustices.'' The Spellman amendment, which had cleared the NGA's human resources committee, urged Congress to ''provide just compensation to those individuals who suffered the injustices and hardships resulting from the government's action in World War II.''

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