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Monday, November 21, 2016

Japanese Incarceration was an Appalling Human Rights Violation. Don't Let Anyone Tell You Otherwise

Photo of a Japanese-American family that was incarcerated in WWII. Image source.
During World War II, the United States forced 120,000 people of Japanese descent- most of whom were US citizens, to leave their homes and live in concentration camps. Yes, this is a real thing that happened. Innocent people, not accused of any kind of crime, rounded up solely because of their ethnicity. This was bad. This was really really bad.

Last week, Trump supporter Carl Higbie was interviewed by Fox News's Megyn Kelly, and Higbie mentioned Japanese incarceration while talking about why he believes there should be some kind of registry for Muslims in the US. We should all be horrified at this. What the United States did to Japanese people (both immigrants and US citizens) during WWII was REALLY REALLY BAD. It's shocking. The more I read about it, the more I'm like "how could this happen? Isn't the US supposed to be all about freedom and, you know, not imprisoning innocent people for extremely racist reasons?" (And also, "why didn't I learn about this in school?")

Anyway I've gathered a bunch of links here, because every American needs to know about this:

George Takei: They interned my family. Don’t let them do it to Muslims.
I was just a child of 5 when we were forced at gunpoint from our home and sent first to live in a horse stable at a local race track, a family of five crammed into a single smelly stall. It was a devastating blow to my parents, who had worked so hard to buy a house and raise a family in Los Angeles. After several weeks, they sent us much farther away, 1,000 miles to the east by rail car, the blinds of our train cars pulled for our own protection, they said. We disembarked in the fetid swamps of Arkansas at the Rohwer Relocation Center. Really, it was a prison: Armed guards looked down upon us from sentry towers; their guns pointed inward at us; searchlights lit pathways at night. We understood. We were not to leave.
JACL Comments on Carl Higbie Statements
Higbie’s attempt to cite Japanese American incarceration as a precedent for this type of action is frightening and wrong. It’s a statement intended to lay a marker for a misguided belief that ignores the true lessons of Japanese American incarceration. This lesson was captured in the words of a federal commission that said, “…The broad historical causes which shaped these decisions (to incarcerate Japanese Americans) were race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”

JACL believes that some of these same conditions exist today, where Muslim Americans are being singled out and unfairly targeted, and where the voices of leadership that should be speaking out against unfair treatment are not.

We must not misinterpret our history by believing the Japanese American incarceration was justified as a precedent for similar actions today, and further, we must not use the wrongdoing perpetrated against Japanese Americans during World War II as a justification for the mistreatment of Muslim Americans.
Japanese-Americans Visit A WW2 Incarceration Camp

George Takei on the Japanese internment camps during WWII

Power of Words (thanks Kenji Kuramitsu for the link)

During WWII, the U.S. government used euphemistic language to control public perceptions about the forced removal of Japanese American citizens from their West Coast homes to desolate American concentration camps further inland. The public was told that Nisei and Issei (non-citizens) were being “evacuated” to “relocation centers” and “internment camps.” Terms like “evacuation” of people sounded like they were being rescued from some kind of disaster (like an earthquake). To obscure the unconstitutional nature of these forced removals, the government referred to the Nisei victims as ‘non-aliens’ instead of ‘citizens’, which might provoke public inquiries like: “Why is the U.S. imprisoning citizens’ without due process of law?” Once in camp, Nisei could earn back their citizenship by embracing their “right” to defend their country and to serve on the “same basis” as other Americans in the military (but in the segregated U.S. Army 442nd Regimental Combat Team) (Lyon, 2012).

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