George Takei: remember Japanese internment during WWII

Star Trek actor George Takei writes about being interned in Arkansas and California internment camps along with his Japanese-American family during WWII, a particularly important rememberance in the face of the out-of-control US spying revealed in the Edward Snowden leaks:

As I write this, once again the national dialogue turns to defining our enemies, the impulse to smear whole communities or people with the actions of others still too familiar and raw. Places like the museum and Rohwer camp exist to remind us of the dangers and fallibility of our democracy, which is only as strong as the adherence to our constitutional principles renders it. People like myself and those veterans lived through that failure, and we understand how quickly cherished liberties and freedom may slip away or disappear utterly.

Why We Must Remember Rohwer (via Reddit)

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  1. There was a coffee shop in downtown Phoenix that had a couple of the trailers used for internment, sitting out back (there was a big camp here, in Papago Park), it was kind of odd sipping a coffee in it, chilling.  Especially since it is very much a bit of hidden history.  Most people don’t even know that there were camps here, much less that there were camps at all.  

    We don’t like history that makes us look bad.  For instance, it took me a couple years after high school to discover that eugenics existed, and that the US loved it (that revelation was thanks to Stephen Jay Gould).

    Gah, why is posting comments here such a massive pain?!

    1. We don’t like history that makes us look bad.

      More disturbing are the people who are aware of this history but don’t think it makes us look bad at all. Almost every time the subject of internment comes up on the internet some folks rush to chime in that “it wasn’t as bad as the treatment that American POWs suffered under the Japanese government!” which completely misses the point on at least two levels:

      1. Just because someone else does something bad doesn’t excuse us from the same behavior, and

      2. We did this to American citizens who hadn’t even been accused of any crime whatsoever, so the comparison to POWs is irrelevant anyway.

      1. The Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park was created by Hagiwara Makoto, who lived there with his family.  They were interned during the war and never allowed to return to their home.

        His great, great grandson Eric Hagiwara is also a landscape architect and volunteers at Strybing.  In 1994, Eric donated 1,100 flowering cherry trees to Arlington National Cemetery as part of the Tea Garden’s centennial festivities.

  2. Well said that man. Even if you believe that they think they are acting in our interests now, they are setting up the systems that will turn the relatively good societies that we live in into dystopian nightmares if, in the future, someone with other ideas gets voted in.

  3. The internment (a nice way of saying imprisonment) of thousands of American citizens during WWII is unquestionably a black mark on this nations history. It is one example out of many that the principles we espouse so strongly are not as solid and incontrovertible as we convince ourselves. A nation created though rebellion and guerilla warfare, expanded through conquest and genocide, economically strengthened by the use of slavery, that constantly uses force and guile to achieve its goals while preaching righteousness, freedom and representational democracy…is a nation one should hide the good silverware from when it comes over to visit..

    Fighting and winning WW2 was one of the best things this country has ever done, along with adopting the Bill of Rights and the creation of fast food and daytime television. (The Civil War and the Marshall Plan don’t count; those were examples of fixing what we already broke…)

    Moving our own innocent citizens to barracks in the desert behind barbed wire fences was not a nice thing to do. But…we only pretend to be nice. We will throw idealism out the window in a heartbeat if we feel our self interest is threatened in any way. Still I wonder…I have seen furious reaction from people just from watching movies and TV shows about the Pacific Theatre…imagine how angry and bloodthirsty people must have been when the coffins and wounded kept returning home year after year…

    The Japanese American Internment affected countess lives, ruined many…destroyed communities and betrayed our ideals.  But how many rapes, assaults, murders, arson attacks etc were avoided by that cruel Executive Order?

    1. But how many rapes, assaults, murders, arson attacks etc were avoided by that cruel Executive Order?

      You could use the same logic to round up and imprison any group that finds itself the target of hate crimes.

        1. Also bad, but hardly on the same scale as what was done to Japanese Americans. Plus the vast majority of the Germans and Italians who were locked up weren’t American citizens.

      1. My mother had said that the German officers held at the POW Camp at the Wisconsin State Fair park were occasionally brought across the street to Fleming’s A&W for icecream and root beer floats. Her family lived in the house right behind Fleming’s.

      2.  Have heard old black vets telling stories about being treated worse than Nazi prisoners. Just horrible stuff.

    2.  Except the internments happened before most of the fighting.  It was a racist and abhorrent policy – duplicated here in Canada.  There is no silver lining, don’t try to create one retroactively.

      1. The internments happened after Pearl Harbor. That was enough, seemingly…

        No silver lining allowed, eh? Just trying to make some lemonade out of our shared historical lemons: Manzanar Spritzer…oooh, tastes bitter!

        Was internment wrong? Yes, of course. Would it had been better had it never occurred? Yes, almost certainly. Would some Japanese Americans have suffered greatly on the city streets and lonely farms of a pathologically racist and propagandized war-rabid society? 

        You better believe it. 

    3. Fighting and winning WW2 was one of the best things this country has ever done, along with adopting the Bill of Rights and the creation of fast food and daytime television. (The Civil War and the Marshall Plan don’t count; those were examples of fixing what we already broke…)

      History isn’t a scorecard for nations, it’s the evidence that humanity, and good and evil, transcend nations. Borders are arbitrary. It’s what people do that counts.

      The Japanese American Internment affected countess lives, ruined many… destroyed communities and betrayed our ideals.  But how many rapes, assaults, murders, arson attacks etc were avoided by that cruel Executive Order?

      Um, you do realize that that’s the same rationalization that was used to keep Jews in European ghettos for centuries, right?

      1. “History isn’t a scorecard for nations, it’s the evidence that humanity, and good and evil, transcend nations. Borders are arbitrary. It’s what people do that counts.”

        Well said. But nobody remembers people, except the major players and the movers and shakers. The vast majority of humanity lives and dies anonymously…If it’s just about people, and nations don’t matter…then I can point the finger at Johnson and McNamara for example and say ‘those assholes escalated the Vietnam conflict! Luckily I wasn’t born yet, so…whatayagonna do?’ As an American; I feel neither culpable nor responsible for the actions of those men, but I do feel ownership of the great injustices committed by this country, since I get to enjoy the spoils of our global economic and military hegemony.  While I do admire your enlightened world view…I’ll keep my scorecard handy.

      2. “you do realize that that’s the same rationalization that was used to keep Jews in European ghettos for centuries, right?”

        Sure. But as everyone knows…Europeans are crazy. Who knows why they do what they do? But here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. we believe in a far more varied yet egalitarian solution to the ‘ghetto’ dilemma: we have three different kinds!

        The ‘Hood, The Rez AND The Trailer Park…we don’t just give lip service to the idea of equality, we offer variety as well! 
        Plus we back it up with a rock solid promise to let those people join the rest of society just as soon as they pull themselves up out of that muck pit by their boot straps like regular folks.

        Why wouldn’t we round up some foreign looking people during wartime and shunt them off into the hinterlands? We have a pretty steady tradition of doing just that, without even needing a BS fifth column excuse for it.

        1. We should all work to leverage whatever power we have to make the world more just. And you’re absolutely right that our power as Americans issues primarily (but not exclusively) in America because it’s our inheritance, warts and all. I would question the conclusion that escalating the Vietnam War (particularly the one our nation fought after the British and French has theirs) actually benefited us, but in general I agree with your concept about ownership.

          As for the Japanese Internment Camps, I’ve just had too many arguments with apologists, both self-described conservatives and liberals, for that racist, unconstitutional, un-American chapter of our history.

          1. ‘that racist, unconstitutional, un-American chapter of our history.’

            Totally agree. I just wish I couldn’t imagine the baser natures of ‘true patriots’ harming innocent citizens during those troubled times…

  4. What the heck? Takei needs to make up his mind…  is he gay, or is he Japanese? Or is he from the future? My stereotypes are getting tangled!

        1. Wouldn’t it be great to build a statue of George Takei? Really, look at the guy’s CV. Besides fighting for the rights of gays and Asians, he brought attention to the terrible Hollywood remake of Akira and assisted in it’s deserved destruction. If anyone deserves a monument, it is this man.

  5. Whatever way you cut it, and unfair and morally dubious as the internments may have been, it is surely a more understandable breach of human rights under the circumstances than Guantanamo is today?

    1. I want Gitmo shut down too but I’m not sure I agree the internments were “more understandable” breaches of human rights. At least the people at Guantanamo Bay have been accused of actual wrongdoing, if not actually charged.

  6. It used to be Shatner, it was occasionally Nimoy. 

    But somewhere along the way George Takei became the most awesome Star Trek veteran of all.  And he only gets better.

  7. France had them, too. And called them concentration camps. In the 30s, long before the war was declared. The worst camps were those which held anti-Fascist refugees from Germany and the territories they annexed or overran before the war. There the French also interned the last fighters who escaped Spain after fighting Fascism in the Spanish Civil War.

    The French government kept them there, refusing them exit visas, and tidily handed them over to the Nazis after France fell. Another notorious lager in France, Le Vernet, was filled with Jewish and anti-Fascist refugees who were arrested by French police, kept in vile conditions and held until they too could be delivered, with full, highly detailed dossiers, to the Nazis after 1940.

    France also interned German prisoners of war who identified as Nazis. Because France wanted to ensure decent conditions for French prisoners of war in Germany, the Nazi inmates were housed, fed and treated far better than the many Socialists, humanists and Jews who had been fighting Fascism since 1933 or earlier.

    There are a lot of ugly truths about WWII which are missing from the history books, be they American, German, French, Japanese, Soviet/Russian, or Spanish.

    Takei is right: we must remember.

    A good book on the climate of France before its defeat that describes both the horrible conditions faced by anti-Fascist refugees and the combination of societal factors that led to France’s most ignominious period is Arthur Koestler’s “The Scum of the Earth.” “The Scum,” of course, refers to the political and ethnic refugees and Republican fighters who fought Nazi Germany while France and Britain were still congratulating themselves on their policy of appeasement.

    1.  Maybe now that you’ve posted it, the magic of  SEO and google mojo will bump it up ;)

  8. German Americans were interned….as were other Euro Americans. Many were imprisoned in the same camps as were their Japanese American counterparts! I know I was there!

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