Monday, January 13, 2003

Leah A. tells us:

Some years ago I was asked to write a script about what lead up to the internment of Japanese-Americans. Our focus was precisely on that period from Pearl Harbor to April of '41, when the Orders of Exclusion were tacked up on telephone poles up and down the west coast(those of Japanese extraction were excluded from living anywhere in the area, and ordered to meet at roundup points, where they were herded by MPs, with bayonets fixed, onto busses to be taken to processing centers, in LA, the Santa Anita Racetrack, and from there, taken, under military guard, to an internment camp, where they lived for the duration of the war, behind barbed wire, and under military guard. I think the absolutely correct name for such a facility is a concentration camp. And that's what these were, American concentration camps. No, not death camps. And not Nazi work camps. There is literally no comparison. But speaking as an American who loves her country deeply, I don't find much comfort in that).

Because of the speed with which this entirely unAmerican event happened, there is a tendency to believe that it was an inevitable outcome given the understandable anxieties of the time. After all, WE HAD BEEN ATTACKED. But there was nothing inevitable about it. In fact, the first editorial on the subject of the Japanese-American community by the LA Times, which later became a leading advocate of internment, was titled, "Lets Not Get Rattled," and cautioned not to scapegoat Japanese-Americans, whom the paper rightly described as mainly loyal Americans, who are as patriotic as any other Americans.

We need to remember here that then, any and all Japanese-Americans born in Japan, however long they'd been here, were excluded, by law, from becoming US citizens. Their children were citizens by birth, and this older "Issei" generation had the status of permanent residents. The LATimes did approve of what were known as the ABC raids, carried on by Hoover's FBI, starting the afternoon of the attack on Pearl Harbor. These raids rounded up targeted individuals among the Isseis, sorted onto three different lists according to their perceived threat level. Those rounded up were the pillars of the Japanese-American Community; their patriarchs; Doctors, Lawyers, Teachers, Business Leaders, Farming Leaders. All were interviewed, some were let go, most were held, either in jail, or in make shift facilities, think of them as precursors of internment.

And that's my point. The ABC raids aren't often criticized, except by Japanese-Americans. They had the patina of legality. It's also true that J. Edgar Hoover was against the mass internment, more out of a sense that Roosevelt and the military were encroaching on FBI perogative than out of constitutional concerns. My point is that it was the very public ABC raids which set up what came after. Three to five thousand persons had been detained. They had been identified as "leaders." The constant refrain from those who decided it was a damn good idea to scapegoat the Japanese-Americans, competing farming interests, editorial writers, those for whom patriotism always means some form of xenophobic exclusion, and ordinary fair-minded Americans who were getting increasingly rattled by Japanese military success across the Pacific - was this; don't tell us you've rounded up the leaders but there are no followers.

Then a report was released that claimed that the sizable Japanese-American community in Hawaii had actively engaged in various kinds of sabotage to help the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Just so you get a taste of the flavor of this document - one of the reported claims, that Japanese farmers had planted crops in such a way as to provide visual signals to the Japanese pilots above to help them find Pearl Harbor. Interestingly, despite this "Roberts' Report," there was no mass roundup on Hawaii, and no internment. (Could it be that a society as racially mixed as Hawaii is more immune to mass hysteria aimed at one particular group?)

I'm going on at such length because I believe we're in danger of repeating some of this tragic history - this time with Arab and Muslim-Americans.

What went on between late January and mid-April was a kind of mass hysteria. And those who perpetrated it, and those who went along with it were just as sure that Japanese-American disloyalty was real, and just as able to make statements like, "well, if they are so loyal why don't we ever hear them condemn the Japanese Empire and Pearl Harbor," as all the Sean Hannity and all the Insti-warmongers are today. One of the reasons it was so difficult for Japanese-Americans to fight back is that they were understandably fearful that any claims they made on behalf of their own constitutional rights would be perceived as disloyalty. Their main political organization actually cooperated with both the FBI and the Justice Department, right to the bitter end, believing that if they were willing to give up their elders, the rest of the community would be spared. Remind anyone of those recent roundups, when so many reported voluntarily to the INS, only to find themselves treated like criminals? Japanese-Americans went from being excluded from citizenship, to being excluded into concentration camps. Roosevelt signed the exclusion orders. Mrs. Roosevelt was silent. Only a few voices against the internment were raised; the NAACP, the ACLU, of course, the American Friends, also of course, The Nation magazine, my father, who eventually took care of two farms for two interned families so they wouldn't lose them. But those voices are so important - because they tell us it was possible to know at the time how wrong the internment was, not to mention how dumb, here we were excluding from our own war effort some of our own best, brightest, and bravest.

We're a lot closer to making some of the same mistakes than we might want to realize when a law professor doesn't seem to understand that the only way for us to have known whether or not there was an active "fifth column" (yeah, that's the term used at the time, Andy) operating in the Japanese-American community is to have found specific evidence against specific people and then to try them in a court of law. That's what we do in this country. The exclusion orders, which put the military in charge of civilian society on the west coast, violated every major precept of American jurisprudence; one of the most frequent references at the time was to Lincoln's suspension of Habeas Corpus.

Final exhibit; go read the emails from Insti-Pundit reader, Douglas Landrum, that prompted Glen's post. Landrum fully approves of the redress legislation and apparently worked on it. But he makes a distinction between "them" our good loyal minorities, the not so good minority of Muslim and Arab-Americans, who "who howl about perceived civil rights violations and yet refuse to assimilate American values and culture, treat their wives and daughters as slaves and seek to supplant religious freedom with Islamic tyranny."
Instipundit does allow that not all Muslims should be condemned, and then goes on to say, "But Landrum is certainly right to indicate that the conspicuous shows of patriotism by the Japanese American community in World War II have not been matched by the Arab Muslim community in America. (Though there have been a number of barely-covered pro-war demonstrations by Iraqi-Americans)."

But of course the non-assimilation argument was made repeatedly in '41 against Japanese-Americans. Why did they have pictures of the Emperor up in the parlor? The two most oft repeated characterizations of them was that they were servile and sneaky, and standoffish and arrogant. Such is prejudice. Exclusion begets exclusion, until one set of peoples gets excluded from humanness itself.

And, Hesiod reminds us of this story from July:

A member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission said in Detroit on Friday he could foresee a scenario in which the public would demand internment camps for ArabAmericans if Arab terrorists strike again in this country.

If there's a future terrorist attack in America "and they come from the same ethnic group that attacked the World Trade Center, you can forget about civil rights," commission member Peter Kirsanow said.

The reason, he said, is that "the public would be less concerned about any perceived erosion of civil liberties than they are about protecting their own lives."