The Japanese-American internment, the lessons the U.S. seems not to have learned, and the state of Colorado

Posted 21 Jun 2002 at 01:26 UTC by Uche Share This

Strolling through the Boulder public library yesterday, I saw an exhibit on the Japanese internment camps (very timely, I think). I learned many interesting things about the role of Colorado w.r.t. the Japanese evacuees, and especially the fact that then governor Ralph L. Carr was one of the most civilized of U.S. politicians of the time in his statements that it was wrong to deny Japanese Americans the protection of the bill of rights. (I always knew I live in a great state :-) ). This site has some interesting Colorado newspaper excerpts form the time. I hope we can find more like Mr. Carr in these days where we seem to have forgotten all the lessons of our barbarism towards Japanese citizens during WWII.

When I speak of lessons not learned, I'm sure it doesn't take much imagination to guess that I'm referring to the current treatment the U.S. is meting out to Arab Americans under the guise of action against terrorism. Thousands of american citizens, ostensibly protected by the bill of rights, have been imprisoned, some under allegedly very harsh conditions, without being charged with crimes, and often without access to any legal representation. The government claims that such measures are necessary for national security: which I read as cowardice, and a morally vacuous reaction to the recently-uncovered intelligence failures that seem to have almost wilfuly voided any chance we might have had in preventing the tragedy of September 11th in the first place.

And what is even more frightening than the official actions is the heedlessness of the citizenry. Not only are Americans not questioning the insults our current government is heaping on our constitution, but we are not even offereing any volume of reasoned debate on either side of the question. At least in the case of Japanese internment, the issue was a matter of prominent national debate. In a baffling show of complacency after September 11th's tremendous challenge to our values and institutions, we seem content to give the government a free hand to do as it pleases while we go back to house-hunting and fretting about our 401Ks.

It is indeed gratifying to see some solidarity such as that which many Japanese Americans have shown for the plight of their Arab compatriots. We're not all complacent here, it seems. But most such gestures were offered in the early days after the attack, and have tapered off as interest flows elsewhere. I am a brand new citizen, and perhaps there is some sociological tale to tell about new citizens's having a heightened awareness of the constitution to which they just swore fealty. In any case, this matter is the single greatest challenge I face in my consideration of my citizenship.

Surely there is no sudden insight to the fact that great civilizations respect the rights of citizenship beyond all considerations of nationalism, religious preference or even security. The Romans largely respected their citizens of all nationalities regardless of whom they might have been fighting at the time. More recently, the Saracens often preserved the religious rights of Jewish and Christian citizens even while fighting wars against Christians. It seems that in the Japanese-American internment and the current lawlessness towards Arab-American, we have fallen not just back to the early days of the constitution where slavery and the disenfranchisement of women were accepted, but we have fallen even behind the civic standards of ancient civilizations.

And mind you, I am no peacenik. I think the war that was pursued in Afghanistan was marvellous in its restraint and conscientiousness. My biggest regret about the war is that so many Al-Qaeda operatives seem to have escaped. I would rejoice the day the U.S. were to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein. To be honest, the strongest reason for this attitude is that Saddam chose to use chemical weapons against Kurdish non-combatants in the town of Halabja as part of his own persecution of his own citizens. This preceded the invasion of Kuwait; And how telling that the U.S. whistled and looked the other way from this atrocity because we believed Saddam to be our great ally in opposition to Iran. I think that the Clinton adminsitration was almost criminal in its minor tantrum of a response to the bombing of U.S. embassies in Africa, and in its complete lack of a response to the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen. Again we found ourselves complacent on news of terrorism in remote countries, a complacency which made Al-Qaeda's escalation to attacks within the U.S. homeland inevitable.

Imagine a town where city hall learns of raids on nearby towns by people who happen to be wearing blue. Furthermore, the police obtain hints that such a raid is being planned on the town itself. They do nothing to improve security and are duly raided. In a fury of vengeance, they proceed to jail everyone in the town who has been known to wear blue clothing. Allegories are always dangerous, but I think this story holds the moral equivalent of what our government is doing. Trust in one's citizens, and presumption of their loyalty is one of the foundations of any great state or civilization. It was cowardly for us to have omitted this lesson when we interned our Japanese nationals, and it is cowardly for us to omit this lesson now as we persecute our Arab nationals and Muslims.

Reply, posted 21 Jun 2002 at 09:20 UTC by nymia » (Master)

Quite an interesting article, I definitely see the point why the treatment towards Americans of Japanese (and Arab) origin should be taken into consideration. I am very much sorry for the experience. Terrible is probably the right term.

There is another angle to this, though. And that angle is the method of how cities were occupied by Japanese soldiers.

I remember there was this picture taken, a black-and-white photo of a Japanese soldier holding a rifle with a bayonet, standing beside with some deceased relatives and their friends. I remember, as I was staring, focusing on the various shades of gray, there was this story being told behind me. A tone differently so, that it somehow was told as if the event happened only yesterday. You will probably never believe me (as some Japanese claim they never happened,) though, because the bayonet in the photo took many lives. In short, the Japanese occupation is probably one of the nastiest occupation, they said. I still remember the words survivors said, words like "aregato", "haiii", "bakero", "sensei", "san", "bansai" and "harakiri" were pretty much the commonly spoken word. And there was this story about a Japanese officer carrying a sword, I heard the sword was used in horrific ways in dehumanizing victims. Things like beheading and spilling the guts out were common among the victims.

Maybe it's just only me and the stories I heard from people who were born before the turn of the 19th century. Already gone to somewhere, I don't know. But their stories they left behind will probably be also forgotten, since no written record exists at the moment.

I guess there are valid reasons why the American government decided it to be that way, though. It is very hard to be objective in times of war, especially when human lives are at stake. While it is terrible to be treated like an enemy by one's own state. It may be because there are valid reasons why it has to be done this way. The problem there could be the failure of articulating or rationalizing the concept to the public. If graphic evidences were shown to them how those atrocities were committed, things would probably happened differently.

The question of what kind of policy should a government use in order to protect the majority of its people is probably a very good question.

Stereotypes are harmful, posted 21 Jun 2002 at 13:54 UTC by tk » (Observer)

Whatever atrocities the Japanese army might have committed during WWII, it's unfair for us to vent our anger on certain other Japanese people who have decided to swear allegiance to the American Constitution instead of the Emperor of Japan.

I agree with Uche's sentiments for the most part (though I don't agree that the war against the Taliban was well conscientious -- but that's another story).

War against the Taliban, posted 21 Jun 2002 at 14:34 UTC by Uche » (Master)

Just to clarify a bit. I think the important battle is against AL-Qaeda. The Taliban, though disreputable in their treatment of their own citizens, were not directly responsible for the September 11th attacks. However, I think the U.S. was undoubtedly in the right by demanding that the Taliban hand over Al-Qaeda or face military action. Once the Taliban refused, I think they became legitimate enemies subject to attack.

I don't hold this standard in a jingoistic way, either. When the U.S. shot down an Iranian airliner with 300+ passengers in the 80s, they became, by the same token, legitimate enemies of Iran and subject to attack. Ditto the actions of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Al-Aqsa brigades against Israel (not the settlements), and the actions of Pakistan against India today. This does not come down to clear-cut right versus wrong. The U.S. was in a very tense situation when the cowboy on the Vincennes shot down the jetliner, and this tension was a result of Iranian sponsorship of terrorism against the U.S. The Palestinian militants are reacting to an illegal and stupid occupation on the part of Israel. India has refused to treat the Kashmiris as fully-enfranchised citizens largely because of their muslim faith.

The only right and wrong there is in such matters is the obligation of a state to protect its citizens within its home land, and in many cases elsewhere. Action against the Taliban, thus disrupting Al-Qaeda's base of operation was really the only sure and civilized way for the U.S. to protect its citizens. Of course, my main point is that while protecting its citizens with the left hand, the U.S. is busy stripping them of the fundamental considerations of citizenship with the right.

But I'd like to extend a hypothesis: countries that treat their citizens well tend to act fairly and in accordance with civilized standard in international matters. I think that as the U.S. has started abusing its citizens, it has been showing a matching witlessness in foreign affairs: fecklessness over the Palestinian conflict, steel and farm protectionism, trampling on Iran's rights to the Caspian, refusal to respond to China's recent overtures towards improving relations, etc. All these things will come back to bite us.

Your assumption is wrong..., posted 21 Jun 2002 at 17:14 UTC by mslicker » (Journeyer)

That the U.S. attack on Afghanistan was a response to the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. There is evidence to the contrary, that he U.S. attack was planned well in advance of September 11th. Also there is evidence that they did nothing or next to nothing to stop these attacks in the first place. Still many question are unanswered, and will remain unanswered as long as this myth pervades.

The U.S has a long record of seizing on such catalitic events, such as the September 11th attack, to implement it's militaristic agenda. The American media has played it's part in developing a political base for any action the U.S military might want to pursue.

Vote, posted 21 Jun 2002 at 17:29 UTC by sej » (Master)

Wonderful article. I think future voting (in the US) will render a verdict on issues like these. In the meantime, it is good to keep them in discussion, and to watch the courts as they defend the Constitution.

reply, posted 21 Jun 2002 at 17:48 UTC by nymia » (Master)

I my opinion, the best way to measure the government abuse to its citizens is identifying the degree of fear. Two types of fear come into play here.

First, the fear of being attacked by a group of militants capable of blowing up buildings is probably a good foundation to build on. It allows government agencies to act and collect information on the basis of providing protection. And the result could provide crystal clear evidence in identifying who these people are. Tracking them down and later on putting them behind bars. This may be costly, maybe costing the taxpayer billions of money setting up elaborate systems, with the ultimate goal of miniminizing the threat.

Secondly, the fear of being arrested by the government for being a 'suspected' terrorist, stripped-off the basic rights is probably a sign of a collapsing constitutionally democratic system, following a model similar to dictatorship. When the majority of the people have this kind of fear, it is most certain some politicians will use it to gain power. Once in power, this type of fear will become widespread, casuing other dependent variables such as economic to wobble and probably fall. Also, when the writ of habeas corpus ever gets suspended, it may the right time to start worrying, though.

As I see it, managing fear should be on top of the list. Dealing with and managing fear is not easy but it may a go a long way in keeping sanity among the people.

advogato is full of garbage these days, posted 21 Jun 2002 at 18:18 UTC by zhaoway » (Master)

now here's my share. there's struggle for the ultimate importance of individuals ever since long time ago. but wars do happen. in wars, there's hardly independent individual's. you have to be belong some groups. as a group, you did bad things to others, and others can do bad things to you. it's that simple.

if you're really an independent individual, then a group, because they're a group, so they're more powerful, will destroy you. it's that simple.

now we have to belong to some group. unfortunatly, there isn't a best, innocent group. so we have to take the sin of the best group we can choose. that's that simple.

it's all a matter of intelligence and arrogance, posted 21 Jun 2002 at 19:38 UTC by badvogato » (Master)

the West has the arrogance. the East (communist state) has the ignorance. but the Arab world has the intelligence. If you failed to search in that angle, you will always remain as arrogant and ignorant as you always are.

RE: it's all a matter of intelligence and arrogance, , posted 23 Jun 2002 at 04:30 UTC by mglazer » (Journeyer)

the arab world has the intelligence

Are you for real?

, posted 23 Jun 2002 at 09:50 UTC by jamesh » (Master)

It always seems a bit weird that the U.S. would want to go after international criminals like the Al-Qaeda members while not wishing to be held accountable for its actions to an international criminal court. It does not inspire confidence.

RE: International Socialist Kangaroo criminal court., posted 23 Jun 2002 at 12:02 UTC by mglazer » (Journeyer)

Why do you think we decided that?

We know who is going to run this kangaroo court, we also know who they will target.

There is a lot of jealously and animosity from foreginers towards the generosity, independence, abundance, and strength of America.

We are not naive or blind towards the attitudes of foreigners directed at america and americans it does not go unnocticed.

The EU, UN and other supposed internaional bodies are jokes of.

This same court before being established had a hit list of over 100 sovereign leaders that they wanted to be able to leagally just pick up and try coutnries leaders anywhere in the world based on their personall standards.

After the sarajevo court case of milosevic is over, America is going to withdraw its support from thess international legal jokes of bullies.

Its interesting to see the perspective of foreigners on this website to see how america/americans should and probably will never be like.

The effeminate attitudes of justice portrayed by non-americans explains a lot of and says little about failed nationalistic cultures who are so dependent on socialistic attitudes of the client state post-communist mentaliity.

If nothing else it it validates a lot of history and stereotypes americans have of foreigners.

National Interest, posted 23 Jun 2002 at 21:32 UTC by nymia » (Master)

Ok, perhaps my points about fear are clear. Next item I'd like to point out is the US National Interest.

While the US is the only remaining superpower, there are obvious characteristics the US will absolutely project and that is putting its national interest above all else. To think of the US as an altruistic nation capable of playing the role of a doctor, nation builder or philanthropist is absolutely a mistaken notion.

Maybe it's just only me, though. I certainly understand how the US behaves inside and outside its boundary. One has to act accordingly based on the policy it tries to carry out.

If only these policies are simple enough for ordinary citizens to understand, but that's another point.

National Interest, posted 24 Jun 2002 at 02:18 UTC by mslicker » (Journeyer)

Our rulers .. er representatives already tell us this much. What is never spelled out is precisely what our "National Interest" is. For the middle east, one of the most oil rich regions on the planet, is there any question what our "National Interest" is?

Furthermore, the U.S. has shown it will support the most undemocratic, backwards forms of government when it is in our "National Interest". This includes the Taliban, when it was thought they provided the necessary political stability for securing an oil pipeline across Afghanistan.

RE: National Interest,, posted 24 Jun 2002 at 04:10 UTC by mglazer » (Journeyer)

The alturism is that the US would even bother with these other countries. The thousands of billions in aid to 100s of countries etc...

Being a superpower is one thing going out of your way to be generous and help the meek is another, and even worse after going out of your way (which you didn't have to right your a superpower?) those who you have reached out to help smack you in your face and say 'what kinda help was that?' As if to say 'help i expected but good help is hard to find' and demand it?

If i was the president I would divest from ever figgin backward mudlside on this planet that hates us and we go out of our way to be genrous to them. It is NOT a god-given right to get a handout.

This is where the socialist east and the capitalist west meet.

Socialists expect the rich to share. capitalists expect the poor to help themselves to the abundance and not be dependent on others with your own empowerment and freedom instead of state shackled dependcies.

Again if I was in charge I would probably save the US taxpayers a trillion bucks by taking our money out of most of these dictatorships and tyrannies, in the arab world for starters.

Im not one of those who buy the whole 'if your in a dark alley with a short skirt what should you expect?'

So, yeah it is a form of bribery to protect our 'national interests' but i dont like it, we all knwo the money never gets to those who actually need it and these same dictators are still supporting violence against their own people and god knows where and towards whom else.

What does this have to do with Advogato?, posted 24 Jun 2002 at 06:53 UTC by chakie » (Master)

Why start discussions/flames about normal boring politics on Advogato? Aren't there enough sites out there that deal with this kind of stuff? Had it at least been Open Source politics... :)

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