Topic: the Japanese internment. A massive camp not far from here, one of 10: Manzanar. How many interned? Between 110,000 and 130,000. What and who? The sudden and without due process uprooting and incarceration of Japanese, 62 percent of whom were native-born or naturalized American citizens. Among those were Nisei (second generation — clearly American citizens) and Sansei (third generation — again, citizens).
It took only 1/16 Japanese ancestry to win a ticket to a camp. When? Just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor 1941. Why? President Roosevelt, in Executive Order 9066, wanted to protect the West Coast from a Japanese attack and feared that America’s Japanese might collude with their Rising Sun brethren. How? By building relocation camps to resettle the detained away from the entire Pacific West Coast — Mexico to Canada. Where? Throughout the western continental United States in east-of-the-Sierra California, Nevada, Arizona, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Arkansas.
Good idea? History gives us a resounding no. Was it justified? Again history tells us no. Was it ethical and just and the right thing to do? Subsequent laws tell us no, and that it will not and cannot happen again. Was it fair? Decidedly not. Those encamped lost farms, friends, homes, businesses, occupations, professions, medical, dental, legal practices, livelihoods — everything.
All because hysteria ran rampant. And the deck was stacked. One hundred years of all very lawful discrimination history was prelude to the internment. First Chinese, then Japanese were refused citizenship on the basis of their ancestry, and they were refused the privilege of purchasing property. The Japanese were resented and criticized by California Gov. Hiram Johnson as working harder than everyone else and outperforming their non-Asian contemporaries.
It wasn’t until 1980 — 38 years later — that President Carter took up the question of whether or not it was justified, and found by all evidence it was not. And it wasn’t until 1988 — 46 years later — that Reagan issued a formal apology accompanied by a reparation check for $20,000 to each internee. Since that time, $1.6 billion has been authorized and issued to 82,219 Japanese-Americans and their heirs.
The mass internment was locally revisited by CSUB’s Public History Institute and Kegley Institute of Ethics in a recent film presentation (Stand up for Justice: The Ralph Lazo Story), an interview with Mary Higashi, an internee; and panel discussion led by KIE’s Director Dr. Burroughs joined by Drs. Douglas Dodd, Isao Fujimoto (also an internee) and Jeanine Kraybill.
Closer to home, in Kern County 1,100 Japanese were interned. Thirty-seven from Kern County (now Bakersfield) High School and 22 from Bakersfield College. The draft during the war drew internees from camps who served in Europe with distinction. Those interned kept to their upbringing which emphasized resiliency, bouncing back, always getting back up, keep moving forward. When asked about civil disobedience or rioting in camps, the guests indicated there were protests raised and settled without rioting. Internees raised religiously attended Sunday worship services and demonstrated the values of family, community, obedience. Camps were artistically beautified with rock gardens and with whatever else was at hand in dry, hardscrabble, desert places.
The presentations drew attention to the parallels between what happened then to what is happening now in “othering” others; that is, in treating someone else as a discriminated-against other rather than as a fully-accepted community member. Trump’s leadership style sets him up by his own pronouncements as the god who “only can solve this problem.” We find then as now that nativism is on the rise with all the racist dangers associated with it. The mixing of religion and politics was pointed out as a decidedly toxic mix.
Is the specter of racism on the rise? Decide for yourself as Trump seeks to import Norwegians, while others refer — worrisomely — to the browning of America. Racial discrimination remains then as now a problem we see more and more openly.
Martin Luther King Jr. famously quoted the prophet Amos, “Let justice well up as water, and righteousness as a mighty stream.” And we Judeo-Christians are commanded, “Justice. Justice you shall pursue.”
How’re we doing?
Brik McDill of Bakersfield is a retired psychologist. The opinions expressed are his own.