Friday, December 11, 2015

Donald Trump Rhetoric Reminds Japanese America of the Internment Camps


Drummond: Trump anti-Muslim rhetoric deja vu for Japanese-Americans


By Tammerlin Drummond Oakland Tribune Columnist | 12 Dec. 2015



Chizu Omori was 12 when she, her parents and two younger sisters were forced to leave their family farm in California and move into a Japanese internment camp surrounded by barbed wire in Arizona. They spent 3½ years living in harsh conditions at the Poston War Relocation Center.

Omori, 85, who now lives in Oakland, and her family were victims of the anti-Japanese hysteria that swept the country following Japan's Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. In a horribly misguided effort to prevent future acts of sabotage, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the detention of 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry. More than 60 percent were American citizens. They were given a few days to liquidate their possessions before leaving behind homes and businesses.

It was one of the most shameless chapters in American history. Now, Omori and other Japanese Americans fear that with all the anti-Muslim rhetoric in the aftermath of the Paris and San Bernardino attacks, history is repeating itself.

On the 74th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, Donald Trump released a statement calling for all Muslims to be banned from entering the United States "until our country's representatives can figure out what's going on." When those outrageous comments elicited widespread condemnation from most people with even a shred of sanity, the Republican front-runner for the presidential nomination (at least according to current polls) invoked Roosevelt's treatment of people of Japanese ancestry during World War II as precedent.

Unfortunately, many Americans are ignorant of that history and how it went against everything we claim to stand for as a country.
"Part of the consequence of that ignorance is the fact that some people like Donald Trump are attempting to use it to justify demonizing people of the Muslim faith," said Omori, who with sister Emiko Omori made a documentary called "Rabbit in the Moon," about the detention camps. "We really have to guard against this kind of mentality that led to our incarceration." Yet in the growing chorus of anti-Muslim comments, Omori hears echoes of the anti-Japanese rhetoric that preceded the mass imprisonments.

Omori remembers how supporters of the policy stripped Japanese-Americans of their constitutional rights of due process using the preposterous argument that though they were U.S. citizens, they had a racial predisposition for supporting Japan; because there was no way to determine their loyalty, they needed to be locked away for the sake of national security.

Omori remembers former Attorney General Earl Warren's prominent role in fueling anti-Japanese sentiment to justify the unjustifiable. Ironically, Warren would go on to become chief justice of the Supreme Court and use his powerful position to help expand civil rights and liberties. He belatedly apologized for his advocacy of the internment camps in his posthumously published memoirs. But in Omori's mind he will always be a villain, along with assistant secretary of war John McCloy, who proclaimed that the U.S. Constitution was "just a scrap of paper" and that Japanese-Americans had no right to due process.

It wasn't just those sent to the camps who suffered.

Karen Korematsu, the daughter of civil rights activist Fred Korematsu, was born in 1950, after the war. Yet while growing up in San Lorenzo, she and her brother endured bullying in school for years because they were Japanese-American, especially around the time of the annual Pearl Harbor remembrances.

Speaking from her own experience, Korematsu said teachers and parents should be talking to children to help protect Muslim kids from being similarly targeted because of their faith.

"The parallels between what's happening now and what happened then are really alarming," said Korematsu, co-founder of the Fred T. Korematsu Institute.

Her father refused to report to an internment camp and was arrested in 1942 for defying the government order. Fred Korematsu fought his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court ruled against him, arguing that military necessity justified his incarceration. But in 1983, Korematsu's conviction was overturned. He later was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

In 1980, a congressional report called the internment camps a "grave injustice" motivated by racial prejudice, war hysteria and the failure of political leadership." In 1988, the government apologized and awarded each Japanese American camp survivor $20,000.

Who with any passing knowledge of history would want to revisit that dark road?

Tammerlin Drummond is a columnist for the Bay Area News Group. Her column runs Thursday and Sunday. Contact her at tdrummond@bayareanewsgroup.com, or follow her at Twitter.com/tammerlin.