I am inspired to write this particular post both by George Takei and the daily imbroglio in which we find ourselves.
George Takei published commentary on Japanese internment camps in remembrance and commemoration of February 19, 1942, when Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order allowing for the internment of Japanese-Americans. Takei was one of the 120,000 Japanese-Americans taken from his home and transported to a camp. He is a living example of the horrors the United States has been willing to commit in the past. His words are also a warning against following the same path in the present.
I was 12 when I first learned about the Japanese internment camps. I read Journey to Topaz as part of the World War II unit in sixth grade. I was horrified that the United States could engage in a war where the enemy interned and murdered millions of Jews, while interning people at home. The fact that Topaz is in Utah, my home state, made the knowledge all the more painful and shameful.
It felt like a betrayal, to learn about Japanese internment. Being 12, I was no stranger to some of the atrocities of America's past and present--slavery and Civil Rights units were included each year in elementary school. Being ambiguously brown, I was no stranger to the racism non-white Americans experience and thus aware of how much worse it must be for Americans who are less ambiguous. But the irony of Japanese camps during World War II, and the feeling that 12 was far too old to learn about them for the first time, filled me with anger.
I was angry at the past. I was angry at the education system. I was angry that my freedom-for-all crying country robbed thousands of people of freedom simply because these people looked like the "enemy."
And thus began my slow but inevitable journey to harboring great cynicism towards America's culture and history.
Takei's commentary isn't relevant only because February 19 is a woeful day in our history. It is especially relevant today--and his essay isn't shy about pointing this out--because America is on the cusp of repeating itself, and in many ways already has.
The infamous Travel Ban targets Muslims. Hate crimes have risen. Immigrant populations--both documented and undocumented--live in fear of deportation and the break up of families. ICE raids have broadened to include immigrants who have not committed crimes. President Obama's DACA is crumbling. We have a president who neglects to mention Jews in a speech on Holocaust Remembrance Day, and who seems to think Frederick Douglass is still alive.
In his essay Takei said:
I cannot help but hear in these words terrible echoes from the past. The internment happened because of three things: fear, prejudice and a failure of political leadership. When the administration targets groups today, whether for exclusion from travel here on the basis of religion and national origin, or for deportation based on their undocumented status, I know from personal experience that these are not done, as they claim, truly in the name of national security.
No, instead they are intended to strike fear into communities, to show the muscle and "toughness" of a new president, and to divide the citizenry against itself. These are the acts of a despot, not an elected leader.
Now is not the time to ignore the world around you. Now is not the time to pretend the new administration is in any way normal and akin to presidencies past. Now is not the time to give into fear or hate or scapegoating.
The Japanese internment camps cannot be a precedent for Muslim-registry, as Trump surrogate Carl Higbie suggested. Hate and fear cannot win.
The cliché says that if we do not learn from the mistakes of the past, we are doomed to repeat them. The striking thing is we have no excuses today. The Internet and libraries and education give us access to information and history like never before--we know better.
Barring a regime takeover that includes re-writing history, book burnings, and information suppression, historians in the future will analyze our time and consider what happens now, and what happens next. The reality we face is: Do we want to enable hate and harm, repeating darkness from the past, or do we want to stand together against fear and hate?
It's up to you to decide.