75 years ago, on february 19, 1942, executive order 9066 was signed, enabling the incarceration of japanese americans. our federal government stole 3 years of the lives of over 100,000 people, stole their livelihoods and dignity as well, in many cases. they did this in the name of national security. the rights of these people were suspended based on suspicion, not fact or evidence.
the fact is, that no evidence of spying or sabotage by any japanese americans has ever been discovered.
alternative facts, circa 1942:
“The Japanese race is an enemy race and while many second and third generation Japanese born on American soil, possessed of American citizenship, have become ‘Americanized,’ the racial strains are undiluted. …It, therefore, follows that along the vital Pacific Coast over 112,000 potential enemies, of Japanese extraction, are at large today. There are indications that these are organized and ready for concerted action at a favorable opportunity. The very fact that no sabotage has taken place to date is a disturbing and confirming indication that such action will be taken.”
— General John L. DeWitt, head of the U.S. Army’s Western Defense Command
“A viper is nonetheless a viper wherever the egg is hatched—so a Japanese-American, born of Japanese parents—grows up to be a Japanese, not an American.”
— Los Angeles Times, February 2, 1942
did you know that nowhere in executive order 9066 did president roosevelt identify the particular americans whose rights would be violated? the order simply circumvented the constitution by establishing a zone from which “any or all” persons could be excluded. i didn’t know that until a few days ago, and the comparison to current events came into sharper focus for me.
(white) Wartime Civil Control Administration workers
because japanese americans looked like the enemy, they were given identification numbers, put on buses, and forced to sleep on straw mattresses in horse stalls. they were not given due process, not charged with crimes, because they hadn’t committed any crime. evacuees built the barbed wire fence intended to contain themselves; forcing prisoners of war to labor is a violation of the geneva convention which states, “No persons may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed.”
prisoners clearing more land to hold more prisoners
in the grip of fear, we lost sight of our values.
george takei, who was five years old when his family was imprisoned, reminds us that, “The stigmatization, separation and labeling of our fellow humans based on race or religion has never led to a more secure world. But it has too often led to one where the most vulnerable pay the highest price.”
i was touched by the photos of japanese prisoners taken by dorothea lange. in the spirit of frederick douglass, i am once again engaging in photo activism, borrowing her amazing work, which as far as i understand, is in the public domain. up until 2006, most of them were hidden away in the national archive, and were only seen for the first time a decade ago.
i was particularly moved by the photos of japanese american farmers who were removed from their land, as a farm kid myself, there are few things that pain me as much as the thought of losing our land. though it was claimed the prisoners would be “given opportunities to continue farming and other callings,” that promise was obviously never going to make up for the loss of land and livelihood, and reminds me a bit of the potted plants i kept on my sidewalk when i lived in the city.
there isn’t (to my knowledge) an official day of remembrance for the japanese internment, but informally, many paused and remembered this past sunday, on the 75th anniversary of executive order 9066. i hope we do not need to commit any more atrocities against people of any race, religion, or ethnicity, because the calendar feels full of heavy, dark remembrances already. may remembering these grim events in our collective past prevent more crimes against humanity from bring committed; may we live based on love instead of fear.