Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A mistake we must never make again -- Column of Dec. 10, 2015


Donald J. Trump defended his proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the country by citing President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

“This is a president highly respected by all; he did the same thing,” Trump said Tuesday on ABC.

I needed a refresher on FDR. What I found was dismaying – and instructive.

Within weeks of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt issued three presidential proclamations declaring Japanese, German and Italian immigrants who were not naturalized citizens “enemy aliens.” The proclamations ordered these residents to turn in their guns, ammunition, cameras, short-wave radios and other items and imposed other restrictions.  

Soon after, in February 1942, FDR then issued Executive Order 9066. It gave the military the power to ban any citizen from a swath of Washington state, California and southern Arizona and led to the relocation -- without any charges or trials -- of 120,000 Japanese Americans.

Many who were herded onto trains bound for 10 internment camps in remote parts of the West and South were American citizens.

Trump insists that he’s not proposing internment camps, but, as we see from FDR’s experience, letting fear dictate policy is a slippery slope. While many Republicans have rightly condemned Trump’s proposal, his fans – even some in elective office -- approve.    

“What he’s saying is no different than the situation during World War II, when we put the Japanese in camps,” New Hampshire state Rep. Al Baldasaro, co-chairman of Trump’s state veterans coalition, told a Manchester TV station.

Instead of likening himself to FDR, Trump should have cited Ronald Reagan, who apologized for the terrible injustice perpetrated in World War II.

“Here we admit a wrong,” President Reagan said when he signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, in which the federal government provided restitution to Japanese Americans who were interned. The government gave $20,000 each to about 60,000 survivors, a pittance for lost years, homes and careers.

You can read Reagan’s quotation at the National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism in World War II just north of the U.S. Capitol. The memorial commemorates not only a shameful chapter in American history but also the loyalty and bravery of Japanese Americans who served the country in war even as their families were being held in camps.

Few tourists find their way to the memorial, in what amounts to a traffic island at the intersection of Louisiana and New Jersey avenues and D Street NW. Few read the 800 names inscribed on stone panels of Japanese American troops who were killed in action.

The Army’s 442nd Regimental Combat Team was a segregated unit composed entirely of Nisei, first-generation Japanese American citizens. The 442nd fought in eight major campaigns in Europe and became the most highly decorated unit for its size and length of service.

At the center of the memorial, two bronze cranes entangled in barbed wire rise 14 feet. In Japan, the crane is an icon of longevity and good luck. Here, they symbolize the struggle over cruel circumstances. The memorial is intended to tell not only the story of Japanese Americans but of all Americans’ patriotism and perseverance.

Trump justifies his ban on Muslims’ entering the country because we are at war, although there are Muslims serving in our armed forces in the fight against terrorism. 
Some of these heroes rest in Arlington National Cemetery.  

Reagan said in 1988 about the mistreatment of Japanese Americans: “Yes, the nation was then at war, struggling for its survival and it’s not for us today to pass judgment upon those who may have made mistakes while engaged in that great struggle. Yet we must recognize that the internment of Japanese Americans was just that: a mistake.”

The Japanese Americans memorial group raised $13 million to build the memorial, which was dedicated in 2000 and now is part of the National Park Service.

The memorial does not just look back in history. It also offers a way forward, thanks to a quotation from the late Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D- Hawaii. The son of Japanese immigrants, Inouye enlisted in the Army when the 442nd was created and lost his right arm fighting in Europe.

“The lessons learned must remain as a grave reminder of what we must not allow to happen again to any group,” Inouye said. Amen.


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