Seventy years ago, FD Roosevelt signed the order to put into camps in the interior of the US 110.000 Americans of Japanese ancestry, mostly born on American soil and living on the west coast, solely on the grounds of racial origin.
We know, and knew then, they posed little threat to America’s security in the wake of Imperial Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbour.
And yet, Americans Japanese living in Hawaii escaped imprisonment. Demographics, geography, politics, economics, and racism played their role in interning the Japanese on the west coast; in Hawaii, the Japanese were too numerous to intern, and yet, it was in the territory of Hawaii that Japan struck destroying the US Pacific fleet.
The Japanese were no more a threat to the security of the US than a handful of Japanese or Germans or Italians represented to ports on the east or west coasts.
Imprisoning west coast Japanese fit like a glove into the politics of racialism and economic envy and competition long simmering in California, in particular. The issuing of Roosevelt’s proclamation allowed white American to seize billions in property at bargain basement prices since the American Japanese could only bring what they could carry to the camps that they themselves had to build for themselves in desert areas.
Seventy years later, we see spying on and targeting Muslim Americans on the sole criterion of religion.Even though polls have shown that the vast majority are law abiding citizens and loyal to the red, white, and blue, 9/11 casts a long shadow on Muslims in America.
Laws passed 70 years ago allowing internment camps remain valid and on the books. And Guantanamo remains a shadowy reference to what could happen even to good Muslim American citizens when preventive detention gets out of hand as it did 70 years ago against American Japanese.
Although the US beat its breast in shame for the internment of Japanese Americans in 1988, the stain and the shame remain, as well as the temptation of expediency to brand Americans with the stigma of a Cain on the shakiest of grounds to quell popular fear and serve narrow, provincial political purposes.