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  • Article: America's Concentration Camps Are a Warning, Not a Model. By Gary McGath

    America's Concentration Camps Are a Warning, Not a Model

    by


    December 29, 2015

    Woodrow Wilson’s reputation has recently taken a well-deserved beating because of his racial policies. He restored segregation in the federal civil service, and the infamous movie Birth of a Nation highlights his support for the Ku Klux Klan. Those policies are dead today, with very few advocates.

    However, a more recent president implemented an even worse race-based policy against Americans, and some politicians say we should emulate it today. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s executive order forcibly removed about 120,000 Japanese-Americans, mostly US citizens, from their homes.

    After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, people feared a Japanese attack on the West Coast, and many regarded the Japanese American population in California as disloyal. On February 19, 1942, Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which authorized the military to remove people from designated military areas.

    As explained in Greg Robinson’s By Order of the President, Roosevelt’s language was broad, but everyone understood “any and all persons” to mean Japanese-Americans and “military areas” to mean the West Coast. The removals included “Issei” — resident immigrants — as well as “Nisei” — native-born Americans with Japanese parents. Immigration from Japan had been banned since 1924, and all Japanese immigrants were ineligible for citizenship, although all had been living in America for at least eighteen years.

    They were forcibly removed to ten concentration camps. The government officially called them “relocation centers,” but Roosevelt himself used the words “concentration camp” in a recommendation as early as 1936, as did a military proposal in 1942. The occupants were kept behind barbed wire, and armed guards kept them from leaving.

    The mass displacement of Japanese-Americans, but not people of German or Italian extraction, was the result of racial rather than security considerations. Roosevelt showed a lifelong hostility toward the Japanese. Robinson states:

    FDR had a long and unvaried history of viewing Japanese-Americans in racialized terms, that is, as essentially Japanese in their identity and emotional allegiance, and of expressing hostility toward them on that basis.

    In the years before World War I, Roosevelt considered immigration part of the Japanese threat to the West Coast. During the 1920s, when Roosevelt urged better relations with Japan, he supported immigration restriction and legal discrimination in order to deter Japanese-American settlement.

    A report commissioned by Congress concluded that

    Executive Order 9066 was not justified by military necessity, and the decisions that followed from it — exclusion, detention, the ending of detention and the ending of exclusion — were not founded upon military considerations. The broad historical causes that shaped these decisions were race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership.

    As documented by Thomas Fleming in The New Dealers’ War, Roosevelt proposed removing an even larger number of Japanese and Japanese-Americans in Hawaii. The military objected because so many of them were skilled workers who were necessary to the war effort.

    The order banning Japanese-Americans from the West Coast was lifted in January of 1945, and the camps were shut down soon afterward. Many returned to find they couldn’t reclaim their property or return to their homes.

    These events should be a shameful chapter in America’s past, but even today people cite them as an example to follow. David Bowers, mayor of Roanoke, Virginia, ordered the city government to stop helping Syrian refugees, citing Roosevelt’s internment order as justification.

    Al Baldasaro, a New Hampshire state representative and co-chair of Donald Trump’s state veterans’ coalition, has defended Trump’s proposal to ban Muslim immigration by citing World War II internment: “What he’s saying is no different than the situation during World War II, when we put the Japanese in camps.”

    Trump has made the connection between his call for banning Muslim immigrants and creating a national registry and FDR's policies explicit:

    What I’m doing is no different than FDR’s solution for German, Italian, Japanese, you know... They stripped them of their naturalization proceedings. They went through a whole list of things; they couldn’t go five miles from their homes. They weren’t allowed to use radios, flashlights. I mean, you know, take a look at what FDR did many years ago and he’s one of the most highly respected presidents.

    Trump evaded the question of whether he would have supported Japanese internment, saying, “I would have had to be there at the time to give you a proper answer.” He wasn’t there, but there are still living Americans who were. One was George Takei, who played Lt. Sulu on Star Trek and was sent off at the age of five. He recalls how it happened:

    Without charges, without trial, without due process — the fundamental pillar of our justice system — we were summarily rounded up, all Japanese-Americans on the West Coast, where we were primarily resident, and sent off to 10 barb wire internment camps — prison camps, really, with sentry towers, machine guns pointed at us — in some of the most desolate places in this country.

    For the sake of a false sense of security, the US government ruined countless lives, imprisoned tens of thousands without charges, without even accusation, with only the mere fact of their skin color and ancestry. The internment stoked hatred against a minority group, squandered potential assets in the war, and fueled the Axis’s anti-American propaganda.

    The lesson that America’s concentration camps should have burned into our national consciousness that we must never do that again — not to a racial, national, or a religious minority, nor anyone else — no matter how afraid we are. They are a warning, not a model. 

    This post originally appeared on The Foundation for Economic Education. Reprinted with permission.


    About The Author

    Gary McGath Gary McGath is a freelance software engineer living in Nashua, New Hampshire.


    The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.

    Comments 3 Comments
    1. ImmigrationLawBlogs's Avatar
      ImmigrationLawBlogs -
      The infamous Japanese-American "relocation center" a/k/a concentration camp persecution is a warning that the line between depriving foreign citizens of basic human rights and doing the same to American citizens is a very thin one that is easily crossed.

      Americans must not stand by while the bigots and far right nationalists among us, including the presumptive presidential nominee of one of our two major political parties, propose to build walls, engage in mass expulsion, exclude immigrants on religious grounds and deprive US born children of birthright citizenship, merely because the targets of persecution (or in the case of the last mentioned group, their parents), are not US citizens.

      "Plenary power" to persecute non-US citizens can easily lead to the assumption of power to lock up and incarcerate American citizens too. That is the lesson that we can and must learn from the Japanese-American "relocation" episode, one of the darkest times in our entire history.

      Roger Algase
      Attorney at Law
    1. MKolken's Avatar
      MKolken -
      We don't have to wait for a Trump Presidency because Obama is already jailing refugee families in Japanese style internment camps:

      Last summer, the Obama administration announced its plans to open new immigrant family detention centers in response to the wave of women and children fleeing violence in Central and South America and seeking asylum in the United States. The ACLU and other advocacy groups quickly opposed the White House's policy because of the harm it would inflict on already traumatized women and children. This month, The New York Times editorial board described family detention simply as "immoral," and the U.N. Human Rights Council called upon the U.S. to "halt the detention of immigrant families and children." In the following piece, psychotherapist Satsuki Ina, who was born in a Japanese-American prison camp during World War II, recounts her visits to two so-called family detention facilities in Texas and the psychological toll detention takes on the women and children imprisoned there. — Matthew Harwood

      As for depriving immigrants of due process, it was a fundamental pillar of Hillary Clinton's last campaign for the White House: "You put them on a plane to wherever they came from." "immediately" "with no legal process"
    1. ImmigrationLawBlogs's Avatar
      ImmigrationLawBlogs -
      Matt seems to be fixated on statements that Hillary made in 2014. More recently, she has been critical of Obama's deportation raids and denial for counsel to Central American children. Call her opportunistic if you want. That is still a lesser evil than Trump's anti-immigrant hate and proto-fascist agenda for America.

      If Trump becomes president, the inmates of America's concentration camps will not be limited to immigrants. There will be no shortage of American citizens to keep them company, just as was the case during the Japanese-American wartime persecution.

      Are people who like to imagine that there is no difference between Trump and Hillary - that they are both equally obnoxious - really doing a service to America's immigrants? Are they really looking ahead to what will happen to the rights and freedoms of American citizens as well, especially those who support immigration, if Trump is elected this fall?

      Roger Algase
      Attorney at Law
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