In light of yesterday’s 74th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, it seems a good time to recall that tragedy and relate it to events occurring now.
Three U.S. ships afire at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941: the USS West Virginia, Tennessee, and Arizona. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia and the National Archives and Records Administration.
I spent two years researching and writing an historical novel, How Much Do You Love Me?, which revolves around the Japanese internment of World War II. It is both a mystery and a love story, my purpose being to shine a light on this historical travesty. If you read my book, you will understand why the internment occurred, how it was executed, and the impact that it had on 120,000 West Coast Japanese Americans. In several Barnes and Noble book-signings this holiday season, more than one person has recognized the analogy to events happening today, most recently the San Bernardino shootings. Is there a similarity to what happened in 1941? Let’s compare the details.
Point Number 1: The attack on the Pacific fleet in Pearl Harbor was completely unexpected and, as memorably stated by President Roosevelt at the time, “Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America….” The shootings in San Bernardino on December 2 were also unexpected, with fourteen people murdered and twenty-one injured.
Point Number 2: The Pearl Harbor attack was perpetrated by a nation state whose ethnic group was a minority in the United States. The San Bernardino attack was conducted by two individuals who were radicalized extremists who claimed to be Islamic. Islam is a minority religion in the U.S.
Point Number 3: Not long after Pearl Harbor, certain public officials stoked anti-Japanese hysteria, resulting in an intense fear of anyone who looked Japanese, particularly on the West Coast where most lived. In the same way, Republican Presidential frontrunner, Donald Trump, has followed suit. He now recommends that Muslims be prevented from entering our country. What his anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim statements have done is to fuel fear of the Muslim population in the U.S.
How will this play out? I can tell you what happened in December 1941. Almost immediately following Pearl Harbor, FBI agents fanned out, questioning and searching the homes of Japanese Americans. And little more than two months later, on February 19, national hysteria led President Roosevelt to take action that sealed the fate of all West Coast Japanese Americans. He did this even though the head of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover himself, did not believe that Japanese Americans posed any threat. Executive Order No. 9066 led to the internment of some 120,000 people. As I state during my signings, “if you were of Japanese ancestry and lived on the West Coast in February of 1942, you were forcibly removed from your home and taken to an internment camp.” Two-thirds of those interned were American citizens, whose rights were ridden roughshod over.
The internment of Japanese Americans during World War II is a stain on the historical consciousness of the United States. (In 1988, President Reagan signed legislation that apologized.) Most of the time our country has acted honorably, both in peacetime and in war. However, there are instances when we have acted neither nobly nor fairly and for which we need reminding so as not to repeat our mistakes. The unjustified internment of Japanese Americans during World War II was one of those times.
Will anxiety stoked by politicians cause us to vilify our Muslim minority, as we did with the Japanese Americans? I think not. I’m confident that politicians and others with a public voice who remember history will counter the hateful rhetoric of those who have forgotten American values and democratic principles.
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This post was written by paulmarktag