The awful lessons of internment

November 28, 2016

Ryan Chikaraishi looks at the dangerous rhetoric about internment coming from Trump and the bigots around him--and asks how the threat can be confronted.

AFTER THE Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt, an alleged "progressive" Democrat, issued Executive Order 9066, which forcibly removed around 120,000 people of Japanese descent living on the West Coast and, regardless of citizenship status, "relocated" them.

My grandparents were forced from their homes and given two weeks to pack what they could carry before eventually ending up at concentration camps, as the Japanese refer to them, in Rohwer, Arkansas. They were forced to reside in former stables that smelled of manure, were surrounded by barbed wire, and had armed guards watching them 24/7.

However, there was some beauty from the chaos for my grandparents. They met in camp and recently celebrated their 71st wedding anniversary. They still reside in Chicago.

Thousands of law-abiding citizens had their lives transformed overnight. They lost their livelihoods and possessions, had to register with the War Relocation Authority, and were considered potential enemy combatants and spies because of their ethnic background--despite most of them being born and raised in America.

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My grandparents' families lost most of what they owned and had to rebuild from nothing after the war. After resettling, my grandfather was fired from a job because there were "too many Japanese" working there, and it looked bad for business.

The same poisonous conditions are building up in 2016, and this time, the targets are Muslims.

In December 2015, Donald Trump was asked by Time if he supported the internment of Japanese-American citizens during the Second World War. His response was, "I would have had to be there at the time to tell you, to give you a proper answer. I certainly hate the concept of it. But I would have had to be there at the time to give you a proper answer."

Given the context of his anti-immigrant, Islamophobic and racist diatribes, one can only shudder in fear at a statement that refuses to unequivocally denounce such abuses driven by racism and xenophobic ignorance. His own statements and policy recommendations have called for a "total and complete shutdown on Muslims entering America," as well as a national registry.

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And what is probably most unsettling of all, there is legal and historical precedent, as well as executive powers, to do this again. In a scene out of the 1940s, Trump supporter Carl Higbie told Megan Kelly of Fox News, "We've done it with Iran back a while ago" and "We did it during World War Two with the Japanese."

Meanwhile, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 has a clause that states:

Whenever the president finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.

While it is true that the First Amendment protects the practice of religion, there are ways to "shut down" Muslims from entering America by excluding them based on their nationality.

Trump has modified his comments on his Muslim ban, possibly because he is aware of this. In July 2015, he stated he would halt immigration "from any nation that has been compromised by terrorism." This includes around 40 countries, many of which are allies of the U.S., such as France and Germany.

Another frightening legal precedent is Korematsu v. the United States, one of the most infamous Supreme Court cases of all time. In a 6-3 ruling, the court upheld the government's decision to incarcerate Japanese citizens during the Second World War.

This case has technically never been overturned. The New York Times reported that one reason it hasn't been overruled is because a similar case has not happened. Well, we might not have to wait long now.

Trump might very well be on his way to not only using his executive powers to ban Muslims, thus discriminating based on religious background, but also appointing more justices to the Supreme Court.

Supreme Court justices themselves admit that we are not far off from this happening again. In 2014, the late Justice Antonin Scalia told a group of students in Hawaii: "But you are kidding yourself if you think the same thing will not happen again," referring to the detainment of Japanese people during the Second World War.

With Trump's recent appointment of Stephen Bannon, head of the leading alt-right news source Breitbart News, and with the former Grand Wizard of the KKK, David Duke, praising the president-elect, the future is more Orwellian than ever, and I fear greatly for our Muslim brother and sisters.

We are headed into a disturbingly familiar scenario with a president-elect who spouts racist drivel and emboldens white ethno-nationalism. It's up to us to makes sure that history does not repeat itself.

The Indigenous holocaust, transatlantic slave trade, Jim Crow, Japanese internment, endless war against the "other": these things are all events that were allowed to happen due to outright racism and colonial policies, but they were also perpetuated by indifference and ignorance.

We must be the generation that refuses to be indifferent and rises up to challenge injustices like these head-on, even if it means directly confronting these pernicious machinations directly and forcefully until they are vanquished forever.

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