In 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “The principle on which this country was founded and by which it has always been governed is that Americanism is a matter of mind and heart; Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race or ancestry.”
A year earlier, however, Roosevelt had authorized incarcerating more than 110,000 innocent people based on their ancestry, in what he called “concentration camps.” Although two-thirds were U.S. citizens, they were targeted because of their ancestry and the way they looked. How could this happen?
In 1941 the United States entered World War II after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Without evidence, key U.S. leaders claimed that all people of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast of the U.S. posed a risk to national security. Justifying it as a “military necessity,” the government forced U.S. citizens and their immigrant elders to leave their homes and live in camps under armed guard.
In 1983, however, a U.S. congressional commission uncovered evidence from the 1940s proving that there had been no military necessity for the unequal, unjust treatment of Japanese Americans during WWII. The commission reported that the causes of the incarceration were rooted in ” … race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership.”
The pic above is an internment survivor who shared her story at Quest during our Faith & Race class several years ago. The stories were all very powerful. How did this ever happen? And what can we do to ensure that this
will not happen can stop happening to Muslims and Arabs in our contemporary context? Another good resource: PBS Documentary – Children of the Camps.
CHICAGO, IL – Senator Barack Obama today released the following Day of Remembrance statement to commemorate the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
“This is a day of remembrance not just for Japanese Americans, but for all Americans. The internment of Japanese Americans during World War II was one of the darkest moments in our nation’s history – a moment when fear led us to compromise our most fundamental rights.
Today, as we once again weigh the demands of security and liberty, let’s remember that it’s in times like these – times of great national challenge – when our ideals of justice and equality are tested most, and when it’s most important that we uphold them.
These are ideals that Japanese Americans have always upheld with dignity, and these are ideals that I will uphold each and every day as President of the United States.