Remembering to Learn from the Past

On the album Under American Skies, Tom Paxton sings (YouTube video set to the song):

He said, My name is Nakashimau
I am a proud American.
I came here in ’27,
From my homeland of Japan.
And I picked your grapes and oranges,
Saved some money, bought a store.
Until 1942,
Pearl Harbor, and the War.

Came the relocation orders,
They took our house, the store, the car,
And they drove us through the desert,
To a place called Manzanar.
A Spanish word for apple orchards,
Though we saw no apple trees.
Just the rows of prison barracks,
With the barbed wire boundaries.


And we dream of apple blossoms
Waving free beneath the stars,
Till we wake up in the desert,
The prisoners of Manzanar,

For many, the camps of Manzanar were one of the most shameful things our government did during World War II. An article in today’s Daily Mirror Blog highlights how the camps were “sold” to the general public. The article, published in the LA Times 70 years ago today, talks about the building of the camps. The blog (which has a scan of the article) includes the following quote:

Manzanar is the former site of a fruit-growing community of the era preceding acquisition of most of the Owens Valley by the city of Los Angeles in the ’20s. The reception center administration building occupies the site of the Manzanar apple packing plant which flourished before Los Angeles reached into the high Sierra for its water supply.””… The climate is bracing and is considered as healthful as could be desired.

“With these considerations in mind, the center will furnish the Japanese with every comfort except the bright lights of Little Tokyo, from which many of them come.

“If American citizens in Japan are accommodated just one-half as considerately, they should be able to sit out the war in comfortable circumstances.

What bothers me most is the doublespeak so blatant in the article:

First occupants of the concentration point will be 100 Japanese artisans–carpenters, plumbers, painters, electricians, etc.–who will arrive tomorrow to assist in construction of their wartime community.

An estimated 1000 other Japanese–all volunteer deserters of the “no-alien’s land” that Southern California is swiftly becoming are scheduled to arrive Monday.

Many today have forgotten how our Government could so easily justify doing these things to loyal citizens who had done no wrong–and how they could get the public to go along. The best way to prevent this in the future is to remember what we did in the past. This article was a good reminder how the media was used to present the issue with a particular convincing angle that made the unpalatable palatable. It is also a reminder of how important it is to make the correct choices in elections, and to not elect people who believe they are doing some greater good when they take away the rights of others.