"One's first step in wisdom is to question everything--and one's last is to come to terms with everything." ~ Georg Christoph Lichtenberg
Japantown, R.I.P.: An American Holocaust
Among the more infamous war crimes committed by the Nazis in World War II was the reprisal killing or deporting of the entire population of the Czech village of Lidice, and the razing of the homes, buildings and infrastructure of the town itself once the people were all removed or dead.
The 'reason' for this unreasonable act of deliberate murder of non-combatant civilians was simple revenge.
On May 29, 1942 , the deputy chief of the Gestapo, Reinhard Heydrich, was on his way to Prague when his motorcade was ambushed by Czech guerillas. Five days later Heydrich died, and the Nazis began a massive retaliation campaign against the civilian Czech populace. Approximately 1,300 persons were killed or deported to concentration or labor camps to avenge the killing of Heydrich. As WWII atrocities go, it was small potatoes. Many more died in other horrible acts of murder and genocide. The Warsaw Ghetto extermination killed 380,000.
In wars people die. That is a reality that is plainly obvious and one that has always been the case. What makes this incident so heinous is the deliberateness of the decision to destroy a viable community of innocent people. The Nazis and Soviets in particular committed these acts repeatedly all through the war. They were the types of States based on depraved ideologies and led by some of the most brutal rulers in modern times.
But is it really that shocking? No, not really. Those regimes had no basis for humane treatment in their character, so it should not come as a surprise. The ideologies of Nazism and Soviet Communism under Stalin viewed individual human life as a small matter easily sacrificed as needed for the greater good.
What would be truly shocking would be a similar persecution of an ethnic minority and the destruction of their communities and population centers by a State, the founding documents of which purport to exalt the individual above all else and protect him from the depredations of that very State. Soviet or Nazi atrocities, while shocking, are no surprise. Atrocities against Americans by other Americans with the full support of the very institutions meant to rein in the ability of the government to act in such a manner, on the other hand, are shocking. An American genocide is and should be shocking.
What is a surprise for the historically unlearned and the politically na've is the American Holocaust of WWII. The Second World War is still considered the 'good war' by many. The American people and the American history that they are taught gloss over the 'kinder, gentler' genocide perpetrated in the years 1942-46. The entire Japanese-American or 'Nisei' population of the American states of California , Oregon and Washington were rounded up by the US Army and local police, and deported to concentration camps.
The Nisei were overwhelmingly native born or naturalized American citizens. But this was of no matter to a country at war.
On February 19, 1942 , President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 authorizing the Army to "designate military areas" from which "any persons may be excluded." The words "Japanese" or "Japanese Americans" never appeared in the Order. But the intent of the command was used only against persons of Japanese ancestry. Italian Americans and German Americans, whose ancestral countries were also at war with the Allies, were to be exempted.
This imprisonment of Japanese Americans wiped out an entire Seattle, Washington community, forcing the 8,000 residents of "Japantown" to abandon their homes and small businesses. Including the Nisei of Oregon, California and the rest of Washington state, about 140,000 were arrested.
It isn't widely mentioned, but these Americans' real estate, tangible goods, and the rest of their possessions were seized without compensation or snapped up at firesale prices amounting to pennies on the dollar by politically connected speculators, similar to what happened to the European Jews forcibly removed by the Nazi regime.
Before the war, the small community was closely knit. About 85 percent of the residents were involved in small businesses, including shops, restaurants and hotels, said author and researcher Stephen Fugita.
After the war ended, the Nisei returned to Seattle , but the thriving enclave of Japantown was gone forever. The new owners of their former homes and businesses were in no way obliged by law to fairly compensate the former owners. Lawsuits to achieve this end in both Washington and federal courts were fruitlessly dismissed. All claims were denied.
Many of the former 'internees' returned to Seattle , but they said it just wasn't the same even though many settled in the same general area or neighborhood. I'll bet it wasn't, either.
So why call this essay 'An American Holocaust'? After all, it wasn't like they were killed in gas chambers or by overwork at slave labor as the Nazis, Soviets, and Dai Nippon did. Unlike Stalin, who deported the entire Chechen people to Siberia , the US government allowed them to return when the war ended. They had their lives disrupted and were shown once and for all that they were the 'other' and not part of the American family as they had always previously thought.
All the Constitutional mechanisms that provide for the protection of the rights of Americans against persecution by the majority acting through the government failed them.
Apologists for FDR and the US government often explain that 'it was war.' Begun by a sneak attack by people of their ethnicity too, and the government had to respond. Is not the assumption that it's better to be safe than sorry when it comes to protecting the homeland? Were not the victims of this forcible deportation to concentration camps and imprisonment given monetary compensation and an apology for their treatment, albeit decades later? Yes to all the above, although their property, possessions, dignity, and forbearance amounted to about 15 cents on the dollar.
Many times in discussions with other self-proclaimed friends of liberty, I am told that freedom of the individual must give way to what is best for the whole. Rights are 'guaranteed' by the law and the Constitution. Wrongs done by the majority acting its will through the State will be righted in time by the courts and if need be by future generations.
The death of Japantown is why I will never trust a constitution, laws, or any politician's promise that if things get ugly, not to worry. I know better. It can happen here. It did happen here.