Saturday, February 17, 2007  

A National Shame Remembered

Whereas, The successful prosecution of the war requires every possible protection against espionage and against sabotage to national defense material, national defense premises and national defense utilities as defined in Section 4, Act of April 20, 1918, 40 Stat. 533 as amended by the Act of November 30, 1940, 54 Stat. 1220. and the Act of August 21, 1941. 55 Stat. 655 (U.S.C., Title 50, Sec. 104):

Ironically, this day of remembrance falls on President's Day, February 19. On February 19th, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Excutive Order 9066, thus designating tens of thousabds of immigrants and their native born children as "enemy aliens."
Bowing to and fostering national fear, racism and exclusionary politics, Executive Order 9066 caused the arrest and detention of Japanese immigrants, Japanese-Americans, Italian immigrants, Italian-Americans, German immigrants and German-Americans, mostly on the West Coast.
The Japanese and Japanese-Americans bore the brunt of this order-they were "relocated" en masse to detention centers closer to the interior-places that were converted horse stables, abandoned buildings, etc. Their properties were often pillaged by their neighbors, their houses occupied, their businesses destroyed. Many Japanese-Americans never formally graduated high school since they were "relocated" before the end of the school year. Many of the young men were drafted into the army so they could "prove" what good citizens they were of a country which had killed habeus corpus and denied them their Constituional civil rights. These men formed the "Nisei Regiment," the most highly decorated of the war.
My family, too, were the subject of Executive Order 9066. Luckily for them, as Italians, they were not relocated, but their neighbors were not so lucky. That whole family, including their US-born American citizen children were sent to the camps. Before leaving, the father asked my grandfather, a fellow "enemy alien" to keep his family's things in my family's barn. This my grandfather did, and when the family came back, four years later, they gave my grandfather a kitchen table around which my family ate, every day of my life. These simple acts of decency and of gratitude are inscribed in that table and in the food handed around it.
This I remember.
There are those who would be apologists for this action- who claim that Executive Order 9066 was necessary for the safety of the nation. That it was to be expected. I don't believe this for one minute.
Like Martin Luther King, Jr. I believe that for this nation to be a decent respectable nation, it must live out the conscience of its creed and its constitution.
It is in times like these that the defense of our civil liberties is most incumbent upon us. They are not to be taken lightly (and therefore become optional), nor are they to be conferred upon minorities at the pleasure of the mainstream. For our civil liberties to have meaning, they must be vigorously applied without prejudice to all in times of crisis, lest they become meaningless in times of fair weather, when it is easiest to pay them lip service.
And so I, the grandchild of "enemy aliens," ask you, my fellow Americans to spend a few minutes remembering what fear, racism and a lack of conscience made possible 60 years ago.
In this time of crisis, as this administration herds us to the brink of another war, we must not allow them to con us into betraying what is the hallmark of this country: our collective civil liberties.

Robin over at Under the Holly Tree has an excellent list of activities you can go to.

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