Preventing the shame of repeated injustice

A shameful chapter from America’s past was remembered Sunday in the Bay Area as people gathered in memory of those who suffered and died in U.S. government Japanese internment camps during World War II.

President Franklin Roosevelt’s executive order led to the internment of more than 110,000 Japanese Americans from 1942 to 1946. Citizens throughout California and the West with as little as 1/16 Japanese ancestry were forced to leave their homes, jobs and schools to live in one of 27 remote internment camps.

At the time, Japanese Americans were responsible for 40-percent of vegetables grown in the state of California, and the economy suffered as a direct result of the internment.

Half of the Japanese Americans held in internment camps were children. Families were often split up between camps where they were held up to four years without due process.

Lane Hirabayashi, professor of Asian American Studies at UCLA and keynote speaker at San Francisco’s Day of Remembrance event, made a direct comparison between the Japanese internment and the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act recently signed by President Barack Obama. He told KCBS:

 “One of the things that we have on our minds right now is the recent part of the National Defense Act where the president has assumed the right and the power to summarily detain anyone who is thought to be a threat to national security.”

The act gives the President the power to detain anyone suspected of being a threat to national security without a trial, although Obama has said he will work to maintain the rights of U.S. citizens.

The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 finally paid reparations to those affected directly by the Japanese internment camps. When the camps ended at the end of World War II, detainees were given $25 and a train ticket back to their homes.

The trauma of the camps remained evident for decades in significantly higher rates of heart disease and premature death among those held captive.

The Japanese American Museum of San Jose (JAMSJ) currently has several exhibitions relating to the internment.