Given that ideas like prohibiting Muslims from entering the U.S. or closing off the U.S.-Mexican border are now considered mainstream, it seems only fitting that we all take a moment to acknowledge today as the 74th anniversary of President Franklyn Roosevelt’s infamous Executive Order 9066. That decree authorized the arrest and imprisonment of more than 100,000 American citizens of Japanese descent.
The camps throughout the American Mainland are most famous, but there were also camps here in Hawaii, like the Honouliuli camp pictured above. All were part of a massive miscarriage of justice that continues to haunt us to this day.
“The rationale cited in Executive Order 9066 was espionage, but the true causes were wartime hysteria, overt racism, and latent jealousy over the commercial and agricultural success of Japanese immigrants (issei) and their descendants, the nisei (second-generation) and sansei (third-generation),” Carl Cannon noted in this Real Clear Politics essay posted today.
Democratic National Committee AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) Caucus Chair Bel Leong-Hong was even pointed, in a statement released today to the media:
“Today, we shed light on one of the darkest moments in our nation’s history. Seventy-four years ago, the United States began removing 120,000 Japanese Americans from their homes and forcing them into internment camps. We must remind ourselves of the constant need to ensure the freedoms and rights of every American. We commemorate the brave men, women, and children who were unconscionably mistreated by the country they called home, and we renew our commitment to prevent such abuses. We cannot erase our past, but we can strive to acknowledge, protect, and defend the rights of those facing injustice and discrimination, and ensure history does not repeat itself.”
In her recent book The Three-Year Swim Club, writer Julie Checkoway vividly described internment’s misery and injustice, even way out here on Maui. In fact, Maui’s first internee was none other than Ichior “Iron” Maehara’s father:
“The first man that the G-men took prisoner was Mr. Maehara, the Japanese school principal and husband of Mrs. Maehara, the woman who used to protect Johnny [Tsukano], his brothers, and the other camp kids from the luna back in the old days when they used to be chased at the ditch. Everyone in camp knew Mrs. Maehara was a good woman and Mr. Maehara was a patriot. He had an American flag in each of his Japanese School classrooms, and he made his students say the Pledge of Allegiance six times a week in both Japanese and English.”
After Maehara, the FBI hauled away a Buddhist priest who spoke fluent English and often gave sermons “on the duties of American citizenship.” All in the name of national security.
In 2007, MauiTime reporter Greg Mebel explored our county’s own history in regards to Japanese internment. His resulting story, titled “The Camp,” uncovered some surprising details about the internment camp that once stood in Haiku, even though at the time he could locate few accounts and no photographs of it:
“[Kinori] Nishino exemplifies the arbitrary, often contradictory grounds for imprisonment Japanese Americans faced. [Priscilla] Shingmoto said her father went to the camps because he was a Judo instructor and community leader. She said that military authorities considered those characteristics “a threat, or whatever.”
“[Kenneth] Okano, her Lahainaluna chauffeur, heard a different story. “I heard Nishino was sent to the camp because when he’d make laundry deliveries, he would boast that the Japanese were going to win the war,” he said. Okano added that usually, just teachers, Buddhist reverends, businessmen and people involved with the Japanese government were sent to the camps.”
Click here to read MauiTime‘s story on the old Haiku internment camp.
Photo of the Honouliuli Internment Camp on Oahu: National Park Service/Wikimedia Commons