20 November 2015

Refuting Ignorance

George Takei posted on his Facebook page a letter issued by David A. Bowers, mayor of Roanoke, Virginia.

The mayor's comparison of the Syrian refugee crisis to internment of Japanese Americans in World War II demonstrates that Mayor Bowers understands neither history nor current events. There is an underlying theme of xenophobia.

Takei's comments have gone viral, reappearing in many publications.
Mayor Bowers, there are a few key points of history you seem to have missed:

1) The internment (not a "sequester") was not of Japanese "foreign nationals," but of Japanese Americans, two-thirds of whom were U.S. citizens. I was one of them, and my family and I spent 4 years in prison camps because we happened to look like the people who bombed Pearl Harbor. It is my life’s mission to never let such a thing happen again in America.

2) There never was any proven incident of espionage or sabotage from the suspected “enemies” then, just as there has been no act of terrorism from any of the 1,854 Syrian refugees the U.S. already has accepted. We were judged based on who we looked like, and that is about as un-American as it gets.

3) If you are attempting to compare the actual threat of harm from the 120,000 of us who were interned then to the Syrian situation now, the simple answer is this: There was no threat. We loved America. We were decent, honest, hard-working folks. Tens of thousands of lives were ruined, over nothing. 
Mayor Bowers, one of the reasons I am telling our story on Broadway eight times a week in Allegiance is because of people like you. You who hold a position of authority and power, but you demonstrably have failed to learn the most basic of American civics or history lessons. So Mayor Bowers, I am officially inviting you to come see our show, as my personal guest. Perhaps you, too, will come away with more compassion and understanding.

-- George Takei

Learn more about our show here:

I might take issue with one small point in Takei's refutation. The Interment of Japanese Americans did take place after Pearl Harbor, but there was planning and discussion of the enterprise in the months leading up to Pearl Harbor. The degree and extent of United States actions against both the Japanese and the Germans prior to formal declaration of war is too easily forgotten.

Concerns about the loyalty of Japanese immigrants and their citizen children had been thoroughly investigated earlier in 1941 by Curtis B. Munson, who gathered much of his information from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Office of Navy Intelligence.

Munson addressed the prospects of putting Japanese Americans in concentration camps.
We do not want to throw a lot of American citizens into a concentration camp of course, and especially as the almost unanimous verdict is that in case of war they will be quiet, very quiet.
As quoted in Greg Robinson, By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001), 66
When I taught this material at Washington State University in the 1990s, students would often insist that only late twentieth century liberal critics of the Internment Camps would use the term concentration camps. The textual evidence of the time reveals that concentration camps was the term used prior to Pearl Harbor. Only after the the declaration of war and the firing up of the government's propaganda machine did the term "relocation centers" come into use. Later, these camps were named "internment camps" to distinguish US actions from those of Nazi Germany.

16 November 2015

Is History is the Memory of States?

No significant conclusions are possible in the study of foreign affairs—the study of states acting as units—without an awareness of the historical context. For societies exist in time more than in space. At any given moment a state is but a collection of individuals, as positivist scholars have never wearied of pointing out. But it achieves identity through the consciousness of a common history. This is the only "experience" nations have, their only possibility of learning from themselves. History is the memory of states.
Henry A. Kissinger, A World Restored (1957)
Henry Kissinger presumes the existence of nationalism. Nationalism requires a collective memory, a set of shared experiences among disparate individuals.

In "History is the Memory of States" (2009), I extracted a longer passage from Kissinger's A World Restored (1957). My concern there was to pose some questions concerning Howard Zinn's use of Kissinger's assertion, "History is the memory of states," as a foil against which to develop his People's History. Zinn quoted the statement accurately, obscured the context, and produced a history that is vastly different in emphasis than anything written by Kissinger.

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