The views and opinions expressed on this site and blog posts (excluding comments on blog posts left by others) are entirely my own and do not represent those of any employer or organization with whom I am currently or previously have been associated.
Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.
Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.
Last week, the U.S. commemorated the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese military that led to the U.S.’s entry into World War II. Of course, the attack was a watershed moment in U.S. history — Japan’s unjustified and heinous act led to the deaths of 3,000 human beings, united the U.S. like never before, and in the end, was the start of Japan’s downfall as a imperial military power.
Unfortunately, the Pearl Harbor attacks also prompted the U.S. government to strip 120,000 Japanese Americans of their legal rights and imprison them without any due process, based largely on the “fear” that Japanese Americans would be loyal to Japan and engage in espionage or treason against their adopted U.S. homeland.
This entire “internment” episode has been recounted and analyzed over the years, most notably by the bipartisan Congressional “Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians,” which ultimately conducted a thorough investigation and in their final report titled “Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians,” finally concluded that the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II was a “grave injustice” and resulted from “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” Congress then approved and distributed a reparation payment of $20,000 to all surviving Japanese Americans who were imprisoned. To my knowledge, this is the only instance in which the U.S. government has officially apologized and provided monetary reparations to any of the injustices that they’ve committed in its history.
As it turns out, this week’s anniversary commemoration unfortunately prompted some to once again bring up the old argument that there was a logical rationale to the U.S.’s imprisonment of Japanese Americans, or that it was even completely justified. For example, in a museum review of Heart Mountain Interpretive Center (in Wyoming, site of one of the prison camps) in the Dec. 9, 2011 edition of the New York Times, ‘art critic’ Edward Rothstein engages in such musings.
Specifically, Rothstein uses a few historical examples of misdeeds by Japanese and Japanese Americans to argue that “the threat was palpable” and that therefore, there was a “rationale” for the U.S.’s subsequent imprisonment of 120,000 Japanese Americans. While Rothstein does state, “I am not suggesting that such factors justified the relocations,” the tone of his piece displays an ignorant accounting of the entire collection of historical facts surrounding how isolated incidents of Japanese and Japanese Americans misdeeds were exaggerated and generalized to an entire population, how many allegations of espionage and sabotage by Japanese Americans were never substantiated and even completely fabricated, and how similar and even more pernicious acts by Germans and German Americans were largely ignored.
Unfortunately, Rothstein’s piece is a sad example of selective memory, if not outright revisionist history. The examples he cited as providing “rationale” for the mass imprisonment are of dubious historical accuracy and value and even if valid, only reinforce and perpetuate the tired notion that the acts of a few can be taken out of context and generalized to an entire population. In response to Rothstein, I would like to share the responses of some of my colleagues who provide a more clear and comprehensive picture of the supposed “palpable” threat of Japanese Americans after the Pearl Harbor attacks:
In his attempt to understand the wartime removal of Japanese Americans, Edward Rothstein (“the How of Internment, but not all the Whys”, NYT, December 9) repeats a set of falsehoods and distortions about its causes. He insists that because Japan engaged in widespread espionage, and decoded Japanese messages (in reality a mere handful) spoke of contacts, surely Japanese Americans were implicated in espionage. In fact, Tokyo’s spymasters shied away from using Americans of Japanese ancestry, whose loyalty to Japan they rightly suspected, and made use of non-Japanese. Col. Kenneth Ringle, the prewar agent of the Office of Naval Information who broke the most important Japanese spy ring in Los Angeles and was in a position to know the facts, was an outspoken defender of the loyalty of Japanese Americans.
Similarly, Rothstein declares that the Japanese “threat was palpable” since a Japanese submarine had sunk American shops and shelled a California oil field. In fact, only a single American ship was sunk, compared to the hundreds sunk by German submarines off the East Coast, and the single shelling incident took place after the order to remove Japanese Americans had already been issued. Worse, Rothstein argues that the “treasonous” conduct of a Nisei couple in Hawaii validated the fears of government authorities about West Coast Japanese Americans. The absurdity of this statement is easily demonstrated by the fact that there was no mass roundup of the large Japanese community in Hawaii itself.
Although he insists that he is not justifying removal, cultural critic Rothstein sadly displays not only a carelessness toward history, but reveals how much the baseless ideas about “Japanese” disloyalty that led to mass removal still remain in the culture.
Associate Professor of History
Université du Québec a Montréal
I write this disappointed letter in response to Edward Rothstein’s December 9, 2011 piece, “The How of an Internment, but Not All the Whys.” Notwithstanding the express reason for this piece (as a review), I was particularly struck by Mr. Rothstein’s incomplete and incendiary reading of not only U.S. history but Japanese American history. Dismissing the “now standard” evaluation of the internment as the “result of wartime hysteria and racism,” Mr. Rothstein offers an allegedly “clearer understanding of the prewar Japanese-American population” rooted in familiar characterizations of yellow peril takeovers, perpetual foreign frames, and traitorous subjects. What is especially remarkable and distressing is that Mr. Rothstein manages – quite irresponsibly — to take NYT readers “back in time” to aforementioned “wartime hysteria and racism.”
Cathy J. Schlund-Vials
Assistant Professor, English and Asian American Studies
University of Connecticut
I teach Asian American Studies to graduates of this city’s k-12 system, and I am continuously disheartened by the many young people who have never heard of Japanese American internment, or, if they have, possess no meaningful understanding of the nature of the event. With that lack of information in mind, I was appalled to see your paper repeat long since discredited misinformation in apparent disregard for rigorous scholarly work, and the trauma inflicted upon thousands upon thousands of individuals and families who did nothing but look like “the enemy.” Despite his assurance to the contrary, Edward Rothstein’s review of the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center implies that we should explore long since debunked (dare I say “fringe”) theories that justify the racial stereotype of Japanese Americans as inherently treasonous, and thereby make excuses for what scholars agree is a racially motivated and shameful event in U.S. civil rights history.
Director, Asian American Studies Program
Hunter College, City University of New York
In Edward Rothstein’s review of the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center (“the How of Internment, but not all the Whys”, NYT, December 9) he declares that the unconstitutional incarceration of over 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry was “a geographic rationale, not simply a racial one.” Yet Mr. Rothstein fails to account for the fact that mass removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans did not occur at the site that propelled the U.S. into WWII—Hawaii. Indeed, all reputable scholars of the Japanese American Internment note that it was war time xenophobia and racism that spurred Executive Order 9066—an order that never specified ethnic ancestry and that effectively nullified the constitutional rights of every person living on the West Coast during WWII. FDR ordered the military to target Japanese Americans using EO9066. If that’s not a racial rationale, I’m not sure what is.
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Unfortunately, as a country, we are now poised to repeat the same mistake that was committed 70 years against Japanese Americans. Specifically, Congress is currently debating the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2013. One of the proposed provisions is to give U.S. government authorities the ability to arrest and indefinitely detain anybody who they deem to be a threat to national security — including U.S. citizens — without charging them with a crime or giving them a trial. In other words, it would basically legalize what happened to Japanese Americans after the Pearl Harbor attacks.
Fortunately, there is opposition to these provisions from both sides of the political spectrum. If you also oppose these provisions, I urge you to contact your Representative and Senator and tell them to vote against these provisions. As George Santayana’s quote goes, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
Below are some recently-released books that highlight the connections between past and present in the lives of Asian Americans. As scholars and philosophers will tell you, knowing where a particular group or nation has been is the first step towards knowing where they are going. As always, a book’s inclusion is for informational purposes only and does not necessarily mean a full endorsement of its contents.
The first half of the twentieth century witnessed a wave of Filipino immigration to the United States, following in the footsteps of earlier Chinese and Japanese immigrants, the first and second “Asiatic invasions.” Perceived as alien because of their Asian ethnicity yet legally defined as American nationals granted more rights than other immigrants, Filipino American national identity was built upon the shifting sands of contradiction, ambiguity, and hostility.
Rick Baldoz explores the complex relationship between Filipinos and the U.S. by looking at the politics of immigration, race, and citizenship on both sides of the Philippine-American divide: internationally through an examination of American imperial ascendancy and domestically through an exploration of the social formation of Filipino communities in the United States. He reveals how American practices of racial exclusion repeatedly collided with the imperatives of U.S. overseas expansion. A unique portrait of the Filipino American experience, The Third Asiatic Invasion links the Filipino experience to that of Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Chinese and Native Americans, among others, revealing how the politics of exclusion played out over time against different population groups.
Weaving together an impressive range of materials–including newspapers, government reports, legal documents and archival sources—into a seamless narrative, Baldoz illustrates how the quixotic status of Filipinos played a significant role in transforming the politics of race, immigration and nationality in the United States.
Both a history of an overlooked community and a well-rounded reassessment of prevailing assumptions about Chinese miners in the American West, In Pursuit of Gold brings to life in rich detail the world of turn-of-the-century mining towns in the Northwest. Sue Fawn Chung meticulously recreates the lives of Chinese immigrants, miners, merchants, and others who populated these towns and interacted amicably with their white and Native American neighbors, defying the common perception of nineteenth-century Chinese communities as insular enclaves subject to increasing prejudice and violence.
While most research has focused on Chinese miners in California, this book is the first extensive study of Chinese experiences in the towns of John Day in Oregon and Tuscarora, Island Mountain, and Gold Creek in Nevada. Chung illustrates the relationships between miners and merchants within the communities and in the larger context of immigration, arguing that the leaders of the Chinese and non-Chinese communities worked together to create economic interdependence and to short-circuit many of the hostilities and tensions that plagued other mining towns.
Peppered with fascinating details about these communities from the intricacies of Chinese gambling games to the techniques of hydraulic mining, In Pursuit of Gold draws on a wealth of historical materials, including immigration records, census manuscripts, legal documents, newspapers, memoirs, and manuscript collections. Chung supplements this historical research with invaluable first-hand observations of artifacts that she experienced in archaeological digs and restoration efforts at several of the sites of the former booming mining towns.
In clear, analytical prose, Chung expertly characterizes the movement of Chinese miners into Oregon and Nevada, the heyday of their mining efforts in the region, and the decline of the communities due to changes in the mining industry. Highlighting the positive experiences and friendships many of the immigrants had in these relatively isolated mining communities, In Pursuit of Gold also suggests comparisons with the Chinese diaspora in other locations such as British Columbia and South Africa.
Prisons and Patriots provides a detailed account of forty-one Nisei (second-generation Japanese Americans), known as the Tucsonians, who were imprisoned for resisting the draft during WWII. Cherstin Lyon parallels their courage as resisters with that of civil rights hero Gordon Hirabayashi, well known for his legal battle against curfew and internment, who also resisted the draft.
These dual stories highlight the intrinsic relationship between the rights and the obligations of citizenship, particularly salient in times of war. Lyon considers how wartime civil disobedience has been remembered through historyohow soldiers have been celebrated for their valour while resisters have been demonized as unpatriotic. Using archival research and interviews, she presents a complex picture of loyalty and conflict among first-generation Issei and Nisei.
Lyon contends that the success of the redress movement has made room for a narrative that neither reduces the wartime confinement to a source of shame nor proffers an uncritical account of heroic individuals.
Relative Histories focuses on the Asian American memoir that specifically recounts the story of at least three generations of the same family. This form of auto/biography concentrates as much on other members of one’s family as on oneself, generally collapses the boundaries conventionally established between biography and autobiography, and in many cases—as Rocío G. Davis proposes for the auto/biographies of ethnic writers—crosses the frontier into history, promoting collective memory.
Davis centers on how Asian American family memoirs expand the limits and function of life writing by reclaiming history and promoting community cohesion. She argues that identity is shaped by not only the stories we have been told, but also the stories we tell, making these narratives important examples of the ways we remember our family’s past and tell our community’s story.
In the context of auto/biographical writing or filmmaking that explores specific ethnic experiences of diaspora, assimilation, and integration, this work considers two important aspects: These texts re-imagine the past by creating a work that exists both in history and as a historical document, making the creative process a form of re-enactment of the past itself. Each chapter centers on a thematic concern germane to the Asian American experience: the narrative of twentieth-century Asian wars and revolutions, which has become the subtext of a significant number of Asian American family memoirs.
When Eleanor Swent began teaching English as a Second Language in 1967 at a school for adults in Oakland, California, she soon learned that many of the Asian immigrants in her classes had remarkable tales to tell of struggles in their homelands and their efforts to make new lives in America. This oral history, based on interviews Swent conducted with her students over thirty years, documents the Asian immigrant experience as never before.
Here are the stories of desperate individuals who swam to escape from China to Macao and Hong Kong; of Chinese daughters considered worthless by their families; of political refugees from Vietnam; of ethnic Chinese who fled by boat from Vietnam; of refugees from the genocide in Cambodia. As these remarkable new Americans learn different words and customs, they also enlarge our national vision, enriching our culture while assuring us that human dignity can rise above terrible circumstances.
Hailed as “irrepressibly spirited and entertaining” (Pico Iyer, Time) and “a fascinating cultural survey” (Paul Devlin, Daily Beast), this provocative first biography of Charlie Chan presents American history in a way that it has never been told before. Yunte Huang ingeniously traces Charlie Chan from his real beginnings as a bullwhip-wielding detective in territorial Hawaii to his reinvention as a literary sleuth and Hollywood film icon.
Huang finally resurrects the “honorable detective” from the graveyard of detested postmodern symbols and reclaims him as the embodiment of America’s rich cultural diversity. The result is one of the most critically acclaimed books of the year and a “deeply personal . . . voyage into racial stereotyping and the humanizing force of story telling.”
You might be interested to read the following posts from October of years past:
2009: Asian American Students Acting Like Idiots A fight and arrests of Asian American students at a party hosted by the Lambda Phi Epsilon fraternity brings up troubling questions of race, hyper-masculinity, and accountability.
The history of 120,000+ Japanese Americans imprisoned during World War II for nothing more than their Japanese ancestry is one of the saddest examples of government-sanctioned racism in American history. Fortunately, in 1986, a bipartisan Congressional committee officially concluded that this episode was indeed a “grave injustice” that resulted from “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership” and eventually, surviving Japanese American prisoners received a symbolic $20,000 reparation amount as a result.
Since then, three of the 20+ prison camp sites have been officially designated as National Historical Sites by the U.S. National Park Service — Manzanar and Tule Lake in California and Minidoka in Idaho. Unfortunately, as Regina Weiss recently wrote in the Huffington Post, the Minidoka site is in danger of becoming practically extinct:
[L]ast week . . . Judge Robert Elgee of Idaho’s Fifth District ruled in favor of the developers who plan to build a 13,000-head cattle feedlot adjacent to Minidoka, rendering it a historic attraction in name only. . . . Today, not even a decade after the Minidoka Internment Camp was promised permanent preservation as a National Historic Site, it is threatened with becoming permanently overshadowed by the massive waste lagoons, poisoned air and putrid water that characterize Idaho’s dairy CAFOs.
To quote one area resident who wants the project stopped, “If you imagine visiting a park near a CAFO, you wouldn’t even want to get out of the car, let alone have a picnic, peruse the waysides [or ] look for names on the Honor Roll.” Or, as Dan Everhart, president of the board of Preservation Idaho, put it, allowing the CAFO to go forward “would be a de facto closing of the [historic] site because no one would be able to get out of the car.” . . .
In a cruel twist of irony, the threat represented by the proposed confined animal feeding operation (CAFO, or factory farm) landed Minidoka on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of American’s Most Endangered Historic Places. Whether the CAFO will swallow up the historic site now depends on whether opponents of the proposed development can afford to appeal the August 3 ruling.
Ms. Weiss’s article provides a very nice history lesson about the contributions of Japanese American farmers to the western region of the U.S. and notes that even during their imprisonment and after their own farms were confiscated from them, Japanese Americans inside many of these camps were recruited to grow crops to help support U.S. troops fighting abroad.
The arguments about the multiple dangers of such corporate “farms” has been well-documented so I will only argue that, as a place of profound injustice and a history lesson about one of our government’s saddest mistakes and later, one of its proudest acts of redemption, the Minidoka site needs to be preserved. History is not always pleasant to learn about, but for the sake of future generations, it is important that we do.
If you would like to contribute to the effort to preserve the Minidoka War Relocation Center National Historical Site, please consider donating to Friends of Minidoka and their ongoing work to prevent its functional destruction.
I know many of my recent posts have focused on the “bad news” — examples of tensions and hostilities when it comes to racial/ethnic and immigration news. However, there are certainly examples of the opposite — positive and improving relations between different groups in American society that illustrate how cultural differences can be bridged, or at least traditionally underrepresented groups achieving success. Here is a summary of some of the “good news.”
Lebanese American immigrant Rima Fakih is crowned Miss USA for 2010. Ms. Fakih resides in Dearborn MI, home of the largest Arab American community in the U.S. and a site of several controversies and tensions in recent years. Nonetheless, her victory is a positive symbol that such tensions can be overcome in this particular instance:
Fakih, a Lebanese immigrant, told pageant organizers her family celebrates both Muslim and Christian faiths. She moved to the United States as a baby and was raised in New York, where she attended a Catholic school. Her family moved to Michigan in 2003. Pageant officials said historical pageant records were not detailed enough to show whether Fakih was the first Arab American, Muslim or immigrant to win the Miss USA title.
The latest officially-named “Little Saigon” celebrates the Lunar New Year in Sacramento CA, home to about 50,000 Vietnamese Americans. As sociologists have documented, these newly-emerging suburban ethnic enclaves have revitalized stagnant areas by bringing in new businesses, customers, tourists, residents, and revenue for the city and state. However, as some of the comments in the Sacramento Bee story linked above show, many people still harbor hostile sentiments to anything that they perceive to be “un-American.”
Thirty-five years after the fall of South Vietnam, Sacramento’s growing Vietnamese community will ask the City Council on Tuesday to designate a two-mile stretch of Stockton Boulevard as “Little Saigon.”
The business corridor south of Fruitridge Road – chock full of restaurants, nail and hair salons, jewelry stores and Asian markets – would become Sacramento’s first official ethnic neighborhood. Community leaders hope the branding will provide an economic shot in the arm that will defuse some of the crime along Stockton Boulevard.
Along the barren airwaves of AM radio in Northern California, somewhere between gospel music and traffic updates, Yia Yang can be heard telling his devoted listeners to always be aware of their gun muzzles.
A 50-year-old Hmong immigrant from northern Laos, Mr. Yang is the host of a regular all-things-hunting program on KJAY 1430-AM. The station serves one of the nation’s largest Hmong populations — one for whom the link between hunting and survival is still palpable. “In Laos a main source of food was wildlife,” said Mr. Yang, who owns a used-car lot in Sacramento, a city with more than 16,000 Hmong residents. . . .
State officials praise Mr. Yang for translating the nitty-gritty of fish and game law for people from an ethnic group that can be wary of authority figures. Capt. Roy Griffith, who runs the fish and game agency’s hunter education program and has been an on-air guest of Mr. Yang, said Mr. Yang provided “a huge service to the state.” . . . State agencies overseeing hunting and fishing in Minnesota and Wisconsin have hired Hmong speakers to educate, translate and work as cultural ambassadors to the Laotian immigrant population.
More than 70 Japanese Americans whose college careers at California State University campuses were derailed when they were sent to World War II internment camps are getting their diplomas. Six CSU campuses are awarding honorary degrees over the next three weeks to former students who were unable to complete their studies once they were forced into the camps established by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1942.
Some of the aging alumni plan to attend the special ceremonies and those who are deceased or unable to travel will be represented by their families. . . . Both the Cal State system and the University of California decided last year to belatedly honor the estimated 950 students of Japanese descent who were interned during the war. Students from four UC campuses – San Francisco, Berkeley, Davis and Los Angeles – received honorary degrees during winter commencement.
Goodwin Liu, Associate Dean and professor at the University of California at Berkeley law school, is poised to become only the second Asian American judge in the federal appeals courts after the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to pass his nomination to the full Senate for a vote. More generally, his success represents the progress of Asian Americans entering the highest levels of the judicial system.
Asian-Americans are 5 percent of the U.S. population and 15 percent of the doctors, but about 3 percent of the lawyers. When it comes to lawyers becoming federal judges, which requires strong networks and political connections, Asian-American representation is even smaller.
Ten of 875 active federal judges, just over 1 percent, are Asian-American, according to the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA). On the appeals court level, which has outsized influence in shaping the nation’s laws, only one of 175 judges is Asian: Denny Chin, who was confirmed just last month.
If Liu is confirmed, he would join Chin and Harold Koh, former dean of Yale Law School and currently a State Department legal adviser, as potential candidates to be the first Asian judge on the Supreme Court. . . .
Asian-Americans constituted 8.1 percent of law school students in the fall of 2009, up from 7 percent in the fall of 2000, according to the Law School Admissions Council. And Obama has accelerated the pace of Asian nominations to the federal bench. George W. Bush placed four Asians on the bench and Bill Clinton five; Obama has nominated eight so far, including Liu.
Annise Parker, mayor of the city of Houston, on Saturday proclaimed May 15, 2010 as “Houston-Nanjing Friendship Association Day”. In a proclamation to the newly-established association, Parker said Houston is a city of rich culture diversity and has been enriched by the presence and contributions of its citizens of Chinese ancestry.
“Houston recognizes their (Chinese ancestry) important role in the culture, civic, economic and spiritual life of our city,” Parker said, “A good relationship between Houston and Nanjing from economic, trade, tourism and culture exchange aspects would significantly benefit the citizens of these two cities, and also enhance the understandings and good relationships between the United States and China.”
As part of this blog’s mission of making academic research and data more easily accessible, understandable, and applicable to a wider audience and to practical, everyday social issues, I highlight new sociological books about Asian Americans and other racial/ethnic groups as I hear about them. As always, please remember that I highlight them for informational purposes only and do not necessarily endorse their entire content or arguments.
“Dusselier has given us an excellent thick description of the ways that Japanese American prisoners of both generations used arts and crafts as tools of survival. Future camp studies will have to take her work into account.”
– Roger Daniels, University of Cincinnati
In Artifacts of Loss, Jane E. Dusselier looks at the lives of Japanese American internees through the lens of their art. Dusselier urges her readers to consider these often overlooked folk crafts as meaningful political statements which are significant as material forms of protest and as representations of loss.
Jane E. Dusselier is an assistant professor of anthropology and Asian American studies at Iowa State University. Her previously published works include “Does Food Make Place? Food Protests in Japanese American Concentration Camps”.
We should know by now that the U.S. government (present one included) is notorious for keeping certain documents secret from the public. But as the New York Times reports, more than sixty years after the fact, new photographs taken by Dorothy Lange of life in some of the prison camps that held some 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II portray life in much harsher terms than what many of us thought — or were led to believe:
The infamous episode has been widely chronicled in books and memoirs, as well as in famous photos by Ansel Adams. . . . Adams portrayed the internees in the now-infamous camp at Manzanar, Calif., in heroic poses, lighted against the backdrop of the majestic Sierras mountains. Lange’s images — nearly a hundred of which are being published for the first time — tell a starkly different story. . . .
“They tell us that conditions in the camps were much worse than most people think,” said Linda Gordon, a historian at New York University who edited the book with Gary Y. Okihiro, a historian at Columbia University. Lange’s work unflinchingly illustrates the reality of life during this extraordinary moment in American history when about 110,000 people were moved with their families, sometimes at gunpoint, into horse stalls and tar-paper shacks where they endured brutal heat and bitter cold, filth, dust and open sewers. . . .
The War Relocation Authority hired Lange to document the internments, possibly to demonstrate that the detainees were not being mistreated and international law was not being violated. But at nearly all of the 21 locations Lange visited, the government tried to restrict her. Upon arrival at the assembly centers, the internees passed through two lines of soldiers with bayonets trained on them.
Lange was not allowed to photograph the soldiers, but she did manage some stark images of the horse stalls where the families lived, pictures that are included in the book. Lange photographed hospital patients in outdoor beds beside latrines, exposed to the elements; children neatly dressed for school, kneeling on the hard floor as they wrote in exercise books, because there were no benches or chairs.
I thank the organizers of this project for working to make these forgotten photographs public. It is indeed a sad chapter of American society, but one that we need to be constantly reminded of, in order to fight against the same kinds of events happening again. Sadly, the fact is that despite our best efforts, these kinds of injustices continue to take place, targeting innocent Americans who are singled out as the enemy based solely on their ethnicity.
Does this mean that our efforts at education and awareness through history and photographs such as these are in vain? Not at all. If anything, the injustices would be many times worse if we could not bring evidence like this against them. Thank you Ms. Lange, and Professors Gordon and Okihiro for reminding us of that fact.
Is it morally right to fight in Iraq? This question is at the heart of Lt. Ehren Watada’s story, featured in the L.A. Times, October 16, 2006, by Teresa Watanabe.
Watada, 28, is an Army first lieutenant who earlier this year became the first commissioned officer to refuse deployment to Iraq, calling the war illegal and immoral. Although other soldiers have refused deployment, his status as an officer sets his case apart. The Honolulu native of Japanese and Chinese descent faces a general court-martial and up to seven years in prison for charges involving refusal to deploy, criticism of President Bush and “conduct unbecoming of an officer.”
…The elder Watada [Lt. Watada’s father, Bob] said his son joined the Army to help protect the country after 9/11. But when his superiors told him to study up on the Iraq War, Watada concluded that U.S. officials launched it in violation of U.S. and international laws. The turning point, the elder Watada said, was in January, when Ehren heard the father of an injured soldier lament on a radio show: “Why can’t anyone stand up and stop this?” “He thought the guy was talking to him,” Watada said of his son. “He thought he was the person who had to stand up.”
This case is reopening old wounds among Japanese Americans. Most Americans are more likely to know about the internment camps and of the Nisei volunteers who served in the military, rather than the draft resisters derisively labeled as “no-no boys.” Lt. Watada’s refusal to serve in Iraq has touched a nerve among Japanese Americans, particularly among the veterans, despite his willingness to serve in Afghanistan.
… “The Watada case has provoked so much emotion because it raises the question of loyalty, and that question severely tested Japanese Americans during World War II,” said Lane Hirabayashi of UCLA, the first professor in the nation to hold an academic chair dedicated to the study of Japanese internment. “It raises a lot of controversies that I don’t think have ever been fully resolved.” Debate lingers over how Japanese Americans responded after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
Even as the attack prompted the internment of more than 110,000 Japanese Americans and their immigrant parents in remote camps, thousands of young men and women enlisted in the U.S. military, determined to prove their loyalty. Their service record has made them community icons of mythological proportions. The 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Battalion, composed mainly of Japanese Americans, became one of the most highly decorated units in U.S. military history.
But a small minority refused to enlist and were harshly ostracized, Hirabayashi said. They included draft resisters who refused to serve unless their civil and constitutional rights were restored. They also included those know as “no-no boys,” for answering negatively to a government loyalty questionnaire asking if they would serve in the U.S. military and renounce allegiance to the emperor of Japan.
Bitterness between the two sides persists today. Hirabayashi and others, for instance, tell tales of brothers who never spoke again after one resisted and the other served. Ellen Endo, editor of Rafu Shimpo, the Los Angeles Japanese newspaper, calls the Watada debate the most emotional community divide she’s seen in four decades.
Nisei and other Asian American veterans deserve respect from their for their valor and service, but uncritical deference blinds us from examining the deeper issues of Asian American identity. To allow uncompromising veterans and pro-war factions to brand Lt. Watada as a modern day “no-no boy” and disavow him from Asian America, is to fail to exorcise the ghosts of the internment camps. It is to say that we Asian Americans must wave the flag more vigorously than whites to prove their loyalty.
Citizenship and patriotism does not equate to flag-waving and blind obedience. Soldiers are sworn to defend their country, but they are also citizens and thereby have responsibility to refuse criminal or immoral orders. If such posture is unpatriotic, shameful, or foolish as some critics call it, I wonder how history would have been so different if the Japanese and German soldiers had taken that same stance in large numbers.
Lt. Watada is not a coward; his physical courage is corroborated by his willingness to deploy to Afghanistan. This case highlights a deficit of moral courage in American society; be it members of the press who evade questioning the morality of going to war in Iraq, or pro-war cohorts who deflect moral responsibility by taking refuge behind the uniform and flag.
In the words of Bill Moyers, “come to think of it, sometimes standing up to your government is to stand up for your country.” Perhaps the time has arrived for us Asian Americans to treat the Watada case as a chance to assert our individuality and independence as a people, rather than treating it as another test of loyalty.