Happy Fred Korematsu Day!

(In a shout out to Jon, a debate counterpart on another website, the following was posted in response to his request for comments on California’s observation of Fred Korematsu Day on January 30.)

It (internment) was a travesty perpetrated on Japanese-Americans during WWII.  And it reflects – to a point – the mindset from the 1940s that Orientals were a lesser race of people.  It’s especially appalling given the experience of German and Italian-Americans during the same period.  But it’s not that easy – in my opinon – to fully comprehend or to condemn.

On one hand, you can rationalize to an extent the treatment of the Japanese in the immediate aftermath of Pearl Harbor.  Their race was viewed as being sneaky and ruthless, due to the nature of the Pearl Harbor attack contrasted with the false negotiations Tokyo held with Washington in the weeks leading up to the attack.

It’s also somewhat easier to comprehend when you read what the Japanese were doing in areas they had already conquered, like China.  If you get the chance, pick up the book The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II.  The Japanese were doing some nasty, nasty stuff in their own belief that THEY were the race superior to all others.

So I don’t think it’s as easy to dismiss the fear, distrust, and ethnic animosity that was present especially after thousands of Americans died in a surprise military attack.

Don’t get me wrong.  It was reprehensible treatment of fellow Americans, many of whom either fought or sent sons to fight in defense of their U.S. homeland despite – in some cases – family still living on the Japanese islands.

It was a horrible event during horrible times.

For Anglo veterans of the Pacific in World War II, many never got over what they experienced fighting the Japanese.  I recall a day out golfing with a good friend in the late ’80s/early ’90s, when we pulled up the 10th tee after the turn.  A group of older Anglo gentlemen were already on the tee, waiting for a group in the fairway to clear out.  One of the gents came up and – by way of apology – stated that they were waiting for “the gooks” to move on.  Being the smartass, I replied, “”You mean those Oriental gentlemen?”  And despite the fact that you could not determine from where we stood whether they were Japanese, Korean, Chinese or whatever, he dismissively snorted, “Not if you were in the Pacific during WW2!” 

For another perspective – though fictional – read Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson.  It deals with the real discrimination that Japanese- American World War II veterans faced in the years after the war ended.  A national award winner, it’s also an enjoyable read!

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