The Spectre of Internment

images.jpgGeorge Takei is a major spokesperson for human rights. Having been removed to a Japanese internment camp as a child, he provides a first-hand experience of the evil concept of internment, whether for people of Japanese descent of for Muslim people. Takei’s words are required reading for all Americans at this dangerous time in the history of our country.

The complete editorial is at The Washington Post. Please go there and read it in its entirety.

George Takei: They interned my family. Don’t let them do it to Muslims.

The United States apologized for locking up Japanese Americans. Have we learned nothing?

By George Takei (published at The Washington Post)

archive_image-3There is dangerous talk these days by those who have the ear of some at the highest levels of government. Earlier this week, Carl Higbie, an outspoken Trump surrogate and co-chair of Great America PAC, gave an interview with Megyn Kelly of Fox News. They were discussing the notion of a national Muslim registry, a controversial part of the Trump administration’s national security plans, when Higbie dropped a bombshell: “We did it during World War II with Japanese, which, you know, call it what you will,” he said. Was he really citing the Japanese American internment, Kelly wanted to know, as grounds for treating Muslims the same way today? Higbie responded that he wasn’t saying we should return to putting people in camps. But then he added, “There is precedent for it.”

Stop and consider these words. The internment was a dark chapter of American history, in which 120,000 people, including me and my family, lost our homes, our livelihoods, and our freedoms because we happened to look like the people who bombed Pearl Harbor. Higbie speaks of the internment in the abstract, as a “precedent” or a policy, ignoring the true human tragedy that occurred. …

This was not the first time the Trump camp had raised the internment. When he did so before, it wasn’t as the historical warning it should be, but as a precedent for what might yet come. In late 2015, during the presidential primary, Trump actually went on the record with Time magazine stating that he did not know whether he would have supported or opposed the internment. “I would have had to be there at the time to tell you, to give you a proper answer,” he said. He argued that FDR was “one of the most highly respected presidents,” and that what he was suggesting was “no different from FDR.” Trump hedged his response with a nod to the horror of the camps, but tellingly did not disavow them: “I certainly hate the concept of it. But I would have had to be there at the time to give you a proper answer.”

Higbie similarly has kept open the specter of the camps, in one breath stating that he does not favor the idea, but in the very next noting, “We have to protect America first.” Indeed, in a follow-up interview with the New York Times, Higbie doubled down on the unthinkable: “There is historical, factual precedent to do things [that] are not politically popular and sometimes not right, in the interest of national security.”

imgres-1.jpgLet us all be clear: “National security” must never again be permitted to justify wholesale denial of constitutional rights and protections. If it is freedom and our way of life that we fight for, our first obligation is to ensure that our own government adheres to those principles. Without that, we are no better than our enemies.

Let us also agree that ethnic or religious discrimination cannot be justified by calls for greater security. During World War II, the government argued that military authorities could not distinguish between alleged enemy elements and peaceful, patriotic Japanese Americans. It concluded, therefore, that all those of Japanese descent, including American citizens, should be presumed guilty and held without charge, trial or legal recourse, in many cases for years. The very same arguments echo today, on the assumption that a handful of presumed radical elements within the Muslim community necessitates draconian measures against the whole, all in the name of national security.

It begins with profiling and with registries, but as Trump and Higbie have made clear, once the safety of the country is at stake, all safeguards are off. In their world, national security justifies actions that are “sometimes not right,” and no one really can guarantee where it will end.

We cannot permit this invidious thinking, discredited by history at the cost of so much misery and suffering by innocents, to take root once again in America, let alone in the White House. The stigmatization, separation and labeling of our fellow humans based on race or religion has never led to a more secure world. But it has too often led to one where the most vulnerable pay the highest price.

The Constitution and the government exist in large measure to protect against the excesses of democracies. This is particularly salient when, in an atmosphere of fear or mistrust, one group is singled out and vilified, as Japanese Americans were during World War II and as Muslim Americans are today. How terrible it is to contemplate, once again, that the government itself might once more be the very instrument of terror and division. That cannot happen again. We cannot allow it.

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