George Takei On Loving America, Even Though It Treated You Horribly

I ran across this post regarding a TED Talk by George Takei at Vox after I published the post on American exceptionalism and, it struck me that it hits all the points I was talking about:

Shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, hysteria against Japanese Americans was at an all-time high. Many Americans saw their fellow citizens of Japanese descent as potential traitors. That hysteria reached a critical point when President Franklin Roosevelt ordered Japanese Americans on the West Coast into internment camps.

A few weeks after his fifth birthday, Takei and his family were abruptly taken from their homes. They were put in trains, and they were shipped — without charges or trial — to an internment camp. Takei described it, “I still remember the barbed wire fence that confined me. I remember the tall sentry tower with the machine guns pointed at us. I remember the searchlight that followed me when I made the night runs from my barrack to the latrine. But to five-year-old me, I thought it was kind of nice that they’d lit the way for me to pee. I was a child, too young to understand the circumstances of my being there.”

After the war, Takei and his family were released with a one-way ticket to any place of their choice. Penniless, they went back to Los Angeles and were forced to rework their entire lives from scratch in impoverished conditions. The conditions were so bad, Takei explained, that his sister once asked to go back “home,” which, at the time, meant the internment camp that once imprisoned them.


It was a tough, conflicting journey for Takei. But he said that, eventually, it defined his own brand of patriotism: to love his country, through good and bad, to make it a better place.

“I am dedicated to making my country an even better America, to making our government an even truer democracy,” Takei said. “And because of the heroes that I have and the struggles that we’ve gone through, I can stand before you as a gay Japanese-American — but even more than that, I am a proud American.”

There’s something extraordinary about someone who has been put through the absolute worst by our government who is still able to maintain a love for their country, while acknowledging its flaws. Takei isn’t alone in this attitude, of course, the Japanese-Americans who fought in Europe during World War II, including the late Senator and winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor Daniel Inoyue, demonstrated the same thing. So have countless numbers of African-Americans who fought for, and sought to better, their country despite what had been done to them and people like them.

If there is any kind of American exceptionalism we should embrace, its the kind that creates people like this.

Here’s the video of Takei’s talk, it’s only 15 minutes and well worth watching:

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Ron Beasley says:

    My old dentist grew up in an interment camp but he too loved America. He once got up a 2 in the morning to treat this blond haired blue eyed Swede’s tooth ache.

  2. anjin-san says:

    Takei is truly a giant in contemporary American society.

  3. Dave D says:

    I recently learned the Canadians did the same thing to their Japanese but somehow managed to be even more cruel by demanding of their interred relocation east of the Rockies or repatriation to Japan. And their policy didn’t officially end until 1949. It is amazing the reverence shown when your country would do something like that to you.

  4. sam says:

    442nd Infantry Regiment (Army of the the United States)

    The 442nd Regimental Combat Team of the United States Army was a regimental size fighting unit composed almost entirely of American soldiers of Japanese ancestry who fought in World War II, despite the fact many of their families were subject to internment. The 442nd, beginning in 1944, fought primarily in Europe during World War II. The 442nd fought in Italy, southern France, and Germany. The 442nd is “the most decorated unit in U.S. military history.” The 442nd was awarded eight Presidential Unit Citations and twenty-one of its members were awarded the Medal of Honor for World War II. The 442nd Regimental Combat Team motto was “Go for Broke”….

    The 442nd Regimental Combat Team was the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in the history of American warfare. The 4,000 men who initially came in April 1943 had to be replaced nearly 2.5 times. In total, about 14,000 men served, earning 9,486 Purple Hearts. The unit was awarded eight Presidential Unit Citations (5 earned in one month). Twenty-one of its members were awarded Medals of Honor. Members of the 442nd received 18,143 awards, including:

    21 Medals of Honor (the first awarded posthumously to Private First Class Sadao Munemori, Company A, 100th Battalion, for action near Seravezza, Italy, on 5 April 1945; 19 upgraded from other awards in June 2000). Recipients include:
    Barney F. Hajiro
    Mikio Hasemoto
    Joe Hayashi
    Shizuya Hayashi
    Daniel K. Inouye
    Yeiki Kobashigawa
    Robert T. Kuroda
    Kaoru Moto
    Sadao Munemori
    Kiyoshi K. Muranaga
    Masato Nakae
    Shinyei Nakamine
    William K. Nakamura
    Joe M. Nishimoto
    Allan M. Ohata
    James K. Okubo
    Yukio Okutsu
    Frank H. Ono
    Kazuo Otani
    George T. Sakato
    Ted T. Tanouye

    52 Distinguished Service Cross (including 19 Distinguished Service Crosses which were upgraded to Medals of Honor in June 2000)
    1 Distinguished Service Medal
    560 Silver Stars (plus 28 Oak Leaf Clusters for a second award)[28]
    22 Legion of Merit Medals
    15 Soldier’s Medals
    4,000 Bronze Stars (plus 1,200 Oak Leaf Clusters for a second award; one Bronze Star was upgraded to a Medal of Honor in June 2000. One Bronze Star was upgraded to a Silver Star in September 2009.)
    9,486 Purple Hearts

    On 5 October 2010, the Congressional Gold Medal was awarded to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the 100th Infantry Battalion, and Nisei serving in the Military Intelligence Service.

    The men of the 442nd were recruited out of the internment camps.

  5. Franklin says:

    Good message and good post, thanks.

  6. bill says:

    despite it’s flaws there’s not many places people would choose to live in.

  7. @Dave D:

    I had no idea that the Canadians had done this too

  8. Rob in CT says:

    The men of the 442nd were recruited out of the internment camps

    Kind of blows your mind, doesn’t it? I mean, imagine being the guy who said “right, let’s recruit soldiers from the camps.” Did this guy figure that it was a perfectly normal thing to do? Was he squeemish about it? I wonder. I don’t think I’d have the chutzpah to attempt something like that.

    And it worked!

    Also, I too didn’t know the Canadians pulled the same thing (or even worse). I can’t say it really surprises me, though.