On The Syrian Refugee Issue And The Internment Of Japanese-Americans During World War II
Remarks by a Democratic politician in Virginia regarding the Administration's Syrian refugee program have brought up disturbing reminders of a shameful time in American history.
The Democratic Mayor of Roanoke, Virginia is under fire after having cited the World War II era internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry in support of his argument for halting the program to bring Syrian refuges to the United States:
The small, southwestern Virginia city of Roanoke should refuse to help settle Syrian refugees in the U.S. just as Franklin Delano Roosevelt interned Japanese Americans in America during World War II.
That’s the argument being made by Roanoke’s Democratic mayor, David Bowers. In a statement Wednesday, he said he was requesting that all government and non-government organizations in the city of 99,000 suspend any assistance to Syrian refugees “until these serious hostilities and atrocities end.”
As justification, he compared the situation to World War II.
“President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt compelled to sequester Japanese foreign nationals after the bombing of Pearl Harbor,” he said, “and it appears that the threat of harm to America from ISIS now is just as real and serious as that from our enemies then.”
In fact, it was not just Japanese foreign nationals but Japanese American citizens who were put in camps during World War II. In 1988, the U.S. government officially apologized for the policy and paid $20,000 to each survivor of what was deemed the result of “race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership.” In the end more than $1.6 billion was distributed in reparations.
The mayor did not immediately return a request for comment.
“I think most Americans with the benefit of history realize that interning Japanese-Americans for years during World War II was not appropriate,” said Sen. Mark R. Warner (D) in an interview with MSNBC.
Bowers’s stance is also at odds with Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), who has said his state will continue to accept refugees. Across the country, several mayors have also said they would welcome Syrians — often going against the governors of their states.
“What the hell did he say that for?” wondered state Sen. John S. Edwards (D), who represents Roanoke. “I’m surprised; I’m with the governor and the president on this.”
Bowers, a lawyer, is not planning to run for reelection in 2016. Vice Mayor David Trinkle, who is running to replace him, distanced himself from Bowers. He released his own statement, calling the World War II comparison in particular “unfortunate.”
“This is not how Roanoke feels,” Trinkle said in a statement. “It’s just the opinion of the mayor, sending that out unbeknownst to any of the city leaders. … We are a very warm and inclusive community and the community is up in arms about his statement.”
He also emphasized that the mayor, who is only one member of a seven-person council that hires a city manager, does not have the power to halt any assistance to refugees.
Democratic Party of Virginia Chairwoman Susan Swecker likewise called Bowers “absolutely wrong” and said the party did not stand by his statement.
The Virginia American Civil Liberties Union also condemned Bowers’s statement, labeling the request to withhold aid “a call to violate the Constitution and laws of the United States.”
Bowers has also been removed from a “Leadership Team” of Virginia Democrats who had endorsed Hillary Clinton’s candidacy for President and his remarks denounced by the Clinton campaign. This was a largely ceremonial position for Bowers, and he wasn’t really involved in the campaign in any significant way, but the fact that the campaign moved so swiftly to act was politically smart on their part since Republicans online were already asking if Clinton would denounce his comments.
More than anything else that became public yesterday, though, Bowers remarks seemed to hit a strong chord across the country even though he is, in reality, the relatively powerless outgoing Mayor of a city in Virginia’s southwestern region who has no legal authority to enact any policies supporting his comments. In part, that is because he specifically reached back to one of the most shameful and unfortunate events in American history during World War II, when hundreds of thousands of Americans of American citizens of Japanese descent were rounded up and sent off to camps far from their homes, losing their jobs, their property and their businesses. The fact that there were no similar policies applied to Americans of German or Italian descent on the same wholesale basis, but rather that individual members of those communities who engaged in actions supporting the Axis Powers were dealt with on an individual basis, made clear from the start that the entire policy was based in racism, irrationality, and fear. When one American citizen of Japanese ancestry, a man named Fred Korematsu who had been born in Oakland, California in 1919, and been rejected by the Army specially because of his race at the start of the war before the military formed units like the one that the late Senator Daniel Inouye served in, challenged the government’s efforts to enforce the policy against him. That case, Korematsu v. United States, made it’s way all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, resulted in one of the most infamous decisions in Supreme Court history when a 6-3 majority led by Justice Hugo Black, ruled that there policy was acceptable under the Constitution notwithstanding the rather clear 14th Amendment and Due Process objections that Korematsu raised. Notwithstanding the fact that the Federal Government has subsequently apologized for the internment program and instituted a program to compensate the people victimized by it and their descendants, remains good law today in the sense that it has never been explicitly overruled.
George Takei, the former Star Trek actor who as a child was among those detained for the duration of the war in an interment camp and has since become one of the leaders of the movement to make sure the events of that era are properly remembered, issued a blistering responsev to the Mayor’s comments on Facebook:
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.
The Broadway play that Takei refers to is called Allegience, and it had toured the United States in pre-Broadway showings for the better part of the past year before beginning its current run at the Longacre Theater in Manhattan. Along with a long-term project to create a museum dedicated to telling the story of the internment camps, it has been at the forefront of Takei’s efforts to tell the story of what he and more than 100,000 other American citizens lived through.
Bower’s statement is hardly the first by a politician to jump on the bandwagon of paranoia and misinformation that has been displayed over the past week in discussions regarding the refugee issue, and it probably won’t be the last. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, for example, told radio host Hugh Hewitt that he would even bar Syrian orphans from entering his state. To the south of Bowers in Tennessee, the head of the Republican Caucus in the state’s House of Representatives said that he would support activating the state’s National Guard to round up any Syrian refugees in the state and force them out of the state, a move chillingly reminiscent of the moves that the United States Government actually did undertake in enforcing the World War II era internment campaign, although he did not specifically mention it.
What the remarks of this Mayor from Roanoke did, though, was lay bare the reality of what it is that the opponents of the refugee program are really talking about. Much like Americans judged Americans of Japanese ancestry as the “enemy” in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack notwithstanding the fact that there was largely no evidence that any of them sympathized in any way with the actions of Imperial Japan or had any loyalty to it at all. Obviously, the internment program is “worse” than what we’re seeing today in the fact that it involved involuntarily detaining American citizens and stealing their property for no justifiable reason whatsoever, the fact that both cases involve projecting fear and prejudice on a group of people who have done no wrong strikes a nerve that even Americans who have merely expressed somewhat understandable doubts about the security implications of the refugee program ought to cause people to pause and think about what they’re saying. We’re not getting that, of course. We’re instead getting fearmongering and political pandering that plays into many of the worst aspects of American politics. Maybe, by reminding us that a lot of what’s being said and done here mirrors one of the most shameful episodes in American history, Mayor Bowers will actually have served a purpose for good in the end.
Photo source: United States Government via Wikipedia
We have so few actual leaders in this country that have historical knowledge and wisdom not to go all hysterical and pander to the people. My own Governor, Greg Abbot, is a prime example of the cowardly response that poses as leadership. First, Ebola, then Jade Helm 15, and now this. It is genuinely disgraceful. Total failure.
I love George Takeibut he is wrong when he says:
Judging people by how they look is the American way.
There never seems to be any price to pay for this nonsensical fear mongering and pandering. There’s always a conservative panic of the day, going back beyond the “yellow peril”. Nothing ever comes of them, but that’s quickly forgotten and they roll on into the next one. Has any conservative in the entire state of Texas raised his hand and said, “Hey, what ever came of that Jade Helm thing we were all het up about a couple months ago?”
The Ebola nurse is suing Christie for illegally detaining her. 90% of the comments I saw were that Christie was right and she should shut up. They’re still panicked about Ebola, even though nothing happened.
I am damn proud to be a citizen of the Great State of Connecticut this morning. After Mike Pence, Gov. of Indiana, turned away some Syrians we took them in. Keep an eye on our Governor, Dannel Malloy, he’ll be on the National stage soon.
His comments on Pence:
You are exactly correct. Here is a good review of exactly what you are talking about.
I don’t think we should jump on Bowers for this.
After all, Jenos made the exact same argument yesterday.
So Bowers has plenty of company in his rank bigotry and xenophobia.
Here is George Takei responding to Bowers and, by extension, to Jenos.
Sorry…I just noticed Takei’s response, to bigots like Bowers and Jenos, was already in Doug’s post.
Maybe a VP candidate?
Looks like the republicans will win on the Syrian refugee crisis. Democratic leaders, in small numbers for the moment, are beginning to join in. What with republican presidential candidates, republican governors and state houses, the right wing media and the mainstream media, all kicking up a storm, the headwind will be just too strong to withstand. Even MR has been blown away, another leaf thorn from the tree of decency.
Meanwhile, France has stated that they will not reduce the number of Syrian refugees they have committed to taking in. They understand that these people are fleeing the same horror that was visited on Paris, that they share a common enemy, and that shutting the door on them, is a victory for that enemy. Germany, also, is holding to their commitment, as is Britain, Ireland, Italy, Spain and, well, other than a few ex-communist states to the East, most of the countries in the European Union. Compare this to the ‘Christians only’ stance of the republican party and you can see how far the United States is drifting from the rest of the world.
“before the military formed units like the one that the late Senator Daniel Inouye served in” — I’d like to point out that that unit, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, was the most highly-decorated unit in the US Army during WWII:
Do read the wiki page.
No they won’t. Obama already announced he will veto any program shutdown bills. This will happen along the lines of the Ebola “crisis”: there will be screaming and panic, and Obama will hold the line and take hit in polls- and then things will go back to normal.
@cian: Not to mention from the ‘Christian values’ the GOP likes to give lip service to.
@C. Clavin: The mayor of one of the most important cities in the state of Virginia should have a bigger moral ground than random trolls from the internet. This mayor is a shame.
I am almost want to thank Mayor Bowers for bringing up this analogy. Because most people (except for, say, Michelle Malkin) now accept that the Japanese internment was wrong. So accepting the analogy, they’ll have to accept that rejecting refugees is also wrong.
One quibble regarding your excellent post: German nationals were interned in the U.S. during WW2: http://www.gaic.info/internment_camp.html. I suppose you could argue that it wasn’t done on the “same wholesale basis.” But both programs were disgraceful.
Having spent most of my life on the west coast I have known several people who grew up in World War II era internment camps including my dentist of many years. It always amazed me that none of them were bitter. Many if not most of them are dead now but that doesn’t mean we should forget the injustice.
Or another analogy:
And to top things off, I just saw a headline that Trump says he wouldn’t rule out making Muslims carry special ID, you know, the way Jews had to wear yellow stars in Nazi Germany.
Nah man, their brains will find a way to twist it into coherence, and then blame the liberals. After all, we’ve always been at war with Eastasia.
@bookdragon: I’ve been waiting for Trump or someone else to propose National ID cards so that the right wing can explode.
Anyone see in there where unalienable rights only apply to white christians who by sheer luck are already in America? Or do they actually apply to all men?
@Scott: Ah, but they’ll only propose them for Muslims, so the right will be ok with that.
I swear, this episode is going to make Godwin’s Law obsolete.
“The leader of New York City’s Syrian community told The Post on Wednesday that ISIS terrorists have “absolutely” sneaked into America by posing as civil-war refugees — and joined sleeper cells just waiting to be activated.
“I believe the terrorists from Syria have been coming into the United States, not only in the past few years, but way before that,” said Aarafat “Ralph” Succar of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, home of the city’s largest enclave of Syrian immigrants. “I think they’re already at work.”
Succar, a member of the Bay Ridge Community Council, said corruption in his homeland is so rampant that anyone could easily pay bribes and obtain official identification papers bearing a fake name to disguise their real identity.
“You can go to the Syrian government today and say to them, ‘I need a piece of paper that says I’m Tony Caterpillar.’ And they give it to you,” he said.
“These are not forged documents. These are written out by a government employee who needs money, whose family has no food.”
Succar, 57, who immigrated to the United States when he was 10, also noted that “Third World countries, particularly places like Syria, do not have the network of information the United States has.”
“In Syria, there’s no such thing. So when they tell you that [the refugees] are vetted, are you out of your mind?” he said.
Meanwhile, officials in Honduras said Wednesday that five Syrian nationals headed for the United States had been caught with fraudulent ID papers in the capital city of Tegucigalpa, Reuters reported.
The men were detained late Tuesday after arriving from Costa Rica when authorities discovered their Greek passports had been stolen and doctored to replace the photos with pictures of the Syrians.
The electorate has a memory span short of six months. It’s twelve to the election. But I don’t know if Obama is showing his ‘these dorks don’t know this is already a done deal’ look or a ’13 more months and I’m outta here’ look.
Anybody who begins a post with “WAKE UP!”, particularly in all caps, can expect the rest of their post to be skipped. I did, however, notice the conspicuous absence of the word “sheeple”.
@pylon: Thanks for the link!
FYI – there is no faster way to turn off an internet reader then to start with “Wake Up”, “sheeple” , or some variation of insulting the reader from the start. Most readers (like myself) will literally skip over your comment when you helpful flag it from word one as a waste of time and braincells and miss whatever point you were trying to make.
It’s the digital equivalent of a cardboard sign saying THE END IS NEAR!!
FDR was a historical disaster domestically speaking on economics and finance, but when it came to the war and related items what a hero. The internment policy might have been his crowning achievement other than the manner in which he militarily waged that war. To have had the balls to take such harsh but necessary measures. A great man.
We could learn a lot from the ways in which FDR and then Truman waged and won WWII. But that was a different America. A real America. Not the leftism-infused PC farce with which presently we’re saddled.
@Bill Lefrak: *snark* So when the black helicopters come and you’re taken to a FEMA re-education camp, you’ll applaud the balls it took for someone to give the order. */snark*
i live in NY moron. Where are you? i have not seen this many police out in years. Subways are delayed. Speak to me when you enter the real world. There is no Way to Vet these people.
People in NY & DC who work know what I’m talking about. It’s ignorant people like you who spout PC bullshit preaching behind a keyboard that make me sick. This situation has nothing to do with Japanese internment or the stupid comparison to Jews trying to come to the US during WW2.
I have 0 problems with Mexicans and immigration, but when you are irresponsibly allowing dangerous people in this country, yeah I have a Major problem with that. Why don’t you read the article i posted which quotes a Syrian leader in NY. I’ll take his take on the situation than your nonsense.
It’s OK, Clay…I’m pretty sure you can get extra diapers at the corner bodega.
So Clay…which native American tribe do you belong to? What’s that you say? You are the decendant of immigrants? Really? ANd what makes you so much more special than these Syrians fleeing violence in their homeland?
But not Syrians, right Clay?
Are you an owner of this Site because you certainly act like you are? I skip over all your bullshit whenever i come to this site., but now you are directing with of your silly comments towards me.
Please stop trying so hard to to feel important on here. Get a job or a hobby already because I know I can’t be the only one who is sick of your dribble. There should be a Quota on how many bullshit you can sling in a day.
I’m a lot more special than these Syrians. I’m an American that pays a lot of taxes and who was in the Army Reserves. I’m sorry that i don’t give a shit about Islamic Fanatics that want to kill me and my fellow Americans. I prefer to help the homeless or veterans or anyone else who needs it in this country. Why would I want to help people who contribute 0 to society and only encourage hate. Who is going to employ these people anyway or should we just add that to the governments dime?
It’s also been working out great for Sweden isn’t it? Maybe you should take a trip to Malmo in Sweden and hang out with some of these peace loving folks. I’m sure they’ll give you a warm welcome unless you are Jewish of course…
Not sure what you meant by that word salad…but you are the one spewing hate here, fella.
Perhaps a little self-reflection is in order.
You don’t seem to know what it is you are all about.
@Ron Beasley: Interesting observation. If I may expand on it:
I think the difference is whether or not the individuals being put upon are invested in assimilating, or not. Your dentist, like so many other Japanese-Americans, were heavily invested in becoming Americans, and were, by and large, willing to work past the ugliness. Others, like the Boston Marathon bombers, were not, and looking to cause problems for the nation that had been so generous to them.
@Bill Lefrak: Say, you don’t have a doctorate from the London School of Economics, do you?
@Clay Bowers: I live in NYC, too. In fact, I live right between two obvious targets, Grand Central Station and the Empire State Building — not to mention Times Square and Herald Square. And yet somehow I have managed not to piss in my pants yet.
And if you’re blaming terrorists for subway delays, you’ve apparently never ridden the subway in your life, or you’re just one of those people who chooses to blame his current bugaboo for whatever is bugging him. “Ooh, traffic is really messed up and MacDonald’s is getting rid of the dollar menu — damn you Muslims!”
I don’t know why Republicans have decided it’s manly to shriek in terror and hide under their beds. Maybe you could explain for us.
Oh, and I have been to Sweden. A beautiful country. You should try leaving the USA someday — it gives you perspective. Hell, it would help if you’d just step foot outside Staten Island.
There have been over 700,000 refugees resettled in the US since 9/11. Most of them from war torn regions, many of them from the ME and North Africa. The Tsarnaevs didn’t enter as refugees, but they did leave their homeland for similar reasons. That gives us a grand total of 2 out of (with your expanded definition of refugee) well over a million. I’d wager that at least 1 out of every half million Japanese that were held in camps during WWII were bitter and angry about it.
You have zero evidence that the Syrian refugees passing through our extensive vetting process have any desire to ’cause problems’. All you have is fear mongering of the same type that you spread during the ebola situation a year ago. Fear mongering that turned out to be completely overblown, like I and many others pointed out to you. I am certain that you will follow that model to the letter, never veering from your fear mongering and never admitting your error after the fact no matter how roundly it is shown to be false.
When I read comments like this, I realize that the differences between the two sides here are far beyond mere politics. You are deranged. Addled. Brain damaged. You and yours have substituted prejudice and fear for thought and reason without any clue as to how insane and ridiculous the words coming out of your mouth are. You are so tribal that you believe that you are the only person who matters.
I pity you.
@Scott: Sorry, but they didn’t explode when Dubya suggested it after 9/11, so there’s no particular reason to believe they will this time either.
The word you’re looking for is “drivel.” Glad to be of assistance.
@Grewgills: Jesus H. Christ, who pissed in your cornflakes?
I’m tossing it out as a theory. For discussion.
I expect that kind of rabid contradiction from morons like wr and Cliffy, but I thought you were better than that.
Should I add you to the “automatically hostile” list along with those two imbeciles and anjin-san?
The implication of your statement was that the Syrian refugees were different than the Japanese in internment camps because the Japanese wanted to assimilate and the Syrians do not. If that was not your intent would you care to clarify?
It’s a good things your opinion does not mean much. You have one Vote just like the rest of us. Most Americans agree with me so you can take your Peace loving Arab fantasies and stick it up your ass.
i live in Manhattan shit bag. I also lost a close friend on 9/11. Did you even have any friends to lose? I like most Americans do not give a Shit about Syrian refugees. They are impossible to Vet. We will not be bullied by cowards like you who preach PC nonsense while ignoring the harsh realities of the situation. Most Americans agree with me as well as numerous democrats in the latest house vote.
btw, thanks for the Tip on Sweden. Id check out Malmo but they hate Americans there. Maybe you should take your own advice and join the PEace Corps or Red Cross. You might actually be able to help these people instead of posting comments on here.
Take the day off. You don’t have to be on here 24/7. Get out in the real world and you might actually make a friend.
@Grewgills: No, that was your inference. I was talking about the big picture, and suggesting one way to evaluate the Syrian refugees. To be more specific, I’d limit it to the military-age male ones, the ones who apparently aren’t interested in fighting for their country and people.
According to one expert, of all the UN-recognized refugees created since 2009, 70% of them have ended up here in the US. And while that’s something we should be proud of, we should use that as a moral cudgel to get other countries to step up. Especially the Muslim countries in the area.
Saudi Arabia has a lot of empty space, the Gulf states are phenomenally wealthy, and we keep hearing how Islam is all about peace and charity and compassion. So why haul all those refugees halfway around the world (well, at least a quarter of the way) to a land where they don’t speak the language, don’t understand the culture, and (by and large) a completely different climate?
That we take in that many refugees isn’t just a credit to us. It’s also a disgrace to others.
And back on topic… we need some way to screen these would-be refugees. Barely two months ago, the CIA Director said that the possibility of ISIS smuggling terrorists into the US among a wave of refugees was a “huge concern.” That hasn’t been completely memory-holed yet.
@Jenos Idanian #13:
Your implication was clear enough that I’d wager most people reading it made exactly the same inference I did.
The claim was considerably narrower than that. We’ve accepted about 750,000 refugees since 2001. There are over 4 million UN recognized refugees right now just from Syria. If we had accepted 70% of UN recognized refugees we’d have taken in over 3 million in the last year alone.
At this time even the Netherlands is taking in more Syrian refugees than us as are almost all Western European nations. Several of them now have more Syrian refugees now than we have taken in total refugees from all sources this year.
@Clay Bowers: I love people busy screaming “Waah! Don’t let the scary Muslim three year olds in or we’re all gonna diiiieee!” who then call other people cowards.