Monday, September 24, 2007

Internment: History Repeats Itself

Currently, I’m reading Roger Daniels' Prisoners Without Trial: Japanese Americans in World War II, a brief history about Japanese internment during World War II, where Japanese immigrants, issei, and their American-born children, nisei, were herded into camps because they were considered security risks by the U.S. government. These risks, so to speak, had no basis in fact, but were grounded in racism and xenophobia.

Though the internment of enemy aliens during wartime can be justified to some extent, it is unconstitutional to forcibly remove U.S. citizens by simple government fiat (the famous Executive Order No. 9066, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt). But this is what the United States exactly did.

And it was easy to do since the Japanese are easily recognizable because they possess certain physical characteristics (with slanted eyes being the most prominent). This and a steady diet of anti-Asian propaganda made the decision easier. On the other hand, Americans of German and Italian descent were basically left alone because they were considered “American,” or white.

If this theme sounds eerily familiar because it’s still happening more than fifty years later, albeit in a different form. After 9/11, a whole new crop of enemy aliens has been targeted: mostly Muslims, many of whom are U.S. citizens. Some have been held in jail without being charged with any crime and held incommunicado without access to their families or lawyers. Some conservative commentators (specifically Michelle Malkin, who wrote an odious book about it) have even suggested that, like the Japanese, Muslims should be put in internment camps—supposedly for their protection!

It’s not surprising, really, that history repeats itself time and time again.