Editor: For the past few days, I have been reading about, and participating in, the nationwide public outcry and opposition to President Trump’s ban on Muslims, which, despite the assurances of the administration to the contrary, amounts to blatant discrimination against Muslims. I feel my duty as an American citizen, to publicly state my strong opposition.
There have been demonstrations for the past two days at Dulles Airport involving hundreds of people protesting the executive order. I’ve been there and have seen it. It’s inspiring to see American democracy being affirmed by ordinary Americans, expressing concern for their fellow Americans.
Unfortunately, American history is replete with examples of the consequences of this sort of discrimination against ethnic, racial and other groups. There have been laws since the early 18th century that discriminated against minorities, such as African Americans and Asian Americans. In the early 1900s, there were exclusion laws enacted that barred Asian immigration. There were even laws that prohibited Asian students from attending public schools. Alien land laws that barred Asians from owning property. And of course, there is the shameful history of Jim Crow.
Then in 1942, in the name of national security, my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles were literally rounded up and sent to what have been euphemistically called “internment camps.” In fact, they were concentration camps, complete with high barbed wire fences and armed guards. The FBI investigated prior to the implementation of the internment Order, and found no evidence or incidence of Japanese-American disloyalty, sabotage, violence, or spying for the enemy. But that didn’t matter, about 120,000 men, women, and children—including those who were American citizens—with their belongings only in the suitcases they could carry, were stripped of their rights to property, liberty and security and imprisoned in far-flung desert concentration camps simply for being Japanese.
My parents told me that it was not a pleasant experience, but they never said more about it. On that subject, they remained silent for their entire adult lives because the stain of that humiliation was so deep and indelible that it lasted until the day they died after living for more than ninety years. I only found out about it when I was in high school, after my mother made an off-handed comment about “the camps.” Since then, it has been a source of personal anger and implacable opposition to racism and discrimination of any kind. Today, I’m a firm believer and advocate of democratic equality.
To finish the story, like thousands of young Japanese men in the camps, my father and uncles subsequently affirmed their citizenship, and their honor, by serving in the U.S. military.
Because my father spoke Japanese, he served as a military intelligence officer in the Pacific, where he was wounded, and he was part of the American Occupation Force with MacArthur in Tokyo.
Some of my uncles served in the Army’s famed all Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which suffered the highest casualty rate than any American battalion in the war. Incidentally, after the war, the 442nd was awarded 9,486 Purple Hearts, 249 Silver Stars, 579 Bronze Stars. Much later, President Clinton awarded 20 Medals of Honor. The members of the 442 proved their citizenship with their blood.
Years later, the internment order was challenged in the Supreme Court in the case of Korematsu v the United States (1944). The Court ruled, 6-3, that the internment order was constitutional. That judgment stills stands today. It has been citied by Trump advisors as legal justification for their proposed “Muslim registry.”
What happened to my family and hundreds of thousands of other American citizens could happen again, this time, to an entire religious community, of which there are thousands living productive, peaceful lives with their families in Loudoun County. Against the background of my family’s experience, I feel it is vitally important for all of us to affirm democratic practice and values by speaking out in opposition to this blatantly un-American policy of religious discrimination imposed in the name of “public safety.” It has understandably engendered fear in the families of the thousands of Muslims who live productive and peaceful lives in Loudoun County. They are our neighbors, their children go to school with ours. How can we allow this to happen without expressing our opposition?
Randy Ihara, South Riding