266. The Other War


I was once interviewed, while in high school, for a summer internship in science. I had expected science questions, but they turned out to be philosophical. I suppose they wanted to see what kind of citizens we would be.

I was asked what I thought of the decision to drop the bomb on Hiroshima. I said that it shortened the war, saved American and Japanese lives (based on estimates of casualties incurred in taking Japan by conventional warfare), and was not essentially different from the firebombing of Dresden, which went mostly unquestioned because it was not nuclear.

I have become much more liberal since that faraway interview, but I still hold those same views. I mention that to point out that I am not a knee-jerk liberal who always assumes that America is wrong. I also don’t assume she is always right.

On December 7, 1941 – seventy-five years ago today – the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. You might expect me to write about that, but instead I intend to remind myself and my readers that, although war with Japan was necessary and right, the war waged against Japanese-American citizens at home was not.

On December 8, America declared war on Japan. On February 19, FDR signed executive order 9066, which led to the internment camps. I will say more about that in later posts, but today I want to show you some photos from a memorial on the Merced County Fairgrounds, near where I live.

dscn5410Between May and September of 1942, nearly five thousand Japanese-Americans were rounded up and sent to an assembly camp on the Merced County Fairgrounds, before being dispersed to relocation camps away from the West Coast. Today there is a memorial to that event. The photo above shows the top half of one of the plaques that were placed there. It takes six tall, bronze tablets, with closely spaced lettering, to hold all the names.

The first plaque is headed by the instructions given to the detainees. The last one contains the statement Never Again . . . May We, As A Democratic Society, Never Forget the Injustice.


The sculpture that stands before the wall of names tells the story in its own way.

The internment of the Japanese residents of America was a racial act, aimed at a group whose hard work and success had engendered jealousy among their neighbors. Citizens and non-citizens alike were caught up in the event. Older, non-citizen residents and their American born offspring were both at risk.

Families were not torn apart. Rather, they were moved intact out of their homes and their communities, both non-citizens and their citizen children.

Sounds a little familiar, doesn’t it? Even contemporary? What was it the last plaque said? Oh, yes — Never Again . . . May We, As A Democratic Society, Never Forget the Injustice.


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