A Day That Will Live in Infamy

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A guard tower at Heart Mountain—
the barbed wire and armed guards were to keep people in.

Seventy-five years ago, on February 19, 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which established so-called Military Zones in the United States, a national policy based on fear and racism. This order laid the groundwork for the eventual removal and internment of tens of thousands of people of Japanese descent, including American citizens, people who were not convicted of any crime.

Sadly, this shameful stain on American history has actually been cited recently as a “precedence” for the potential registry and internment of people of the Muslim faith. Those who do not learn from history . . .

I’m using this anniversary and the rhetoric about suggested current bans as an opportunity to educate those who may be unfamiliar with this aspect of U.S. history. In 1992, I had recently earned my MA in history, and I was shocked at how hidden this chapter of our American past was. I don’t believe it rated a single paragraph in my high school history books, and when I chose the topic for my own capstone project as a grad student, much of the secondary source material was recent—as if historians themselves had only just discovered the topic.

After I wrote my thesis, Friends Journal, a Quaker monthly publication, announced they were dedicating their November 1992 issue to a retrospective of the internment experience. I penned the overview (which can be read in PDF form without leaving this website) that introduced the issue. My essay tells the story of internment in brief, from the issuance of 9066 to reparations. Other voices in that issue offered reflections from those who lived through the actual events on both sides of the camp fences and updates on apologies and healing.

Today, there are many more opportunities to learn about the camps and what happened seventy-five years ago than there were even in 1992. The Japanese American National Museum opening coincided with the fiftieth anniversary. Manzanar was also named a National Historic Site in 1992, although the interpretive museum would not open until 2004. The Rohwer museum opened its doors in 2013. And of course, George Takei, of Star Trek fame, interned as a child with his family at Rohwer, has been an advocate for bringing this story to the forefront, through his blog and his passion project, the musical Allegiance (Broadway run 2015–16).

If you want to learn more about this period, I invite you to explore the links in the additional reading section. I think people who truly open their hearts to these events—the tragedy of internment, the suffering of Japanese American families, and the understanding that the internment did absolutely nothing for American security during the war—will see that this is not a mistake we, as Americans, want to repeat.

Text : (C) 2017 Rebecca Bigelow;  Photo: National Archives


Additional Reading

Rebecca Bigelow, “Certain Inalienable Rights,” Friends Journal, November 1992. Note this is a link on Curiosity Seldom Pays. All other links are to external sites.

Friends Journal archives are available to paid subscribers if you want to read the entire issue on the subject of internment.

George Takei’s Allegiance, the musical about internment, is playing in select theaters nationwide on Sunday (tomorrow), February 19, 2017, to commemorate the seventy-fifth anniversary of 9066. This is the filmed version of the Broadway production starring George Takei, Lea Salonga, and Telly Leung. Check the Fathom Events site to see if it is playing near you. Also note that fans are asking for the film version to be made available for in-home viewing, but there are no official announcements on this yet.

A selection of museum sites:

Heart Mountain (Wyoming)

The Japanese American National Museum

Manzanar National Historic Site (California)

Rohwer Japanese American Relocation Center (Arkansas)

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The Ballot Box

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Monday was President’s Day. In 1968, Congress passed a law that created uniform Monday holidays (to create three-day weekends) and moved the holiday for Washington’s Birthday to the third Monday in February. The law went into effect in 1971, but Washington’s Birthday gradually morphed into a day to celebrate all the presidents. Washington’s loss is the perfect excuse for a quiz on some modern US president. (What? Monday was a holiday. You had an extra day to study!) For each question, vote for Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, or Harry Truman. Highlight the text below each question to see the answers.

1. Which President ordered the Berlin Airlift?

Other leaders suggested sending supplies to cutoff West Berlin in trucks protected by tanks, but Truman feared this could start a new war. He ordered the airlift instead. To bring in the more than 2 million tons of food and coal to West Berliners, American and British planes at the height of the airlift were landing every three minutes. The success of the airlift made the Russian blockage ineffective and let the West win the propaganda battle in this cold war skirmish.

2. Which president ordered the use of the atomic bomb against Japan?

At the Potsdam Conference, Truman hinted to Josef Stalin that the USA was developing a powerful new weapon. Stalin pretended to be uniformed, but he actually knew about the atomic bomb before Truman did! Stalin had spies in the US nuclear program; Truman, on the other hand, learned about the bomb only after his inauguration as president. His decision to drop the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki remains one of the most controversial decisions ever made by a president.

3. Which president is the only one to hold a PhD?

Did you guess Truman again? Wilson actually earned his PhD from Johns Hopkins. His first job was as a professor of history and politics at Bryn Mawr–a women’s college established by Quakers in Pennsylvania. Wilson didn’t particularly care for teaching women, however, writing to a friend, “My teaching here this year lies altogether in the field of political economy, and in my own special field of public law: and I already feel that teaching such topics to women threatens to relax not a little my mental muscle.”

4. Which president once owned a haberdashery?

Truman’s partner in the business was a war buddy named Edward Jacobson. The business failed, but the friendship remained. Jacobson, who was Jewish, would play an important role in 1948 when Israel came into existence, helping convince Truman to recognize the new country. Despite opposition from his advisers, Truman announced that the United States would recognize Israel a mere eleven minutes after the Israelis announced the new country.

5. Which president changed his mind about women’s suffrage during his two terms in office?

Wilson modified his stance on women’s voting rights. At first, Wilson was embarrassed by the suffragettes and did not support their cause. (See his comments on the education of women earlier in this quiz.) After the United States entered World War I, however, he asked Congress: “We have made partners of the women in this war. Shall we admit them only to a partnership of suffering and sacrifice and toil, and not to a partnership of privilege and right?” Despite this, women would have to wait until after the war for the Nineteenth Amendment to pass.

 6. Which president was an avid conservationist?

As president, Teddy Roosevelt doubled the number of National Parks and created over fifty Federal Bird Reserves. He also introduced the Antiquities Act of June 8, 1906. This granted him the executive power to create national monuments at historically or scientifically interesting sites. This allowed Roosevelt to preserve sites like Devils Tower in Wyoming, the Petrified Forest in Arizona, and a large area of the Grand Canyon.

7. Which president created projects that benefited National Parks like Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee?

If you guessed Teddy Roosevelt again, you guessed wrong. His cousin Franklin Roosevelt created an alphabet soup of programs and policies, known as the New Deal, that were designed to shore up banks, help with unemployment, and stimulate the economy. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which was part of the New Deal, was a popular program that created jobs through public works projects. Roads, fire towers, and tree plantings were just a few of the projects the men of the CCC completed in National Parks, such as Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia.

How did you do? Are you a presidential scholar or do you need to revisit history class?

Text: Rebecca Bigelow; picture is in public domain.

Additional Reading: