February 19, 1942 came a little over two months after the attack on Pearl Harbor and the entry of the United States into World War II.
Inevitably war leads to a demonizing of the enemy. During World War I, in this country, “sauerkraut” was renamed “victory cabbage” and during Operation Iraqi Freedom “french fries” became “freedom fries.”
Oftentimes this demonizing is harmless, but not always. The demonization of Japanese led to the false belief that Japanese Americans couldn’t be trusted. Executive Order 9066 led to the mass deportation of 110,000 people of Japanese descent. It didn’t matter if you were a citizen, or that you pledged loyalty to the United States. If you had Japanese ancestors, you were eligible to be moved. If you had a home, you couldn’t stay there. If you had a farm, you needed to leave. If you owned a business you were forced to abandon it. Many were given less than a week to sell what they had, and nearly all of them lost everything.
When they were released at the end of the war, almost all of them needed to start over.
I write this today because today’s demon isn’t Japanese but Muslim. On December 7, 2015 (the anniversary of Pearl Harbor), Candidate Trump called for a complete ban on Muslims entering the United States.
Late last month I wrote about Mr. Trump’s Executive Order restricting entry into the United States from seven countries. He insists that this isn’t meant as a ban on Muslims but we’re not fooled.
Seventy five years ago today we assumed Japanese Americans couldn’t be trusted. Today our leadership assumes Muslims can’t be trusted.
We have learned nothing from past discrimination.