Friday, July 15, 2005

Talking 'bout internment

You know, in rereading Michelle Malkin's In Defense of Internment, I'm so relieved to reread the passage in which she adamantly insists she isn't advocating that we begin rounding up and incarcerating Muslim Americans (at least not yet). Because it certainly is odd how others on the right -- both abroad and at home -- are advocating something along those lines these days.

First, LaShawn Barber offered the following helpful discussion:
As you reply, it may be helpful to consider one or more of the following:

- Terrorist cells in America: The necessity of racial/religious profiling of Arabs/Muslims

- Muslim internment vs. rounding up suspicious Muslims only vs. status quo of doing nothing

As John Cole adroitly notes, this is just the kind of helpful and serious discussion we need right now, along with those liberal hunting licenses.

And I'm sure it's just a coincidence that the bulk of the pro-internment discussion that followed seemed strangely cribbed from Ms. Malkin's work.

Then there was this Slate report from the London press [hat tip to Paul Donnelly]:
Rupert Murdoch's Sun made the most open threat to civil liberties, making a call that will surely concern Asian communities: "Britain is crawling with suspected terrorists and those who give them succour. The Government must act without delay, round up this enemy in our midst and lock them in internment camps. Our safety must not play second fiddle to their supposed 'rights.' "

That's reminiscent of conservative Henry McLemore's Jan. 30, 1942, nationally syndicated newspaper column:
I know this is the melting pot of the world and all men are created equal and there must be no such thing as race or creed hatred, but do these things go when a country is fighting got its life? Not in my book. No country ever won a war because of courtesy and I trust and pray we won't be the first because of the lovely gracious spirit ...

I am for the immediate removal of every Japanese on the West Coast to a point deep in the interior. I don't mean a nice part of the interior, either. Herd 'em up, pack 'em off and give 'em the inside room of the badlands. Let 'em be pinched, hurt, hungry and dead up against it. ... Personally, I hate the Japanese. And that goes for all of them.

Or there was Mississippi Congressman John Rankin, on the floor of the House, on Dec. 15, 1941:
"This is a race war! The white man's civilization has come into conflict with Japanese barbarism. ... Once a Jap always a Jap. You cannot change him. You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. ... I say it is of vital importance that we get rid of every Japanese, whether in Hawaii or on the mainland. ... I'm for catching every Japanese in America, Alaska, and Hawaii now and putting them in concentration camps... Damn them! Let's get rid of them now!"

Maybe this is all fresh for me right now because I just got back from my Strawberry Days signing at the Panama Cafe in Seattle's International District. We had a large crowd, many of them elderly Nisei, including several of the folks who participated in the book as interviewees (notably Tosh Ito, Sumi and Ed Suguro, Mitsuko Hashiguchi, Kim Muromoto, and Ty Matsuoka).

There was also an elderly white gentleman who did not give me his name, but was the first to ask a question and immediately launched into questions he thought would disprove my thesis. Eventually he attacked my use of the term "concentration camps" to describe the form of incarceration used on the Japanese Americans; I explained patiently that this was precisely the correct term to describe them, since such camps existed well before World War II (they probably originated in the Boer War), and the so-called "relocation centers" actually fit the description of them to a T (not to mention that leading officials at the time, including FDR, called them "concentration camps"); what the Nazis operated, I stressed, were not merely concentration camps, but death camps, and therein lies the real difference.

He then launched into a tirade claiming life was too cushy in the American camps to call them that, which was you can imagine provoked a strong response from a number of my elderly audience members who had rather vivid memories of the barbed wire and armed guards, as well as the rows of tarpaper shacks, the general degradation and discomfort, and the acute humiliation of having been stripped of all their rights as citizens. He began arguing loudly with them, until I stopped the discussion and explained that I wasn't going to let him disrupt this gathering, the purpose of which was to discuss the book -- and I moved on to the next question.

The man picked up his papers and left, offering a nonsequitur about patriotism and the quality of my research on the way out. No one had asked him to leave -- but no one was sorry he left, either. The rest of the evening was really quite pleasant.

But the whole affair reminded me that cheap rationalizations (like those that constituted the elderly man's claims, or those that pretend that this kind of historical revisionism doesn't fuel the advancement of a more radical agenda) die hard. Don't they, Michelle?

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