Friday, July 15, 2005

Eliminationism from the top

The Plame affair, it seems, really has Republicans snarling, their usual response when backed into a corner.

You can tell that because now the eliminationist talk is coming from the Bush White House's own mouthpiece -- namely, Rep. Peter King, who's been selected as the House point man for defending Karl Rove.

King was on MSNBC's Joe Scarborough show the other night and, according to the MSNBC transcript, had this to say:
And Joe Wilson has no right to complain. And I think people like Tim Russert and the others, who gave this guy such a free ride and all the media, they're the ones to be shot, not Karl Rove.

I haven't seen the tape of the show, but the quote is enjoying an odd half-life on the radio, thanks to Rush Limbaugh, who alters it slightly to "ought to be shot", and then chimes in inimitably: "That's Peter King, who's right on the money."


Just wondering: Have any Democrats in Congress -- or Joe Wilson, for that matter -- suggested that Karl Rove be shot?

Ah, I didn't think so.

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?

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

More on 'Strawberry Days'

We had a nice turnout for the Strawberry Days signing at the University Book Store last night, including a surprise visit from one of my interviewees, Kiyo Yabuki.

Kiyo was a veteran of the 442nd who was wounded near Bruyeres during the famed "Lost Battalion" rescue. He grew up in Bellevue, and settled just outside of town eventually, making a living as a postman. He told us last night that one of his customers on his old route in Bellevue was Miller Freeman. For those who've read the book, you'll understand the significance.

Or, you can just read Chris Winters' nice feature on the book for the King County Journal, which is the descendant of the old Journal American, where I wrote the first iterations of this story. (I was the JA's news editor from 1991 to 1994.) Winters provides a worthwhile summary of much of the material in the book, including some regarding Freeman.

At any rate, I was honored and tickled to see Kiyo. He has a lively personality, a gleam in his eye, and a quick smile. His Purple Heart was well earned; Kiyo was hit in the back of the legs by tree shrapnel and had his ligaments severed, and spent many months recovering. One of the more notable anecdotes from the book involves him:
He was hospitalized at a military installation in Vancouver, Washington, for most of the year he spent in rehabilitation.

"One time, when I was in the hospital in Vancouver, there was a couple from Portland that used to come visit the patients at the hospital," he recalled. "I guess I made a remark about the rain coming from Portland, and it really ticked this lady off. I was just joking. Knowing that I was of Japanese ancestry, she made a remark about Japs, that, 'You're just fortunate that you're alive. A lot of our boys were killed.' I couldn't argue with her on that one. I was just too slow with any kind of comeback. Maybe it was a good thing I didn't.

"Then again, being sensitive to discrimination, it really made me kind of shrink back. Even with the uniform on, you had the feeling you were in the wrong."

Bedridden for much of his time in Vancouver, Kiyo was glad to return home when he finally was released. His older brother, Alan, was trying energetically to resurrect their home and greenhouse at Hunts Point, since both had been ruined during their stay away.

Kiyo decided one day that his Army uniform needed dry-cleaning, so he took it down to a Bellevue cleaning service to get it done.

They refused to serve him -- because he was Japanese.

Kiyo recovered well enough to become a mail carrier, which was his job until he retired in 1989. Kiyo was as spry as any 80-plus-year-old I knew until recently, when he suffered severe injuries in a fall at his home, and now lives in a care facility. But his mind, it was obvious, is as lively as ever, just like the gleam in his eye.

'The Fire Next Time'

Hope you all have a chance to check out this week's airing of the P.O.V. documentary, "The Fire Next Time," which examines a small Montana community torn apart by the hatred spewed by right-wing extremists who decided to target liberals and environmentalists.

I was involved in one of the events at which these concerns came to a head -- in fact, I was one of the keynote speakers -- and may be in the film (I haven't seen it yet). Regular readers of Orcinus will recall that I wrote at length about the matter in this piece.

I'll discuss the film more after I've seen it. The link to the P.O.V. site above will take you to a locator that will tell you when it's showing in your area. (In Seattle, it's showing Thursday at 10 p.m. on KCTS.)

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

I think they liked it

Well, reviews don't come much more glowing than David Takami's piece on Strawberry Days for the Seattle Times, calling it "superb":
Neiwert details the start of the war and its devastating aftermath for the Nikkei community, culminating in their forced removal and incarceration. The author pulls no punches: "It destroyed the livelihoods and careers of thousands of citizens, based on an unconstitutional mass presumption of guilt. It humiliated a whole population of largely loyal and patriotic citizens by identifying them with the national enemy. ... It uprooted families, destroyed their close-knit structures, and laid waste to whole communities like the one in Bellevue."

Mixing in personal stories, he includes long sections on the decisions of military and government leaders that led to the incarceration and provides numerous examples of politicians and media spouting racist hate talk.

President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 in February 1942, and three months later officials posted "evacuation" orders in Nikkei neighborhoods. Because they could take only what they could carry, families had to make hasty arrangements to store or get rid of a lifetime's accumulation of property, farm equipment and personal belongings. On May 20, 1942, Bellevue's 60 Nikkei families, 300 individuals, got on a train in Kirkland, ending up in a "relocation center" in Tule Lake in northern California, the largest of 10 inland concentration camps.

The government allowed Nikkei to leave the camps and return to the West Coast in 1945. Some chose to move east; those who returned often found their homes vandalized and belongings stolen. They faced a vocal and virulent reception from the usual anti-Japanese crowd, although the support of other neighbors and the undeniable bravery and sacrifice of the all-Nisei 442nd Regimental Combat Team turned the tide of public opinion. Most Nisei (second-generation Japanese Americans) went to college and left farming for other professions.

Bellevue as they knew it was forever changed. Ninety percent of Bellevue's farmers were gone after the war, Neiwert reports, and the strawberry festival, canceled after 1941, finally resumed in 1987 but with scant acknowledgement of Japanese-American contributions.

Neiwert frets, in an afterword, about his being an outsider without the cultural sensitivity to properly approach his interview subjects. He needn't have worried. His portrayals are rich and insightful, and the quotations have the authentic ring of oral history. Although Bellevue has no significant memorial to the pioneering and (literally) groundbreaking achievements of Japanese Americans, "Strawberry Days" serves as a fitting paean to their efforts and as important historical testimony.

Takami's book on the Seattle Nikkei, Divided Destiny, was an important originating source for me (early on, I used it as something of a research guidebook). So I consider this high praise indeed.

Incidentally, we had a nice crowd of about 30 people out at Village Books last Friday in Bellingham. They asked good questions, too.

This is the busy week. Tonight is the University Bookstore appearance, and on Thursday we have the Panama Cafe event, followed by Friday's Ravenna Third Place Books show. I'll report back on anything significant.

... And for those of you wondering ... yes, I did manage to finish STP in one day Saturday. Took me till 10, but it was a good day.