History is circular; a reflection on Japanese Internment

Tuesday, October 13, 2020 - 7:32pm

NOSELL

Photo by Steven Diaz via Unsplash

I am often amazed at how little people know about Executive Order 9066 (deemed Japanese Americans as a threat to national security and allowed President Roosevelt to move them into camps), if they have any idea of it at all. Sometimes they’re even more distraught when I say that we have locked people up in camps before, unaware of one of the many atrocities that the United States has committed. Yet this is a history that many Japanese Americans will never forget. While my family arrived here post-Japanese internment, it still is a scar that lays heavily on my mind and my community. This is a scar that is never left alone — it is picked at, made red and inflamed every time the United States bans people from our country or locks them up for the sake of “national security.” While some may say national security is a necessity, I say that it is a way that the government has been able to excuse atrocities and misuse the bodies of those they deem dangerous for capitalist gains. 

In the case of Japanese internment, Japanese American men were only allowed out of camps if they agreed to fight in the United States Army and become canon fodder for Uncle Sam in World War II. Their choice was either to fight for the country that criminalized them for their racial identity or remain locked up for an unforeseeable amount of time. Japanese Americans were even forced to complete a “loyalty questionnaire” to determine their American-ness and whether they would be allowed to leave the camps (or sent to more strict prisons). The term No-No Boys was used to identify young interned men who answered no to the questions "Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty wherever ordered?” and “Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any or all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, to any other foreign government, power or organization?” When I first learned this, I couldn’t help but wonder what my answer would have been. If I would have been defeated enough to sign myself away to a country that despised me, or potentially lose any sort of freedom in the future. In some ways this is the kiss of death promised in the American Dream. Will you accept all of the ugliness of this country and its hatred for you, for the chance to survive? For a shot at the individualistic, “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” mentality that the State seems to worship?

The legality of people in the United States has long been contested as well as what the State is able to do with the bodies of its citizens. Now more than ever, the ghosts of past atrocities seem like greater warning signs to people of today. While Japanese American internment may have fallen into some of the more forgotten shadows of American history, its legacy remains. This legacy of xenophobia, fear of the other and fabricated foreignness of anyone who is not white has been woven into the fabric of this country. It is not new and it never will be, as Ocean Vuong said “Some people say history moves in a spiral, not the line we have come to expect. We travel through time in a circular trajectory, our distance increasing from an epicenter only to return again, one circle removed.” Detention camps and the human rights abuses that happen there are not outliers or brief failures in American morality, they are a continued pattern of the intentional destruction the United States deems as other. And so often, we are taught to forget that such a thing has happened before so that the same violence can be practiced again.