Seventy years ago today, March 2, 1942, a guy you’ve probably never heard of, Gen. John L. DeWitt, issued a proclamation that would steal the rights of more than 100,000 people, most of them American citizens.
Two weeks earlier, President Franklin Roosevelt, had signed Executive Order 9066 authorizing military commanders, at their will, to designate zones “from which any or all persons may be excluded.” Roosevelt never mentioned the Japanese, or Americans of Japanese ancestry. No, he kept his hands and his reputation clean.
It was DeWitt who issued Public Proclamation No. 1, creating Military Area No. 1. It covered the entire west coast to a distance about 100 miles inland. Anyone of “enemy ancestry” was required to file a change of address notice with the government if they moved. Some Japanese-Americans — understanding very well who was meant — moved out of the zone. The government’s answer: extend the zone to encompass the main places they’d moved to.
According to Wikipedia, DeWitt told Congress:
I don’t want any of them [persons of Japanese ancestry] here. They are a dangerous element. There is no way to determine their loyalty… It makes no difference whether he is an American citizen, he is still a Japanese. American citizenship does not necessarily determine loyalty… But we must worry about the Japanese all the time until he is wiped off the map.
Somehow, “enemy ancestry” rarely extended to German-Americans or Italian-Americans, very few of whom ever ended up in camps. It’s funny that nobody then or now much remarked on the fact that the allies proceeded to make a Gen. Eisenhower their military leader. But then, he looked like “us” and came out of mainstream culture. So his loyalty was unquestioned. So his “enemy ancestry” didn’t condemn him despite a name as German as the Rhine. (Nor should it have, of course, any more than the ancestry should have determined anyone else’s fate.)
It took a couple of months to round up everybody of Japanese ancestry in the exclusion zone and force them at gunpoint into shabby desert camps. They weren’t tortured or herded into Zyklon-B showers. They “merely” lost their livelihoods, a few good years of their lives, millions of dollars in property, their ability to exercise their inborn rights, and (for a generation) their reputation. To the end of their days, millions of Americans of that generation looked with mistrust at their Japanese neighbors.
My mother was a liberal Democrat, but all her life she made statements that could have spewed from the mouth of DeWitt. “You don’t understand,” she’d tell me when I said I thought the internment was an outrage. “Those people were different. They didn’t mix with the rest of us. They were loyal only to their own kind. It had to be done.”
But that’s all in the past. The U.S. government eventually apologized and paid off the survivors (never mind that the payment was only a token amount). We live in a more enlightened age, of course.
I linked the other day to an article about FEMA’s latest proposal for building camps for “displaced persons.” DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano has also ordered ICE to prepare a plan, including camps against some vaguely anticipated influx of foreigners. ICE already “detains” 33,000 people — without charges, without trial, basically without rights. Many, including at least a few American citizens, are already locked up for years, at the dubious mercy of federal immigration officials.
Now, I’m officially a non-paranoid non-conspiracy theorist. I don’t believe that FEMA or ICE are building camps for the sole purpose of rounding “us” up (whoever “us” might be at any given moment). I even did some investigating and wrote an article (a couple of them, actually) debunking bogus claims about FEMA camps.
But seriously. This is the world of the NDAA. And of HR 347. These are the days of kick-in-the-door (and who cares if it’s the right) door SWAT raids over everything from cannabis to bad student loans to raw milk. This is the day when cops gun down your dog or your son and instantly exonerate themselves. This is the day when the federal government claims the right to assassinate American citizens. Is all that too far-fetched to worry about? Well then, these are also the days in which every traveler, every person with a bank account, every person who pays cash for anything, every person using a phone or sending an email, anybody on a social network (link added), and every person using a camera in public is presumed to be an enemy of the government, of freedom, of “security.” Each and every one of us is under investigation — and therefore under suspicion — every day of our lives.
This is the day in which the federal government hates and fears every one of us and makes few bones about it. We are all guilty until proven innocent — and increasingly not given the opportunity to defend ourselves.
Does anyone here doubt that, among all the declared “wars on” this and that, we have become the enemy?
You and me? We troublemakers? We have worse than mere “enemy ancestry” against us.
Of course the camps aren’t being built to round us up. it’s possible — possible — they might actually be being built with the stated intentions in mind. But this is government we’re talking about. Has it ever done anything “for the people” that wasn’t actually for itself? Has it ever done anything that didn’t end up in mission creep? Has it ever planned and executed anything competently? Has anyone in the federal government (except Ron Paul) ever told the truth about anything, ever?
Would you trust any branch of the federal government? Ever? With anything? Let alone your life or freedom?
Is anyone — anyone — really naive enough to think that camps being built will be used only or even primarily to “shelter” people displaced by dire emergencies or only to lock up “them” — you know, those absolutely, guaranteed non-citizen* Mexicans, those Muslims, those Whichever-Group-We-Hate-This-Week people?
And is anyone Pollyannish enough to think that future denizens of future camps will be treated as “kindly” as the federal government treated Japanese-Americans 70 years ago?
“And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand?… The Organs would very quickly have suffered a shortage of officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of Stalin’s thirst, the cursed machine would have ground to a halt! If…if…We didn’t love freedom enough. And even more – we had no awareness of the real situation…. We purely and simply deserved everything that happened afterward.” ― Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn
* If rights are inborn, citizenship shouldn’t have anything to do with it.
(Thank you to D for the reminder of the wretched anniversary.)