Before yesterday, I knew some bare-bones facts about America’s wholesale imprisonment of people of Japanese lineage during World War II. And then I read George Takei’s graphic memoir, They Called Us Enemy. (Available here.)
Takei, best known as Sulu on the original Star Trek, was one of 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans who were ripped from their homes in the western U.S. and sent to distant “camps” for the duration of the war. I knew that the internment order was a terrible thing; Takei’s book taught me two important lessons.
First, it wasn’t just a single act. There was a whole series of barbaric actions by the U.S. government that are hard to fathom by modern standards — even given the cruelty of our current administration. And second, the human cost of internment continued long after the war. The story of a single family, told in pictures, brings to life the human dimension of this awful period. Seeing forced relocation through a child’s eyes provides a perspective you can’t get in a history book.
Takei’s story begins with a harsh knock on the door, and an order for his family to vacate their home within ten minutes. They could only take whatever they could carry. Everything else — homes, businesses, possessions — was left behind and lost forever.
America made no effort to determine which people might actually be a threat. All were treated as enemies. Politicians who would become celebrated for their devotion to American ideals — Franklin Roosevelt, Earl Warren — were willing participants in the demonization of ethnic Japanese, fanning the flames of prejudice and advocating legislation that would rob people of their lives, livelihoods, dignity and freedom.Continue reading