While we may not (and hopefully aren’t) actually headed back to the days of American internment camps, the present parallels in the attitudes of those behind it should alarm those who’ve paid attention to that specific ugly era of our past. For anyone who’s managed to remain blissfully unaware, several days ago a prominent Trump supporter used the World War II internment of people of Japanese ancestry as precedent for a proposed Muslim registry.
The exact quote from Carl Higbie, an ex-Navy SEAL and former spokesman for Great America PAC, was “we’ve done it based on race, we’ve done it based on religion, we’ve done it based on region. We’ve done it with Iran back — back a while ago. We did it during World War II with Japanese.” This comment immediately created a wave of backlash, causing Higbie to go back on air the next day and say “I don’t actually advocate for any of this.” He added that Donald Trump doesn’t fear or dislike Muslims, but that “he’s in fear of the radical faction of the Muslim community that has done harm to Americans and abroad.”
Unfortunately, this attitude and the approaches being suggested are unnervingly similar to the attitudes behind the widespread and racist Japanese internment. These statements aren’t limited to Donald Trump and his supporters. General Flynn, tapped to be Trump’s National Security Advisor, tweeted earlier this year that fear of Muslims is “rational” citing a video that explains the “basics of Islam” and how “Islamophobia is an OXYMORON since having a Phobia means having an IRRATIONAL FEAR.” (Emphasis in original)
Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL: please forward this to others: the truth fears no questions… https://t.co/NLIfKFD9lU
— General Flynn (@GenFlynn) February 27, 2016
Feel free to tweet back at him and let him know if you disagree.
Aside from demonizing an entire religion, this ignores how the “basics” of Christianity and Judaism are too often barbaric, as the literal texts often call for the death of sinners and unbelievers. It also ignores the radical elements of Christianity which have seen an unfortunate resurgence in America recently, specifically including the KKK and the “alt-right” (i.e. extreme right wing and white nationalist groups, many of which are praising the proposed policies). This is the same problematic attitude seen in people demanding that all Muslims actively condemn and fight ISIS while doing nothing to fight the radical wings of their own religions.
Unfortunately, the problematic attitudes and parallels go beyond that. Donald Trump personally and repeatedly used a Judge’s Mexican heritage to declare he was forever biased towards Mexico and couldn’t be trusted to be impartial because “he’s a Mexican” – despite his American citizenship and having grown up in America. This is the same attitude behind the Japanese internment, and even the internment of Jewish people during World War II and the Shoah, targeting people because of their vague ancestry without any evidence or even suspicion of a crime.
To understand the depth of the parallel, let’s look at the Congressional testimony from one of Trump’s predecessors during Japanese internment, General DeWitt:
They are a dangerous element. There is no way to determine their loyalty. … The danger of the Japanese was, and is now – if they are permitted to come back – espionage and sabotage. It makes no difference whether he is an American citizen, he is still a Japanese. American citizenship does not necessarily determine loyalty.
Lest anyone think that he was just targeting the enemies of the United States during and immediately after World War II and not engaging in blatant racism, General DeWitt made it clear that wasn’t the case.
You needn’t worry about the Italians at all except in certain cases. Also, the same for the Germans except in individual cases. But we must worry about the Japanese all the time until he is wiped off the map.
Of course, the horrors that this led to went beyond simply displacing people of Japanese ancestry or putting them into internment camps. Their property and assets were seized, their status in the community destroyed and they were generally dehumanized and demonized simply for their race.
The attitudes of General DeWitt and the other architects of the horrors endured by Japanese-Americans are alarmingly similar to the many of the attitudes we see today, both actively articulated and implied by the policies being discussed by Trump’s advisors and members of his transition team.
None of this happened overnight. It happened piece by piece – but it began with an attitude. An attitude of fear and prejudice. This attitude is ultimately self-defeating, especially in the face of religious extremism as these attitudes always radicalize more individuals and encourage further destructive actions from all parties.