Thursday 25th May 2017,

Asian Americans

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LA Times Backtracks on Publishing Letters Defending Incarceration Camps

posted by Brittney Le

Manzanar

By Dorothea Lange Credit: National Archives and Records Administration [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Brittney Le
AsAmNews Intern

Asian Americans are expressing outrage at the recent publication in the LA Times newspaper of letters condoning the World War II wartime act of Japanese American incarceration, reports NextShark.

Issued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942, Executive Order 9066 was responsible for the imprisonment of 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans during World War II. This reflected the wartime hysteria of the period and the rampant racism that even lawful American citizens could not escape. The round up was founded on the grounds that any Japanese within the borders could be an enemy, potentially in alliance with the government of Japan who was at war with the U.S. at the time.

As of today, many Americans recognize this period as one of the darkest marks on U.S. history, a stain left behind to remind us not to repeat the same mistakes. The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 was, in essence, a formal apology to those who had been put behind barbed wire. This had followed a long battle on part of the Japanese Americans for reparations, which had led to the government deeming Executive Order 9066 as not a reasonable wartime measure, having been founded on prejudice more so than security concerns. The battle for reparations culminated in a $1.25 billion trust fund, a minuscule amount compared to how much the Japanese and Japanese Americans had actually lost during their incarceration.

However, not everyone is in agreement that Executive Order 9066 was a mistake. In the December 11th Travel section of the Los Angeles Times, letters to the editor were written in response to a November Times article, written by Carolina Miranda, entitled, “Our national parks can also be reminders of America’s history of race and civil rights.” This original article discussed the importance of preserving historical sites, such as Tule Lake and the Nicodemus National Historic Site, that provide a look into the American narrative of racism.

These letters of response, which can be read here, criticized the article to be anti-U.S. and one-sided. One letter undermined the devastation that resulted from incarceration by suggesting that the Japanese could have been in a worse situation: “War is evil, but I would have much rather been interned by the U.S. in California than by the Japanese in their captured lands.” In a similar vein, another letter suggested the Japanese were better off in the camps: “Had the Japanese been left on the streets of our city they would have been subject to hostility, injury and death at the hands of other citizens whose emotions ran high.”

Tule Lake

Tule Lake

Many readers responded to these letters, finding offense to the letters’ attempts to justify internment by mitigating the painful experiences of the Japanese and Japanese Americans to little more than a necessary “war effort.” LA Times editor-in-chief and publisher, Davan Maharaj, released a mea culpa claiming that the letters should not have been published, having failed to present readers with “civil, intelligent, fact-based opinions that enlarge their understanding of the world.” Travel editor Catharine Hamm had published the letters hoping to spark a dialogue but has since then recognized publishing such views as a mistake.

The LA Times intends to print responses to these letters in the December 18th edition of the Travel section, perhaps continuing the dialogue that was originally intended by the Times Travel editor, as many outraged readers have already responded. On Angry Asian Man, Phil Yu responded by stating, “Thousands of innocent Japanese Americans were locked up behind barbed wire. Their stories stand as a memorial of the government’s injustice and a warning to those who cite internment as ‘precedent.'” He also points out the relevance of Japanese internment to today’s discussions of Muslim registries and Islamophobia.

What is concerning is that there are likely others who share the same opinions as those who wrote these letters justifying internment, believing it to have been a necessary wartime measure. These attempts to whitewash an entire people’s experiences result from a lack of understanding and appreciation that the existence of historical sites like Tule Lake hopes to address.

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2 Comments

  1. Edwin Chen says:

    RE: LA Times backtrackso n publishing letters defending incarceration camps: You can never convince the people that taking away the property of Japanese Americans, and imprisoning so many civilians, without evidence of espionage or disloyalty, was the correct action. Even the FBI found no grounds for this mass incarceration. How could the babies, children and elderly be guilty? The facts show, that this was not the proper action for our nation to have taken against the civil rights of its own citizens.

  2. Ben says:

    RE: LA Times backtracks on publishing letters defending incarceration camps: The masses are assess. What else is new?

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