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This Weekend, the U.S. Remembers the Injustice of Japanese Internment

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On February 19, 1942, 75 years ago this Sunday, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued executive order No. 9066, which authorized the internment of more than 120,000 Japanese-Americans. Two-thirds of those interned were American citizens. Those interned lost their livelihoods, their property, and even their pets as a result of post-Pearl Harbor paranoia.

Every year, Japanese-Americans commemorate the injustice of internment with the Day of Remembrance (sometimes called Remembrance Day), but this year, it feels particularly important. George Takei spoke to CNN about the terrifying echoes between 1942 and today.

“I grow increasingly concerned that we are careening toward a future where such a thing would again be possible…

The internment happened because of three things: fear, prejudice and a failure of political leadership. When the administration targets groups today, whether for exclusion from travel here on the basis of religion and national origin, or for deportation based on their undocumented status, I know from personal experience that these are not done, as they claim, truly in the name of national security.

No, instead they are intended to strike fear into communities, to show the muscle and ‘toughness’ of a new president, and to divide the citizenry against itself…

The question before us, then, on Remembrance Day is a simple one: Will America remember? The internment is not a ‘precedent,’ it is a stark and painful lesson. We will only learn from the past if we know, understand and remember it. For if we fail, we most assuredly are doomed to repeat it.”

Takei is right to worry, and not simply because of Trump’s rhetoric and vicious executive orders. Perhaps the most disturbing remnant of Japanese internment is that it remains, technically, legal. The ACLU lost its two cases on behalf of those interned–Hirabayashi v. United States, and Korematsu v. United States–so the Supreme Court has never ruled such policies illegal. As we’ve seen with Trump’s Muslim ban, the courts can be crucial allies in the pursuit of justice for all Americans, regardless of their ethnicity or immigration status, but they have twice permitted the mass internment of U.S. citizens based solely on their national origin.

Citizenship will not save you.

For those who want to take up Takei’s call to remember, there are a number of Day of Remembrance events and exhibits around the country.

The filmed version of Allegiance, the Broadway musical based on Takei’s childhood experience with internment, will play in cinemas across the U.S. starting February 19.

Those on the West Coast can check out the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) in Los Angeles. They recently opened an exhibit about the internment, titled “Instructions to All Persons: Reflections on Executive Order 9066.” The exhibit focuses on government documentation related to the internment. It includes an original copy of Roosevelt’s order No. 9066, along with loyalty questionnaires given out in the camps, the public notices of internment, and video from the 1981 hearings of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians.

In Washington, D.C., the National Museum of American History opened a year-long exhibit titled, “Righting a Wrong: Japanese Americans and World War II.” This exhibit includes “the Executive Order 9066 document on loan from the National Archives; original artwork by Roger Shimomura, who spent several years in the Minidoka Camp in Idaho; historic images; and objects.”

For those who aren’t close to either museum, the JANM’s Remembrance Day event, which included performances, poems, survivor testimony, and speeches, will be available on their YouTube channel.

In addition, over at National Geographic, you can view haunting internment-related photographs from Kevin Miyazaki and Ansel Adams. Adams documented daily life in the Manzanar, CA internment camp in 1943, while Miyazaki takes photos in former camp buildings that are still, eerily, being used today.

Lastly, if you have stories of internment from your family, you’re invited to share them via the Remembrance Project.

(Via CNN; image via Allegiance the Musical)

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