Communities

George Takei Teaches Virginia Mayor a Lesson in U.S. History and Humanity

by Tod Perry

November 19, 2015
Photo via (cc) Flickr user Gage Skidmore

Star Trek actor, activist, and internment camp survivor George Takei has a harsh lesson in U.S. history for David Bowers, the mayor of Roanoke, Virginia. The Democratic politician recently suggested the U.S. use the same strategy for dealing with Syrian refugees as it applied to the Japanese during World War II. “President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt compelled to sequester Japanese foreign nationals after the bombing of Pearl Harbor,” Bowers said, “and it appears that the threat of harm to America from ISIS now is just as real and serious as that from our enemies then.” But the mayor’s comments showed a woeful lack of historical and human understanding.

Takei took to Facebook to teach Bowers about a dark period in America’s past and the danger in repeating it. “The internment (not a ‘sequester’) was not of Japanese foreign nationals,’ but of Japanese-Americans, two-thirds of whom were U.S. citizens,” Takei wrote. “I was one of them, and my family and I spent four years in prison camps because we happened to look like the people who bombed Pearl Harbor. It is my life’s mission to never let such a thing happen again in America.”

The U.S. government denounced the Japanese internment in 1988, saying it was a policy of “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” The government paid $20,000 in reparations to each survivor, adding up to $1.6 billion. Takei is now starring in Allegiance, a Broadway musical inspired by his family’s experience in the internment camps.

Takei’s entire post:

Earlier today, the mayor of Roanoke, Virginia, Mr. David A. Bowers, in the attached letter, joined several state governors in ordering that Syrian refugees not receive any government assistance, or be relocated to their jurisdiction. Apart from the lack of legal authority to do so (under the Refugee Act of 1980, only the President has authority to accept or deny refugees), his resort to fear-based tactics, and his galling lack of compassion for people fleeing these same terrorists, Mayor Bowers made the following startling statement:

“I’m reminded that Franklin D. Roosevelt felt compelled to sequester Japanese foreign nationals after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and it appears that the threat of harm to America from Isis now is just as real and serious as that from our enemies then.”

Mayor Bowers, there are a few key points of history you seem to have missed:

1) The internment (not a “sequester”) was not of Japanese “foreign nationals,” but of Japanese Americans, two-thirds of whom were U.S. citizens. I was one of them, and my family and I spent 4 years in prison camps because we happened to look like the people who bombed Pearl Harbor. It is my life’s mission to never let such a thing happen again in America.

2) There never was any proven incident of espionage or sabotage from the suspected “enemies” then, just as there has been no act of terrorism from any of the 1,854 Syrian refugees the U.S. already has accepted. We were judged based on who we looked like, and that is about as un-American as it gets.

3) If you are attempting to compare the actual threat of harm from the 120,000 of us who were interned then to the Syrian situation now, the simple answer is this: There was no threat. We loved America. We were decent, honest, hard-working folks. Tens of thousands of lives were ruined, over nothing.

Mayor Bowers, one of the reasons I am telling our story on Broadway eight times a week in Allegiance is because of people like you. You who hold a position of authority and power, but you demonstrably have failed to learn the most basic of American civics or history lessons. So Mayor Bowers, I am officially inviting you to come see our show, as my personal guest. Perhaps you, too, will come away with more compassion and understanding.

— George Takei

 

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George Takei Teaches Virginia Mayor a Lesson in U.S. History and Humanity