We humans have always been susceptible to scapegoating each other. When we are uncomfortable within our own skin, when times are difficult and we struggle to find our way, we can easily project our insecurities and inadequacies onto others. Once we identify some group, class, ethnicity, religion or culture as “other” we can dehumanize them in a way that allows us to justify to ourselves unspeakable acts of horror, aggression imprisonment, torture, punishment and murder.
Sadly, our recent history is full of many examples. Fascist Germany imprisoned and murdered millions of Jews during WWII.
When the Japanese invaded Shanghai shortly before the beginning of WWII they marched inland to Nanjing killing and beheading thousands of Chinese who they referred to as beings, no better than brute, stupid animals.
During WWII we rounded up most Japanese American citizens and put them in internment camps.
And now, we are doing the same with immigrants, separating children from their parents and placing the children in detention camps with horrific and shocking inhuman conditions.
So I want to tell you a story of June’s family, about her Grandfather on her mother’s side. When June and I demonstrated and marched in downtown Chicago on July 13, 2019 to protest the child detention camps, we began with a group from the Japanese Cultural Center and walked with them to Daley Plaza. June was surprised when we joined them, how much emotion arose in her, as she remembered the tragic history of her own Grandfather.
Her Grandfather Joichi Tahara immigrated to Hawaii from Japan. His family in Hiroshima were rice farmers and he came to Hawaii because he wanted to do something different. He arrived as a young man in Hilo. Being intelligent and industrious, he set up a successful transportation business with two other men.
He married Tomeyo Okino and moved from Volcano to Pauilo-mauka on the verdant slopes of Mauna Kea. They set up a country store that provided cattle feed, supplies, food and dry goods to the surrounding community. They raised 9 children. He was a widely respected leader in his community sitting on the board of a local Japanese school.
Shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt issued Presidential Proclamation No. 2537 requiring aliens from enemy countries - Italy, Germany and Japan to register with the US Dept. of Justice. These persons were then issued a Certificate of Identification for Aliens of Enemy Nationality. This order facilitated the beginning of full-scale internment of Japanese Americans the following month.
This lead to Rooseveltʻs Executive Order 9066 which authorized the internment of tens of thousands of American citizens of Japanese ancestry and resident aliens from Japan.
A pair of FBI agents showed up at the door of the Taharas’ home and gave Joichi a few hours to gather his belongings and say goodbye to his family. They took him away to an internment camp that had been set up at the Kilauea Military Camp. He was then moved to Sand Island on Oahu, and from there to Honouliuli, located in a very dry gulch in the center of Oahu. Nine months after he was taken away, he died of an aneurism. This is such a sad and heart-breaking story, one would hope we had learned from this so we wouldn’t repeat it again.
We should remember some of the names of these concentration camps in Europe such as Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen, Treblinka where millions of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, and Poles lost their lives because they were seen as “other”.
Let us also remember the names of some of the other Internment Camps where we imprisoned good Japanese-Americans who broke no laws and did nothing to deserve their treatment in such places as Manzanar, Tule Lake, Heart Mountain, and Fort Sill.
And now along with many child detention camps along the border, our government, your government, my government wants to convert the Japanese internment camp at Ft. Sill in Oklahoma into a child detention camp for immigrant children taken away from their parents. On Saturday, July 20 many Buddhist priests and practitioners gathered in Ft. Sill, Oklahoma for a memorial service to remember this place and remind all of us, that this should never happen again.
It’s not just Jews or homosexuals immigrants that are the target of our fearful projections. It can be any group. Your group might be next.
A recent article in the L.A. Times https://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-ceqa-homeless-shelter-20190515-story.html, reports that people of my own generation in many US cities such as Seattle and San Francisco who consider themselves to be progressives, are very vocally opposing homeless facilities in their own neighborhoods. It’s not a big step from turning a homeless person into “other” to seeing someone from another country trying to immigrate to our country as a fearful alien too.
When we dehumanize others, we lose our own humanity. Christ said, what you do to the least of them, you do to me. America is an idea. An idea that anyone can come to this country and make something of themselves and contribute to our country through their hard work and ingenuity. Ronald Reagan remarked that “these visitors do not come as white or black, red or yellow; they are not Jews or Christians; conservatives or liberals; or Democrats or Republicans. They are Americans awed by what has gone before, proud of what for them is still . . . a shining city on a hill.”
I know these times are dark and discouraging, but we must remember why many around the world have looked to America for hope and leadership. We must not give into the fear that divides us. When we stand for each other, we stand for ourselves. I am the other and the other is me.
@2019 Robert Althouse