Monday, February 27, 2017
Japanese American Incarceration & WW II: Could It Happen Again?

On February 23rd, the New York chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) held a panel on 49W 45th Street (11th Floor) to discuss the Internment of Japanese American, which spanned from 1942 to 1946, during World War II. 

To provide brief context, on February 12, 1942, two months following the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized the deportation and incarceration of Japanese Americans with Executive Order 9066. Individuals of Japanese ancestry, or anyone with “one drop of Japanese blood,” were forced to evacuate from their homes and relocate to the internment camps located across the western United States. Ultimately, between 110,000 and 120,000 individuals were placed in, what panelist speaker Sam Mihara* called, “America’s Concentration Camps.” It is important to note that Mihara, as well as other guest speaker Madeline Sugimoto**, were imprisoned, along with their families, under Executive Order 9066, when they were little children. 

Sam Mihara 

Madeline Sugimoto (Left) Presenting a Photograph of Her Family

Using visual archives from renowned artists, such as Henry Sugimoto (father of Madeline Sugimoto) and Dorothea Lange, Mihara and Sugimoto outlined the events that led to Executive Order 9066, the experience of living in “America’s Concentration Camps,” and the consequences — both political, ethical, and personal — of the mass incarceration of the Japanese American community. 

Madeline Sugimoto (Left) 
Original Photograph by Dorothea Lange
At the end of their presentations, the floor was open to the public. Instantly, a question regarding today’s political turmoil filled the room: “Could this happen again?” Mihira’s answer was worrisome but anticipated: “It already has.” 

Sound Familiar?
He proceeded to explain how Donald Trump himself — an authoritarian who twists his (meager) words in order to antagonize the oppressed and vulnerable — and his administration have already taken drastic steps, similar to President Roosevelt in 1942, to marginalize and oppress the Muslim community. However, according the Mihira, the biggest concern people should have relates to bystanders. Those who observe but do not intervene, those who sympathize but do not act, play a significant role in the approval of massive atrocities such as the Executive Order 9066. He claimed that it is crucial that bystanders, whether or not directly effected by the policies proposed by Trump and his administration, should speak up and intervene. 

Fun Fact: Sam Mihara's wife, Helene, happens to be the well-known poster child of that time!

Sam Mihara concluded the panel by advocating for action and resistance. He argued that groups of people acting — organizing protests, attending rallies and public hears, participating in labor strikes — do influence political decisions because they refuse to remain silent: their voices are being heard. Mihara also cited the importance of educating youth about Executive Order 9066 — at the beginning of the discussion, he mentioned that only a small handful of Harvard University students were aware of the Japanese American Incarceration. He believes that it is important to spread awareness about Executive Order 9066, for it serves as reminder of what had been, and what could still be, a reality for some. 

A Photograph of A Child in an Internment Camp
What do you all think?
Do you notice any similarities between President Roosevelt's actions against the Japanese American community and President Donald Trump's actions against the Muslim community?
Do you believe history is doomed to repeat itself?
With the advancement of social media, as well as increasing opposition towards Donald Trump, do you think resistance is possible?

*Mr. Mihara is a second-generation Japanese American whose family was forced to move to an “American-style” concentration camp at Heart Mountain in northern Wyoming after the United States entered World War II. When they were released, the Miharas returned to San Francisco, where Sam had a very successful career as an aerospace engineer with Boeing.
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**Madeline Sugimoto is the daughter of renowned Japanese American artist Henry Sugimoto. Madeline and her family were incarcerated at the Jerome and Rohwer Camps in Arkansas. After the war ended, Madeline moved to New York City with her family, where she worked for many years as a nurse educator at Cornell Medical Center.
For more information:

*All photographs were taken by Bob Lee
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