Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Trump and Perverse Pearl Harbor Analogies

Normally, I would reserve the time around the anniversary of Pearl Harbor for posting about the attack itself, rather than the dismaying consequences for US domestic history (there is plenty of time for that at other times of year, especially the Japanese American Day of Remembrance).

However, I'll bend that rule this year.

In the wake of Donald Trump's demand that the government "shut down" entry to the US by Muslims (see previous post), some of his enthusiastic supporters helpfully sought to justify the proposal by likening it to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Pressed on the matter, Trump, who usually doubles down on every claim, only half-owned this position, citing FDR's anti-naturalization proclamations against German and Italian as well as Japanese aliens. Pressed still further, Trump waffled. When asked whether he was praising the World War II internment camps for Japanese Americans, he told both Joe Scarborough and George Stephanopoulos that he was not, but he was less definitive in replying to the question from Time:  "I certainly hate the concept of it. But I would have had to be there at the time to give you a proper answer."

In point of fact, of course, the issue turns less on the treatment of enemy aliens than of American citizens whose ethnicity was their only link to the Axis powers. And here, our citizens were treated very differently. Although the large German and Italian American populations had significant elements sympathetic to fascism, whereas--in the words of the Japanese American Relocation Digital Archives--"No Japanese American or Japanese national was ever found guilty of sabotage or espionage," it was the latter who were singled out for collective internment.

That didn't turn out very well.

Whether you are familiar with the story or need a refresher, here's a little piece from the vaults, discussing the climate of fear that led to the internment order and caused many Americans to applaud or at least acquiesce in it.

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Other posts on the Japanese American internment camps and related topics.

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