Fear no excuse to take away rights of Japanese Americans

The National organization of the Japanese American Citizens League recently became aware of the editorial written by Bob Thomas that your paper allowed to be published on April 27. Initially, it was very disconcerting to our organization that your paper would approve of publishing an article filled with such racial animosity.

It was equally disconcerting to realize it was written by a community leader and former member of the Nevada State Assembly. Although editorial pages are the "opinion" of individuals, there is a distinction between publishing "opinions" and publishing "hate" and your newspaper still has an ethical responsibility of what is published.

To dissect Mr. Thomas' article, he first states that the United States government had no choice but to intern thousands of Japanese Americans and Japanese nationals for several reasons, including their safety. Mr. Thomas presumes, as he was not one who was actually interned, that most individuals would prefer to be imprisoned to keep them safe. Several of our local members who were interned would respectfully disagree with this presumption.

Mr. Thomas further states that many Caucasians were ready to "kill all Japs" at any time and any place. It is interesting to note that the only Japanese who were interned were along the coastal areas of California. Moreover, the Japanese in Hawaii were never interned en masse. Therefore, according to Mr. Thomas, there should have been mass killings of Japanese in Hawaii, the Midwest and back east since they were not interned for their "safety." However, Mr. Thomas should note that this did not occur.

Mr. Thomas further insinuates that since some Japanese immigrants were not completely assimilated into the American language and culture, they posed a natural threat of aiding the "enemy." Mr. Thomas does not stop there in his broad generalizations, but in fact, proceeds to suggest that the current "illegal Mexicans" and newly arrived "Orientals" currently post a threat because they also have not "assimilated." First of all, Mr. Thomas' use of the term "Orientals" is not only archaic, but improper when referring to Asians. Secondly, Mr. Thomas' racist thinking becomes rather apparent when he includes immigrants from Mexico and other parts of Asia. Apparently, Mr. Thomas has issues with immigrants, even if Mr. Thomas' family were, ironically, immigrants as well.

Mr. Thomas further states that "some Japanese-American immigrants" along with "many German-Americans" were supportive of their "homelands" and therefore posed a threat. (As a side bar, it is an oxymoron to call a Japanese-American an immigrant as Japanese-Americans are, well, American.) Mr. Thomas' logic apparently suggests that if "some" Japanese-Americans were sympathetic to their homeland, then they all should be interned and then "ferret" out the loyal ones later. So to deal with a guilty few, it is best to punish all. Moreover, Mr. Thomas links the similarities of the Japanese Americans and German Americans, but neglects to mention that German Americans were never interned.

Mr. Thomas professes that the fear of another Japanese attack was grounds to intern several thousand American citizens of Japanese descent without due process, fair notice or a fair trial. That the Constitutional rights promised to these American citizens were rightfully brushed aside based upon the fear of attack from another country. And that this should be done again if need be.

Mr. Thomas apparently has not kept up on current events such as the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, commonly referred to as the Redress Bill, that tried to provide a minimal amount of redress to those individuals wrongly interned in these camps. Further, the federal government has formally apologized to these American citizens for their wrongful detention during the war.

Mr. Thomas apparently is unaware of the thousands of American citizens who lost their homes, property and businesses when they were interned. These American citizens were only allowed to bring two suitcases of belongings each to the camps. Everything else, they needed to leave behind or sell for a pittance. Only a lucky few with good and honest non-Japanese friends helped maintain some of their property, but the majority of those interned lost everything, which they never recouped. Mr. Thomas does not mention the emotional scars left on these individuals, who did nothing wrong except to be born of Japanese descent, but were unjustly punished based upon their ethnicity. To this day, many internees refuse to speak of their experiences at these camps.

Mr. Thomas also only briefly mentions the many Japanese-American men who volunteered to fight for the United States, even when personal emotions ran high as they left their families behind barbed wire to fight for the country that put them there. The 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Teams, while suffering the highest casualty rate, became the most decorated unit for its size and length of service during the war. U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii left one of his arms in Italy while serving in this regiment.

Our organization commends the responsive letter written by Michelle Trusty-Murphy of Minden that chastised Mr. Thomas for his racist comments and that was published in your newspaper. However, the publication of Ms. Trusty-Murphy's letter does not negate the responsibility or reasoning of your paper to publish the initial editorial. It is unclear if your decision to publish was to create controversy or to alienate certain members of the community, but it is clear that both have been achieved. Even though Mr. Thomas refers to himself as a "local curmudgeon," it does not provide an excuse for his racist comments.

In conclusion, we remind you of the quote often associated with the Nazi concentration camps.

"In Germany, they first came for the Communists and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me - and by that time no one was left to speak up."

Pastor Martin Niemoller (1892-1984).

Our organization continues to believe in what is right and just, and we will continue to speak up when "they" come for the Communists, Jews, Trade Unionists and Catholics. And even if "they" come for Mr. Thomas' family, we will speak up for his family even though it is sadly apparent that Mr. Thomas would not speak up for ours.


President of the Reno Chapter

Japanese American Citizens League


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