“Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.” — Benjamin Franklin
That quote can be found in a place that serves as a stark reminder of why Americans are less secure with our infatuation with homeland security than we were on Sept. 11, 2011.
The place is Manzanar National Historic Site in a desolate stretch of Inyo County. It marks were 11,700 Americans were interned for the mere crime of being part of an ethnic group at the wrong time in history.
They were forcibly sent there without due process out of fear they were terrorists living among us in the aftermath of Japan’s sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
Some weren’t American citizens but many were.
Their crime was basically being Americans of Japanese descent. The fear that gave President Roosevelt the authority to issue an executive order rounding up 120,000 Japanese Americans on the West Coast was based on the assumption they were agents of espionage for Japan. Yet by the end of World War II not one of them even had charges of espionage brought against them.
They were forced to abandon businesses, farms, homes, pets and virtually all of their belongings. Those fortunate enough had neighbors who watched over their property and took care of it while they were interned. Some lost everything by the war’s end.
Manzanar stands as much as to the foolishness of suspending freedom in times of fear as it does as mute testimony of what 120,000 loyal Americans suffered while housed at 10 internment camps in desolate desert regions as well as in swamps in the western United States.
The willingness of many of us today to suspend freedom and liberty in exchange for the false sense of security belies the fact such a strategy can easily make you the victim of some future mass hysteria based on ethnicity, beliefs, or political views.
In a way, it is no different than those who opted to turn a blind eye to the mass extermination of the Jews. They did so because they weren’t Jewish but it ignores the fact that the target could be the Jews today and them tomorrow
The point is not to sit in judgment of what the United States did in 1942 after Pearl Harbor. Instead it is to remember the truism that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.
We did not intern Americans of Middle Eastern descent after Sept. 11, 2001. That said our treatment as a society as a whole and the government in particular of those Americans who have ethnic ties to the Middle East hasn’t exactly been stellar.
Years ago when I was still in high school in Lincoln, my group of friends got into a discussion on religion. One guy believed Marvin Hata was a Buddhist simply based on his ethnicity. He refused to believe Marvin when he told him that he was a Methodist as were his parents and his grandparents. They were parents and grandparents, by the way, that had been among the 120,000 internees taken from their homes, farms, and businesses simply because they were Americans of Japanese descent.
Fast forward to 15 or so years ago: An anonymous caller to the Bulletin was “upset” that “Thomas” had bought the Texaco station at Powers and Yosemite avenues here in Manteca. The caller said he was “one of them” referencing the Iraqis that were “religious fanatics” that Americans fought in the Gulf War.
It turns out Thomas and his family are Christians that fled the Saddam Hussein regime. The odds of them being executed for their faith if they had stayed was extremely high.
We are never more wrong when we make blanket decisions based on a person’s skin tone in regards to who they are.
America is supposed to value the individual yet as a society we spend most of our time trying to pigeonhole people based on skin tone, religion, political beliefs, sexuality, socio-economic background, and even the way they dress.
We still have the lingering attitude DNA that gave the Balkan States a verb — balkanization. We need to work harder at stopping the tendency to make wholesale judgments of groups of people.
Just because they watch the Dukes of Hazards doesn’t make them a racist nor if they support abortion does it make them murders.
Yes, both statements are shaped by perspective. If every time you saw a Confederate flag and you are black and you experienced racism, you may jump to the conclusion — however wrong it might be — that the Confederate flag is a sign of racism in all cases where you see it. By the same token not everyone by a long shot agrees at what point life begins.
People don’t have to sacrifice their values and beliefs.
What they need to do, though, is to refrain from passing blanket judgments that ultimately rob us all of freedom for a false sense of security.
America is only as strong as individuals banding together — not out of fear or prejudice — but from seeking common ground.
And anytime we willing allow anyone’s freedoms to be sacrificed without due process we all become a little less secure.
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Journal or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.