L.A. County repeals 1942 support for WWII incarceration

WARTIME RACISM REMEMBERED — Actor George Takei testifies at a Los Angeles County board of supervisors meeting on June 6, before the board voted to revoke its World War II support for the incarceration of Japanese Americans. Kyodo News photo

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles County board of supervisors voted unanimously June 6 to repeal its 1942 resolution supporting the incarceration of Japanese Americans shortly after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, which led the United States to enter World War II.

“To ignore this and to leave it as unfinished business is essentially to trivialize it, and we chose not to trivialize this travesty,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas as he introduced the issue at the board’s meeting.

On Jan. 27, 1942, the board passed a resolution urging the U.S. federal government to forcibly remove Japanese American residents, saying it was difficult “if not impossible to distinguish between loyal and disloyal Japanese aliens.”

Less than a month later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an order that put the nation’s nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans in remote concentration camps for up to three years. Nearly one-third came from L.A. County.

The result was mass pain and hardship, Japanese American leaders, including former detainees or their descendants, testified before the vote.

“I wish this (vote) had happened during the lifetimes of my great-grandfather, who lost everything … and my father who was born behind barbed wire,” said Greg Kimura, head of the Japanese American National Museum.

Actor George Takei, 75, who portrayed Mr. Sulu in the “Star Trek” TV series, also testified in support of the motion and recounted being forced to leave his home for a camp almost 2,000 miles away when he was 5 years old. Takei then thanked the county board “for making history right, so that we can face the future having extracted important lessons from our democracy.”

“This resolution is about the present and the future, not just the past … There is still racial profiling that is taking place,” said Muslim Public Affairs Council President Salam al-Marayati, in the sole non-Japanese American testimony.

Seventy years after incarceration, U.S. institutions continue to recognize the Japanese American war experience. In May, U.S. President Barack Obama awarded Gordon Hirabayashi, a Japanese American who defied the incarceration, a posthumous presidential medal of freedom, the highest civilian award the government has offered, while the University of Southern California granted honorary degrees to surviving Japanese Americans whose studies were derailed by the incarceration.

In late 2011, Japanese American wartime military units received the congressional gold medal.

“In aggregate, this has created a healing process for the community,” said Don Nose, president of the Go For Broke National Education Center, a nonprofit organization with educational programs about the history of the Japanese American veterans of the war.

But the delay of such recognition is part of “the legacy of the internment,” Takei told reporters after the vote.

“Because it was such a painful and shameful experience for the generation that experienced it, they were silenced. It’s only now … that the next generation is learning the details. So these actions today are not too late,” Takei said.

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