This reflection was poignantly shared by the Rev. Dennis Tierney at a recent Diocesan Council meeting. It is well worth reading. I hope you will.
“Nidoto Nai Yoni” Let It Not Happen Again:
A Reflection on Governmental Power in Times of Fear
The Rev. Dr. Dennis S. Tierney
Seventy-five years ago, the President signed Executive Order 9066. It is a chilling document to read. It created a military zone 150 miles in-depth and running from the Canadian border to the Mexican border. In that zone, designated military commanders could exclude “any and all persons” for reasons of national security without review or explanation. In March of that same year, 1942, Congress passed PL 503 confirming that Presidential Executive Order. It took only one hour of debate in the Senate and only 30 minutes of debate in the House of Representatives.
The results of this order and subsequent legislation are curious, indeed. 120,000 Japanese-Americans were excluded from this designated area. No Japanese-Americans residing in the Territory of Hawaii were excluded from their homes, businesses, and territory even though they comprised 40% of the population of the Hawaiian Islands. A few were arrested for suspected disloyalty but most simply continued their lives in the midst of the war. Japanese-Americans outside the military zone experienced prejudice but not exclusion. Two-thirds of all individuals excluded were American citizens, holding all the rights and privileges accorded to our citizens. Many of these were born in this country and held their citizenship through birth. It mattered not one whit. They were given roughly 48 hours to gather all the belongings they could carry and to assemble at designated locations for removal to unknown locations. The very first of these “exclusions” took place on Bainbridge Island, Washington. There about 250 residents were required to assemble at the Eagledale Dock under the watchful eye of armed soldiers and taken to Seattle for temporary holding at racetracks and other large facilities. They were sent to camps hastily erected in empty forlorn places like Manzanar and Minidoka.
To be fair, some 11,000 German-Americans were interned along with 3,000 Italian-Americans, and a few Jewish refugees who were Germans.
The camps remained in full force until December of 1944 when the Executive Order was suspended. Many residents were kept in the camps until after the Japanese surrender in September of 1945. No one was ever found guilty of any sabotage or espionage. Indeed, many young Japanese-American males volunteered for military service fighting for the country that imprisoned their parents, siblings, and friends. The 442nd Regimental Combat Team, formed from these volunteers, fought for a bit over one year, 1944-1945. It is the most decorated unit for its size and duration of service in United Sates military history. The unit earned 9,486 Purple Hearts, 5 Presidential Unit Citations, and an astonishing 21 Medals of Honor. All while their loved ones languished in drafty camps, guarded by American soldiers detailed to this useless guard duty.
The Executive Order was not formally rescinded until 1976 – our Bicentennial Year.
In the United States, as this order was promulgated, one might imagine that protests would be mounted. One would be wrong. Only two newspapers ever wrote anything against this order and its implementation. A newspaper in Orange County, California wrote one editorial opposing this action and the subsequent threat of cancelled ads and subscriptions silenced that newspaper. But one voice stood out, loud, clear, and insistent on how wrong this terrible, un-American action was. It was a small-town newspaper on the very island where the round-up of the Japanese-Americans began, Bainbridge Island, WA.
Walt Woodward, its owner, publisher and editor was a Seattle native. Educated in Seattle public schools and earning a degree at the University of Washington, he worked for the Seattle Times. He married Millicent Logg of Bainbridge Island, one of the pioneering families and they bought the Bainbridge Island Review. They stood alone in the entire United Sates in their repeated condemnations of the wrongs being done to loyal Americans whose only difference was their racial and cultural identity. Walt and Milly faced opposition for their stance and were advised repeatedly to stop writing about this issue and support their country in its war effort. Walt said he was supporting his country – the part of it found in the Bill of Rights. They lost subscriptions and advertisement revenues. They were threatened with personal harm. They continued to write scathing editorials excoriating those who would traffic in base prejudice and racial hatred. Moreover, they invited the former residents from Bainbridge Island, now imprisoned far away to contribute columns for the paper – “Camp Correspondents,” so both the excluded and the islanders could stay in touch with each other, not forget, and be aware of the lives being lived behind the barbed wire.
Walt was a founding member of Saint Barnabas Episcopal Church and served as a lay reader for many years. Curiously, he was also a life-long Republican and, in later years, served the National Republican Party in Washington, DC.
Few of us will ever be afforded the opportunity to take a lonely but principled stand in times of great fear. Walt and Milly Woodward did just that. In their own lifetimes, they went from pariahs to patriots. Both were awarded many honors. The middle school on Bainbridge Island is named for them. The ferry dock where this whole sad story began is now a national parks memorial. People from all over the world come to that memorial and to the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum to learn, to wonder, and worry about a government and a people that could, even under the press of war and fear, so forget its founding principles, its claim to being “a shining city on the hill” that it would incarcerate its own citizens, suspend the writ of habeas corpus, and trample on its own national soul; its own better angels.
In all that happened in those uncertain years, the only result of note is that our claim to be the center of democracy in the world, to be the exception to the bonds of history, to be the “arsenal of democracy” was shown to be very thin paint on our national identity.
My question to us all is what have we learned? What will they say of us when our history is written? I used to remind my high school students that our national anthem opens and closes with questions. The last one is this, “Oh say does that star-spangled banner yet wave, o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”
Dear friends in Christ, how shall we, today, answer that question? More importantly, what will we do to ensure that we remain (or, perhaps become finally) the home of the free and the land of the brave? “Nidoto Nai Yoni”, let it not happen again.