The Racist Anti-Asian President Who Locked Kids in Concentration Camps

Mary Matsuda Gruenewald was only sixteen when the government forced her family to leave their home and be interned into a concentration camp. She was only one of tens of thousands of children legally living in America (many of them citizens) who had to endure this treatment because of the decision of a sitting U.S. President.

Almost two years ago today, I wrote an essay about the horrible treatment of Japanese people at the hands of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration. For my research, I read a couple of autobiographies about internment experiences, but one really resonated with me — Looking Like the Enemy by Mary Matsuda Gruenewald.

The book really changed my perspective about the not-too-distant history of the region I currently reside in with my family, and U.S. history as a whole. I often wonder how I, as a husband and a father, would react if put into a similar situation as the author’s own father.

With the rise of anti-Asian sentiment in the U.S., I hope my sharing of this essay can, in some small way, contribute to the resolution of this more recent, unjustified xenophobic period of history.

The following is the first half of the essay:

On December 7, 1941 the United States of America was thrust into World War II (WWII) after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. A wave of anti-Japanese sentiment would travel across the Pacific and wash over the entire country, causing President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) to enact an infamous executive order that targeted and violated the rights of many Japanese in America, citizen and non-citizen alike. 
The signing of Executive Order 9066 (EO 9066) mandated that every person on the West Coast with Japanese ancestry must be “evacuated” into concentration camps. As a result, about one-hundred and twenty thousand of them would end up prisoners without due process simply because of their race. Many of them were hardworking, productive members of society who were just as horrified by the Pearl Harbor attack as other American citizens.
FDR’s executive order was not the first government legislation to target Japanese in America. Even before America’s entry into World War II, Japanese Americans, not unlike the earlier Chinese immigrants to America, were excluded from becoming citizens by biased immigration laws and prohibited from land ownership because of targeted anti-alien land laws.[1] 
An example of such a law was the Immigration Act of 1924, which targeted the growing population of the Japanese by banning any further immigration. “Ironically, the [earlier] exclusion of Chinese immigrants … prompted [the] recruiting [of] Japanese immigrants,” into the U.S. to work as laborers.[2] 
Other examples were the 1913 and 1920 Alien Land Law. These laws meant that because first-generation Japanese immigrants couldn’t become citizens, they “weren’t allowed to own property.”[3] FDR expressed support for these “exclusion and alien land laws … based on [the] supposedly innate and incompatible racial characteristics” of the Japanese.[4] This made it very difficult for the Issei – first generation Japanese immigrants – to settle down and build their lives in America.
In 1931, the U.S. government conducted a study to assess the “loyalty of … [those] living on the West Coast and Hawaii.” The results of the study, which were kept from the public until well after WWII, found “no Japanese problem.” In fact, the Japanese had an “extraordinary degree of loyalty.” Despite these findings, FDR remained suspicious of the activity of Japanese American citizens in Hawaii. 
In a secret memorandum in 1936, FDR asked his Joint Planning Committee "to make contingency plans for ‘the Japanese population’ of all the islands,” as well as placing identified suspects on a special list for those who would be placed in concentration camps “in the event of trouble.”[5] He would later authorize “further surveillance … on the West Coast Japanese population, but not on resident German and Italian populations.”[6]
Furthermore, a 1939 memo issued by FDR “gave ‘sweeping authority’ to … and directed three [intelligence] agencies to coordinate their work and exchange information” on matters of domestic security. Two of the three intelligence agencies, the Office of Navy Intelligence (ONI) and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), would go on to oppose the mass exclusion of Japanese Americans on the West Coast. 
Kenneth Riggle, an officer in the ONI who investigated the Japanese American community before the war, concluded that they “did not pose a security risk … and oppose[d] their mass removal and incarceration.”[7] The FBI director at the time, J. Edgar Hoover also expressed his opposition to the exclusion, contradicting “Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox[’s] statement about fifth column work in Hawai’i [following] the attack on Pearl Harbor.[8] Ultimately, FDR was not swayed by both men’s positions and moved forward with the mass exclusion by signing EO9066.
With the stroke of a pen, every single Japanese on the West Coast would be in violation of the law if they refused to be interned. This meant that Japanese American families had mere days to plan for the care of their property before internment. 
Many families that couldn’t make such arrangements were forced, “in the midst of the crisis,” to sell their property for pennies on the dollar in what amounted to “highway robbery!”[9] Mary Matsuda Gruenewald, a former internee, posits in her autobiography that the “war provided the excuse for removing the Japanese … to eliminate competition and … take over whatever gains the Japanese had made.”[10] 
This harkens back to the 1885 Chinese expulsion of Tacoma when white residents bought Chinese property for bargain prices, and in some cases, taking them over forcibly before removing them from the city. An important distinction between the two events being was that the number of Chinese forced out of Tacoma numbered in the hundreds compared to over a hundred thousand Japanese who were forcibly evacuated from their homes and properties. FDR may have not been physically present for the Japanese evacuations as Mayor Weisbach had been  for the Tacoma expulsion, but with his signature, he might as well have been.
It is hard to quantify how much of an effect the earlier exclusion movements had on the treatment of Japanese Americans during WWII. However, we do know that FDR held racist views regarding the Japanese. 
According to historian Greg Robinson, FDR’s “history of anti-Japanese prejudice and racialized thinking led to a carelessness in judging information … and a malign indifference to the rights of Japanese Americans in the face of political pressure for their exclusion.”[11] 
Emily Anderson proposes that “the exclusion movement … and the legislation they helped pass … ultimately cultivated an environment in the West Coast states where the systemic scapegoating of Japanese Americans … and their ultimate removal from [their] homes, businesses, and communities, could seem acceptable.” She also argues that “the exclusion movement is a critical aspect of pre-World War II history that paved the way for the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans.”[12] 
In her autobiography, Looking Like the Enemy, Gruenewald gives us a glimpse into her emotional turmoil at the time of her incarceration. She writes:
We had lost our right to be in the privacy of our own home, the right to come and go as we pleased, the right to voice our opinions openly without the fear of retaliation, the right to be involved in creative activities of our choosing. I was loyal to the country that guaranteed these rights – and that country no longer existed for me. The sudden loss of these rights forced me to realize that this whole mass movement against the Japanese in America was the culmination of more than a half-century of anti-Asian prejudice. And no one, not even the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court, would defend us.[13]

[1] Mary Matsuda Gruenewald, “Looking Like the Enemy,” 3-4

[2] Emily Anderson. “Anti-Japanese exclusion movement,” Densho Encyclopedia

[3] Gruenewald, “Looking Like the Enemy,” 98

[4] Brian Niiya. “Franklin D. Roosevelt,” Densho Encyclopedia

[5] Greg Robinson, “FDR Hawaii Memo,” Densho Encyclopedia

[6] Niiya, “Franklin D. Roosevelt,” Densho Encyclopedia

[7] Niiya, “Kenneth Riggle,” Densho Encyclopedia

[8] Niiya, “J. Edgar Hoover,” Densho Encyclopedia

[9] Gruenewald, “Looking Like the Enemy,” 91.

[10] Gruenewald, “Looking Like the Enemy,” 92.

[12] Anderson, “Anti-Japanese exclusion movement,” Densho Encyclopedia

[13] Gruenewald, “Looking Like the Enemy,” 125.

[11] Niiya, “Franklin D. Roosevelt,” Densho Encyclopedia


Featured Image courtesy of the National Archives

Information Revolution In the Age of Data

The word “data” has been slowly moving farther away from its philosophical origins and has become more entwined with technology. In today’s high-tech, information-at-your-fingertips world, data has become a commodity more precious than black gold.

Governments and big corporations all over the world are more likely to make decisions based on numbers, analytics, and algorithms than in the recent past. By the same token, individuals are more inclined to follow trends, not only in consumer habits but also in thought patterns and actions.

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

With more mass media corporations merging (Facebook buying Instagram or Disney buying Fox), it leaves open the possibility that such powerful corporations could control the public square and monopolize civil and political discourse. When corrupt governments and greedy corporations ally against people, this scenario is no longer just a possibility, it becomes a certainty.

Put simply, the corporate-state alliance, through the manipulation of data, can influence people to unknowingly act against their interests and morals.

Traditionally, before the advent of computers and smartphones, data had always been synonymous with information. Indigenous people passed down information through oral traditions (storytelling, customs, rituals) while literate societies, compiled information into books.

This passing down of generational knowledge is what eventually led to the intellectual movement that spawned the “Enlightenment” in Western societies. If knowledge is power (as Francis Bacon asserted), then information must be knowledge.

Intelligence is another more archaic synonym for the word data, although it is more commonly associated with the gathering of information or having a high IQ.

Using military intelligence and cybersecurity as a modern-day example: if two nations were building up to war, and one of them successfully attacks the other’s cyber infrastructure with a crippling virus, that nation will, in all likelihood, win the war effort before a single bullet has even been fired.

In this scenario, the winning side exploits useful intelligence to harm the losing side. Information becomes a double-edged sword. Depending on who wields it, it can be disseminated or withheld to collapse a nation from within.

Image by chayka1270 from Pixabay

Political campaigns are where the corporate-state marriage is made. According to the New York Times, all the races in this year’s election cycle could combine for “nearly 14 billion” dollars.

The writer, Shane Goldmacher, discloses in the article that 1.8 billion dollars were used on television ads alone, which almost equaled the total amount spent in the 2016 presidential campaign.

The October 28 article further reveals that only 22 percent of the record-breaking donations were made by small donors, while the majority of it came from Wall Street, super PACs, and “so-called dark money … entities like nonprofits.”

If the majority of the population is comprised of small donors, but less than a quarter of the donations are from them, who is funding these winning candidates? Who are these elected officials beholden to, their major donors or the general electorate?

The fact that campaign spending has historically translated to campaign victories is worrying, to say the least.

Image by Jens Teichmann from Pixabay

Although it is arguable where politicians’ loyalties lie, there is no question that corporations are all about their bottom line. Many corporations and their interests have been guilty of ruthless tactics in the name of profits.

Take the Dole Food Company, for example. Founded in Hawaii by James Dole in 1851, it is now the largest fruit and vegetable producer in the world. Ironically, Sanford Dole, James’s once-removed cousin, became Hawaii’s first president after Queen Liliuokalani was overthrown in an American coup. He later became the annexed territory’s first governor.

It is no big secret that corporations have, throughout history, put profits over people. Before the Dole family exploited the land and native people of Hawaii, a different group here on the “mainland”, was caught in the throes of a ruthless form of corporate capitalism.

Many African Americans today can trace their lineage to the hundreds of thousands of slaves brought here against their will. Since the Civil War, the argument for 40 acres and a mule has been made in American civil and political discourse.

In an article by Sheila Flemming-Hunter entitled “Project 1619 revisited: Black Children, Racism, and Reparations,” she makes the case by citing President Thomas Jefferson’s initial suggestion for land reparations as well as General William T. Sherman’s famous field order in 1865 (84).

Flemming-Hunter argues that other groups have been compensated by governments for injustices committed against them. Those descended from the Jewish Holocaust victims received almost 2 billion dollars from Swiss banks and the German Government. Similarly, Japanese Americans interned during World War II received “a formal apology” and 1.2 billion dollars from the US Government (86).

Reparations, whether land, monetary, or otherwise, should always be repaid whenever atrocities and injustices have been committed against a people, a group, or an individual. It should not be any different for African Americans descended from slaves.

Image by Lee Travathan from Pixabay

It is important to remember, however, that on these lands where we can freely express ourselves, join whatever protest we choose to, and even just be a tourist and enjoy a luau on the beach, Native Indigenous people have been forcibly displaced to give us these rights.

Similar to how Native Hawaiians lost their lands to fruit tycoons, it could be argued that Native Americans lost theirs to tobacco tycoons. Tobacco was the first profitable crop to emerge from the colonies.

Those colonies would later expand in a series of land grabs and would become the United States of America we know today.

In the book “All the Real Indians Died Off”: And 20 Other Myths About Native Americans (Myths Made in America), by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker, it is explained how Native Americans have been systematically erased through overt violence, displacement, and information warfare.

They reveal how little the general population actually knows about Native Americans.

On the whole, it can be said that the average US citizen’s knowledge about American Indians is confined to a collection of well-worn myths and half-truths that have Native people either not existing at all or existing in a way that fails to live up to their expectations about who “real” Indians are.

Dunbar-Ortiz and Gilio-Whitaker

The idea of a “master narrative” is also presented by the authors. They describe how in multicultural nations, “the narratives reinforce a contrived sense of unity.” This sense of unity is accomplished through patriotic displays (playing of the national anthem and military flybys during sporting events) and national holidays (Thanksgiving, Halloween).

Dunbar-Ortiz and Gilio-Whitaker write that Native Americans have not only been pushed to the margins of society—even farther than legal immigrants in this country—but “have been disappearing from the collective imagination” for over 500 years.

A person needs only to look up a map of the US with Indian reservation boundaries to see just how far they have been pushed.

Moreover, the authors note a 2015 study to assess “Indigenous curriculum” that found overwhelmingly that in the US, Indigenous people “are largely portrayed as extinct,” or “pre-1900.”

Live Graphic From CNN on Election Night 2020

On election night 2020, CNN had a live graphic that labeled Native voters “SOMETHING ELSE.” The irony of the graphic was that Asian American voters, who make up three percent, were clearly labeled, while Native American voters, who make up a larger demographic at six percent, were not represented accordingly.

Was this a simple error by a new intern, or was it something more nefarious? Given the millions of dollars paid to their writers, editors, and production crews, it is hard to believe that this mistake made it onto live national television.

Has hyper-partisanship and identity politics made us blind to the continual erosion of Native Americans in the public consciousness?

Gone are the days when an anchor could sit behind a desk and selectively spoon-feed curated news to the masses. Outdated information about Indigenous people from non-Indigenous perspectives should be not be allowed to dominate academia.

In this age of free-flowing information, it is the first time in history that any individual—regardless of race, class, or ethnicity—can have access to knowledge that had only previously been available to the academic and political elites. The only excuses for not being able to critically examine a news story or any piece of information, for that matter, are illiteracy, laziness, or just willful ignorance.

As long as we don’t control how our data is gathered and interpreted, we have no say in how our stories are told #DecolonizeData

The cliché “history is written by the victors” is a cliché for a reason. The good news is that the war is far from over. We can begin to fight back with the decolonization of data. As long as we don’t control how our data is gathered and interpreted, we have no say in how our stories are told.

Check out the links below for more about the movement to decolonize data:

Featured Image by FunkyFocus from Pixabay

Native Erasure: CNN Labels Native American Voters as “Something Else”

Just by Googling “Native American vote 2020,” it becomes obvious that the erasure of the Indigenous populations of America is still underway. CNN had a graphic that labeled Natives “Something Else.” The irony of the graphic is that they clearly labeled Asian voters, who are at 3 percent, and neglected to do the same for Native Voters, who made up a higher percentage.

It made me wonder if it was just a simple error or if it was something more nefarious. Maybe it was a mistake by a new intern. Well, after digging a little deeper, it seems that the network hasn’t even apologized for the graphic. The only things I could find that come close to an apology are a Twitter post that doesn’t link anywhere, and an email from a network VP of communications to a Canadian media outlet.

A blatant example of Native Erasure #SomethingElse

Now, why would they issue an apology to Indigenous voters in the U.S. at a Canadian outlet? This is a blatant example of Native erasure. Acknowledging that Indigenous people make up 6% of voters would unravel the idea of the “extinct Indian.” Maybe that’s why they felt the need to label Native voters “Something Else.”

Featured Image from Twitter

Would Socrates and Jesus Be No-Platformed If They Were Alive Today?

I recently read Teresa M. Bejan’s “The Two Clashing Meanings of ‘Free Speech.'” She raises some good questions about the First Amendment, free speech, Facebook and Twitter, and no-platforming. She also makes mention of Diogenes the Cynic, a Greek Philosopher who told Alexander the Great to “get out of his light” and apparently “lived in a barrel [and] masturbated in public.”

My jaw dropped when I read the passage about Diogenes the Cynic. I had to look up and read the conversation for myself. It seems Diogenes only acquired “the Cynic” much later and was actually called Diogenes the Dog at the time of the encounter. He also left quite a positive impression on Alexander the Great. Fascinating stuff. I plan to read, and maybe publish something about this ostentatious and flamboyant character in the future.

For now, I’ll just focus on Teresa Bejan’s article. I encourage you to read it for yourself and make up your own mind. I’ll leave a link at the bottom of the post.

Below is my short reflection on the article, particularly focused on isegoria and parrhesia.

“In theory, isegoria meant … any citizen in good standing had the right to participate in debate and try to persuade his fellow citizens.” This theory sounds good on its face, but who decides if a citizen is in good standing? The majority? Well, the majority of Athenian citizens decided that Socrates, one of the fathers of Western philosophy, was too radical to have a platform. He died for his opinions. Today we know he was right and we’re able to criticize the “mob rule” that got one of the brightest minds back then killed. Another famous figure suffered a similar fate in Jerusalem less than 500 years later. Maybe there’s a lesson here.

It’s sort of like we’d rather be lulled to sleep with soothing half-truths than wake up and face the whole truth.

Parrhesia was about liberty in the sense of license—not a right but an unstable privilege enjoyed at the pleasure of the powerful.” Basically, a license to speak truth to power. The sentence immediately evokes monologues by the late George Carlin. There’s something twisted about having to hear the truth about our society from stand-up comics instead of politicians, the people we expect to lead us. It’s sort of like we’d rather be lulled to sleep with soothing half-truths than wake up and face the whole truth. Maybe that says something about our society.

Read Bejan’s article in The Atlantic.

Here is a link to Diogenes the Cynic’s encounter with Alexander the Great.

Feature Photo by Brian Wangenheim on Unsplash