It occurred on February 19, 1942, following the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan two months earlier. President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, “with the stated intention of preventing espionage on American shores.” What the order actually did was one of the greatest atrocities committed by the United States in its history: the internment of more than 120,000 Japanese Americans. Canada followed our lead first, then Mexico and several South American countries did too.
According to The History Channel, in the U.S., “Anyone who was at least 1/16th Japanese was evacuated, including 17,000 children under age 10, as well as several thousand elderly and disabled residents.”
I understand the ignorant temptation as it existed then, as many did in real time. That same ignorance is being openly refreshed and rebooted today following the terrorist attacks by Hamas on Israel, and the full-scale war that has followed in response.
Hamas and Israel
Florida governor and 2024 presidential candidate, Ron DeSantis, did not equivocate in his racist perspective on Sunday, saying, the United States should not take in any Palestinian refugees if they flee the Gaza Strip because they “are all antisemitic,” according to the Associated Press. He also appeared on “Face the Nation,” expanding his hostile comments, by adding, “They teach kids to hate Jews, the textbooks do not have Israel even on the map. They prepare very young kids to commit terrorist attacks. So, I think it’s a toxic culture.” In this ignorant rant, he makes the error of using “they” as the unspecific villain, failing to differentiate people in any discernible way.
Those hateful comments seem different than those made in a letter Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN03) sent to the U.S. secretaries of state and homeland security on October 8. In it, Banks requests that Israel’s admission to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program be expedited for the purpose of “removing an extra hurdle for Israeli citizens looking to travel to America during this uncertain time.” Admitting Israel to the program had been announced on September 27, but would not take effect until November 30.
Of course, I support the request Banks made in his letter. However, on the same day he sent the letter, he posted this question on X: “How many Hezbollah and Hamas sympathizers have illegally crossed our border in the last three years?”
The contrast is important because it represents the early stages of governmental leaders choosing cultures, or people, many of whom are victims themselves, of suddenly deserving different levels of humanity from America. Not only is that rhetoric dangerous, but it’s also un-American.
Are the people and descendants of these warring nations and factions the enemies of all Americans? No, they aren’t. If they were, consider applying that standard uniformly for a moment.
‘Hamas and the Palestinian people are not synonymous’
Are we scared and hateful toward all Russians in light of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine? Most Americans, see that war as unjust, unprovoked, and are fully supportive of our nation’s ongoing support of Ukraine’s defense of itself. But do we hate all people and descendants of Russia? Maybe some Americans do, though the political arena does not see the benefit of encouraging it at the moment.
Contrast this apparent absence of blame with how Asian-Americans were victimized here after COVID-19’s origination was traced back to China. The same ignorance from nearly a century ago took root in the hearts of many Americans, creating villains out of cultures for no reason other than ignorance itself.
There are real crises in Eastern Europe and in the Middle East. The world is a dangerous place, largely due to authoritarian regimes’ regular threats of war and now the deadly realities of at least two actual wars.
Hamas and the Palestinian people are not synonymous with one another. Al-Qaeda was not representative of all Arab people. And all Russians are not members of Putin’s army.
Oh, and Governor DeSantis, Palestinians are also Semites, making your ignorant quote from the weekend even more ignorant than you meant it to be.
On Saturday, “authorities in suburban Chicago accused a man of fatally stabbing a 6-year-old boy and seriously wounding the boy’s mother because they were Muslim, an attack that officials tied to the violence in Israel and Gaza,” as reported by the New York Times. Hateful rhetoric from governmental and political leaders encourages crimes of hate like this.
It is disturbing to hear our so-called leaders say the hateful and ignorant things of the past two weeks. Though it is an American tradition, it is deeply unacceptable. We can be disgusted by what started these recent wars, choose to support the governments of our allies, and continue to be the beacon of hope for oppressed peoples all at the same time.