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(adjective): not characteristic of or consistent with American customs, principles, or traditions.
Shortly after the United States joined World War II, 120,000 Japanese Americans from California, Washington, and Oregon, as well as southern and central Arizona, were forcibly removed from their homes. Without charges or trials, they were taken to desolate and remote parts of the interior United States and incarcerated in camps for an indefinite amount of time. One of these camps was just a few miles south of Chandler.
These individuals, over seventy percent of whom were US citizens, were under suspicion of being potential foreign agents, saboteurs, or terrorists. They were accused of being un-American.
Their actual crime: looking like the enemy.
History shows there was not a single documented case of spying, sabotage, or terrorism by those relocated to camps. However, this mass incarceration had real financial and social costs. Most lost their homes, their land, their privacy, and their freedom. Despair and humiliation tore families apart. Most were forced to start from scratch in a new community. Assuming the government had reason to incarcerate them, neighbors turned hostile and suspicious.
Speaking about Japanese internment in 2014, former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said, “You are kidding yourself if you think the same thing will not happen again.” He said the government was wrong to force US citizens into detention centers based only on suspicion. However, Scalia pointed to the Roman philosopher Cicero, who cautioned, “In times of war, the laws fall silent.”
Looking back seventy-five years, who was un-American? Japanese Americans who looked like the enemy, or the federal government who imprisoned them?