Amid the country’s stay-at-home orders to contain the mass spread of the coronavirus, several claims from right-wing pundits and politicians have emerged, comparing quarantine to Japanese American concentration camps from WWII.
What the politicans and protestors had to say
One America News (OAN) host, Graham Ledger, for one, labeled the stay-at-home orders a “conspiracy” by Democrats, according to the video and transcript from Media Matters.
“This is the greatest attack on individual liberty in this republic since the Korematsu decision,” he said. The OAN host then goes on to give a “history” lesson, saying, “the Korematsu decision, in World War II, FDR, the hero of the left, locked up Americans of Japanese descent during World War II, took away everything they had, put them in concentration camps.”
Ledger continued, “We did compensate for this atrocity—” regarding the $20,000 reparations from the Civil Liberties Act doled out to those of Japanese descent who’ve undergone the horrid treatment and survived “—this attack on the Constitution and the constitutional rights of Americans. But this — I don’t know, I don’t know if we’ll ever be compensated.”
Protestors and anti-lockdown enthusiasts have come out of quarantine to declare their allegiance, comparing their “progressive” efforts to the civil disobedience of Rosa Parks.
Soon after, Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley made headlines for using the Korematsu decision to question Gov. Tony Evers’, and Department of Health Secretary Andrea Palm’s authority for their extension of the state’s stay-at-home orders, according to the Washington Post.
“Isn’t it the very definition of tyranny for one person to order people to be imprisoned for going to work among other ordinarily lawful activities?” she said in a May 5 Supreme Court hearing.
In the video from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Bradley quoted the 1944 ruling and later wrote a written opinion, on the incarceration of Japanese citizens. Her intention behind the invocating and citing of “cases such as Korematsu…is to test the limits of government authority, to remind the state that urging courts to approve the exercise of extraordinary power during times of emergency may lead to extraordinary abuses of its citizens” — in regards to where Bradley and several conservative court justices struck down Evers and Palm’s order and labeled it “unlawful, invalid, and unenforceable.”
What the Japanese American historians had to say
Densho, a nonprofit organization made of Japanese Americans and allies, some who’ve had relatives or come from an ancestry born and detained in these camps, wrote a statement on its blog citing sources of misinformed attempts to plaster the country’s stay-at-home orders with the likeness of Japanese concentration camps from WWII.
“…staying home during a global pandemic is not the same thing as being incarcerated and stripped of basic civil rights. Your living room is not a concentration camp, and exposing service providers to hazardous working conditions so you can get a haircut is not an inalienable right,” it said.
Camp rules and restrictions
According to a 1942 document called, “Camp Rules” — processed by the organization In Time and Place, and then verified by NextShark via an archivist at the Japanese American National Museum — there are 35 rules, some with subsections, that restricted one’s freedoms and rights in the concentration camps.
Here are just a few summarized and simplified:
Lights out, including all electronic devices (radios) by 10:30 p.m where you must remain until 6 a.m. The only exceptions are with the express written permission of the Center Manager in what is deemed a “necessary case.”
You are forbidden to write, talk or contact, in any form, any military police personnel unless they initiate it first. No “fraternization” with the Interior Police.
No alcoholic beverages unless they are “sacramental wines” or for “medicinal purposes.” If deemed as such, they will be “destroyed” and “witnessed by a Caucasian member of Center staff.”
All movements (bicycle, truck, traffic) within the Center, including buildings and all rooms, are limited or require permission from the Center Manager. Interior Police, on the other hand, will always be allowed, without a warrant, to enter any building, including your own room and living quarters.
You are required to speak in English within Center meetings.
You cannot have or serve any food that involves heat or cooking in your living quarters.
Men and women are not allowed to be in the same rooms where they are segregated.
If you have a job, it must be approved first. You are expected to carry out your duties, however, if you want to quit you must notify your “Caucasian supervisor.”
You are forbidden to disobey, interfere with (physically, in writing, talk), or pay any person working for the Center Staff, Interior Security Police, or the Military Police members.
If you have children, you are required to teach them fully about the “regulations and the necessity for obedience.”
If you do anything that to “conspire” or is viewed as such, such as praise or worship of “the Japanese nation, government, or Emperor,” you will be prosecuted.
All of these rules were for when you were admitted into the camps. It does not account for the number of Japanese Americans who were stripped of all their property, assets and belongings before they were thrown to live in these “Centers” of squalor and disease where 1,862 people died.
In an article and recording from NPR, one survivor, John Tateishi, said, “We came out of these camps with a sense of shame and guilt, of having been considered betrayers of our country…There were no complaints, no big rallies or demands for justice because it was not the Japanese way.”
George Takei, the author of his 2019 graphic memoir “They Called Us Enemy,” and who spent his childhood years in a camp, took to Twitter to slam the comparison. “It’s not an internment camp. Trust me,” he wrote.
Several Twitter users have come to defend Takei and blast the faulty comparison as well. One even mentions the PBS “Asian Americans” series, where one woman, born into the concentration camp spoke about her diary entries about her family’s struggle during that time.
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