Yesterday Is More Important Than You Think

Yesterday marked the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066. And yes, it’s significant.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA Japanese American WWI veteran reporting to the Santa Anita Assembly Center after EO 9066.

What’s Executive Order 9066?

Don’t be too surprised if you’re unfamiliar – it’s not often taught in our schools, and it’s mostly overlooked in our US history books (scrubbed might be a better word). Personally, I was unaware of it until a few years ago. Yet Executive Order 9066, signed during World War II by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, remains an important part of our history that must be remembered, even if recovering such memories proves to be difficult or disconcerting.

On February 19, 1942, FDR signed an order that paved the way for militarized zones to be set-up throughout the United States for the internment of Japanese Americans. While official language cites “militarized zones,” presidential speeches, interviews, and internal documents reveal that the government referred to these zones as concentration camps – a place where people are imprisoned, not for any crime, but on the basis of who they are. Over 120,000 Japanese Americans were removed from their homes and communities, labeled with tags, and forced to relocate in concentration camps, where military personnel set up machine gun towers with the guns aimed inside the camp. The collective trauma and communal devastation that Japanese Americans experienced under EO 9066 cannot be understated.

Learning from Our Yesterdays

It took decades of advocacy, activism, and even failed attempts within the court system for Japanese Americans to be heard, but in 1976, Gerald Ford officially rescinded EO 9066. Subsequently, Jimmy Carter created the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians in 1980, which published its findings (Personal Justice Denied):

In sum, Executive Order 9066 was not justified by military necessity…The broad historical causes that shaped these decisions were race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership. Widespread ignorance about Americans of Japanese descent contributed to a policy conceived in haste and executed in an atmosphere of fear and anger at Japan.  A grave personal injustice was done to the American citizens and resident aliens of Japanese ancestry who, without individual review or any probative evidence against them, were excluded, removed and detained by the United States during World War II.

Personal Justice Denied, by the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians

Never Stop Questioning

In times when fear and anger seem to be high within our country, we have the opportunity to move forward together. And as a Christian, I believe the church is called to proclaim and embody the gospel – particularly in this tense space. Yet without a willingness to dialogue and reconsider our assumptions, we will miss that opportunity and opt for a more segregated and more divided nation.

However you identify politically, and whoever you might be ethnically or racially, consider these next steps:

  1. Fast from your Facebook feed.
    • Take a break from social media, especially if it’s damaging your relationships. Your newsfeed is a mirror of yourself. It’s designed to reinforce your views. Let’s learn to look outside.
  2. Make time to listen to those different from you.
    • If you’re Caucasian, would you be willing to seriously consider a POC’s (person of color) perspective that differs from your own? Invite a friend to coffee, and come with honest questions. Ask for permission to learn from their experiences. And then listen with an open heart – without interrupting, correcting, or judging.
    • If you’re a POC, would you be willing to sit down with a Caucasian friend and begin the journey of reconciliation? You may have legitimate fear in doing this. It might be awkward. But your story is valuable, and without you owning it, our voices will remain unheard. And who knows, you might learn something new, too.
  3. Read, Listen, and Watch Widely.
    • Personal stories are great, but they only scratch the surface. Here are a few things that I’m reading (let me know if you’re interested in discussing these!):
      • The Making of Asian America – Erika Lee’s work covers a wide breadth of Asian American history and experience and examines the complicated function of race (from ‘despised minority’ to ‘model minority’) as it relates to Asian Americans.
      • Divided by Faith – From over 2,000 individual surveys, Michael Emerson & Christian Smith dive into evangelical white America and investigate the racial divide that plagues the American church.
      • “I Overlooked the Rural Poor – Then Trump Came Along” By Tish Harrison Warren
      • The Warmth of Other Suns – Written by Isabel Wilkerson, this book documents 3 individuals through their migrations in America. Winner of several literary awards.
      • Silence – Set in Japan during the 1600s as it experienced colonization and the Portuguese mission, this historical fiction presses into the question of God’s silence in the midst of faith, pain, and suffering. By Shusaku Endo. Now adapted into a motion picture directed by Martin Scorsese and in theaters.
    • Find several reputable news sources. Get outside of the vacuum.
  4. Ask questions out of curiosity, not judgment.
    • It’s easy to ask questions simply to assess whether a person is on your side or not. It’s more difficult, but much more rewarding, to ask questions out of genuine curiosity. Engage in the art of learning. Listen with empathy. Consider whether you might need to surrender any of your preconceived notions or deeply held beliefs.
  5. Advocate with conviction and civility.
    • We all have different starting points. It takes a journey, a process, and a community of trusted friends to move forward in racial reconciliation. I’m not the same person that I was 5 years ago, and sometimes I have to remind myself of that as I learn to love and serve among differences.

And – if you’re out in Los Angeles, make a short trip to the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo. My family just did this last weekend, and we found it incredibly insightful and historically significant as we learn to interpret our times. EO 9066 literally changed our American landscape and severely impacted the generational consciousness of US citizens.

Our times offer us an opportunity to move towards something different than our current narratives. Let’s start questioning, friends.

“The important thing is to not stop questioning.” – Albert Einstein

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