On Wednesday, the mayor of Roanoke, Virginia, wrote a controversial letter explaining why his administration won't be welcoming Syrian refugees. The letter from Mayor David Bowers invoked America's history of interning Japanese Americans during World War II as a precedent for his own actions. He wrote, "President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt compelled to sequester Japanese foreign nationals after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and it appears that the threat of harm to America from Isis now is just as real and serious as that from our enemies then."
Star Trek actor turned internet celebrity George Takei takes this subject very personally, because he was one of the 120,000 Japanese Americans who were targeted by Roosevelt's policies. And in a powerful Facebook post, he pointed out that the lesson Bowers has drawn from this history is totally wrong:
1) The internment (not a "sequester") was not of Japanese "foreign nationals," but of Japanese Americans, two-thirds of whom were U.S. citizens. I was one of them, and my family and I spent 4 years in prison camps because we happened to look like the people who bombed Pearl Harbor. It is my life’s mission to never let such a thing happen again in America.
2) There never was any proven incident of espionage or sabotage from the suspected "enemies" then, just as there has been no act of terrorism from any of the 1,854 Syrian refugees the U.S. already has accepted. We were judged based on who we looked like, and that is about as un-American as it gets.
3) If you are attempting to compare the actual threat of harm from the 120,000 of us who were interned then to the Syrian situation now, the simple answer is this: There was no threat. We loved America. We were decent, honest, hard-working folks. Tens of thousands of lives were ruined, over nothing.