Some Readers Might Ask What Really Was Shameful

By Jack Limpert

A sentence in yesterday’s Washington Post kept me—and maybe a few other older readers— awake last night. It was in an Arts & Style story  headlined “Outrage and old wounds” and it was about which museum should get some of the artifacts of Japanese-Americans who were interned on the West Coast during World War II. The sentence:

“They are artifacts of a shameful period of American history, one little discussed amid the stories of the Greatest Generation.”

During World War Two I was too young for the Greatest Generation but old enough to collect tin foil to help the war effort. Yes, we hated “the Japs” for their bombing of Pearl Harbor, which killed 2,403 Americans, and for bringing us into a war that took the lives of more than 400,000 American soldiers. For several families in our small Wisconsin town, a gold star banner hung in a front window.

When I saw the Post calling the wartime treatment of Japanese-Americans a shameful period of American history, I thought of Uncle Jake back home. He was married to one of my dad’s sisters and one of his nephews had died in the Bataan death march. What would he say about a newspaper story which seemed to equate the detainment of Japanese-Americans with what happened to his nephew?

He’d probably use four-letter words. As an editor who remembers those years, I’d just ask the writer if she really wanted to equate the detainment of Japanese-Americans with the deaths of all those American soldiers.


  1. I think most would agree that this was a shameful period of American history, the internment of Japanese-Americans, U.S. citizens, who had nothing to do with attacking the U.S. or World War II. To try to in any way justify it is what is now shameful!

  2. Mike Feinsilber says

    No one—no one—argues that the Japanese sneak attack was anything but despicable, but do you really want to argue that the imprisonment for five years of more than 127,000 U.S. citizens—almost two-thirds of whom had been born in this country and many of whom were forced to sell their property for a fraction of its value and one of whom lost his right arm fighting in the U.S. Army in Italy and became president pro tempore of the Senate, third in line of succession to the presidency—was anything but shameful?

    Yes, the Supreme Court, yielding to anti-Japanese paranoia, upheld the reckless internment, but the court was wrong, just as it had been in Dred Scott, Plessy v. Ferguson, and Bush v. Gore. Congress must have thought the internment was a shameful act when it passed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 awarding surviving interns $20,000 each in reparations.

    None of the interns was ever convicted of or charged with sabotage. Their treatment was unnecessary, unconstitutional and— yes—shameful.

  3. Uncle Jake probably would say that in retrospect our treatment of Japanese-Americans during the war was wrong but the Bataan death march—and other Japanese atrocities during the war—was far, far worse.

    • And perhaps dropping an atomic bomb on Japan and killing and maiming so many Japanese men, women, and children was worse yet! American hands are not clean when it comes to atrocities.

  4. A Veteran’s Day memory posted today by Joseph Benham on Connecting, a newsletter for current and former Associated Press journalists:

    I served with a lot of men who had seen combat in WWII and some who were coming back from Korea. Two of the most impressive were survivors of the Bataan Death March and years in a Japanese prison camp. They didn’t talk much about that, beyond saying that they were glad that our Army patrols got to the camp before they were machine-gunned by the guards.

Speak Your Mind