Sunday, December 07, 2008

Pearl Harbor Day

I just finished reading an editorial about the lesson that Pearl Harbor Day should teach us. The author's conclusion was that we can never forget that there is the possibility we will be attacked; he also made a point of mentioning the need for strong intelligence (presumably in the sense that uses spies as well as the one that uses gray matter).

While I agree that national security is extremely important, I can't help but remember another lesson that learning about Pearl Harbor taught me. Even a country that was founded on principles of justice and equality is capable of throwing civil rights out the window in a crisis. Being Japanese-American, learning about Pearl Harbor was always awkward for me (not just because boys in my class said rude things to me on those days), but because I knew that in the months that followed somewhere around 110,000 Japanese-Americans were placed in internment camps. The tragedy of having their country attacked was topped with the insult of being told that it they didn't count as Americans anyway.

To be fair, my grandparents have never said a bitter word about this. But I grew up with an uneasy feeling that if it could happen so recently, what's to stop the government from doing something like that again? In the days after the 9/11 Attacks I mourned along with the rest of the country, but I also prayed that the rights of Arab-Americans would not be taken away. There have certainly been plenty of stories of hate crimes and wrongful imprisonment of Muslims and Arab-Americans since then. I am still sickened by the knowledge that inaccurate accusations that Barack Obama is an Arab and a Muslim were seen by many as legitimate concerns. As if we don't have millions of honest Arab and Muslim citizens in this country.

Interestingly enough, today it will be announced that Eric Shinseki will be the secretary of veteran affairs. On the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, a Hawaiian born Japanese-American will be named as part of the Obama administration. I read today that he was the first Asian-American to be named a four-star general, which just shows you how slow our country has been to integrate even Asian-Americans into top ranks (and the Asians are generally considered "almost white" anyway). It seems fitting, although perhaps a little awkward.

I am hopeful, because we keep moving inch by inch toward racial and cultural equality, but this journey requires just as much constant vigilance as the endeavor to keep our country safe. And the two goals need not be mutally exclusive.

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