George Takei Fires Back at VA Mayor Who Implied Japanese-American Internment Was Justified

News   George Takei Fires Back at VA Mayor Who Implied Japanese-American Internment Was Justified
 
The movement among some political leaders to bar Syrian immigrants crossed over into Broadway territory Nov. 18 when the Mayor of Roanoke, VA, cited the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II–the subject of the musical Allegiance–as as an appropriate response and as justification for barring Syrian civil war refugees from his state. Allegiance star George Takei was quick to respond.

In calling for area governments and nongovernmental agencies to suspend help in relocating Syrian refugees to the area, Roanoke Mayor David A. Bowers was quoted by the Roanoke Times as saying, “I’m reminded that 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.”

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Allegiance, which stars Takei and Lea Salonga, dramatizes the corrosive effect of the internment of American citizens of Japanese descent in camps during the World War II, in which the U.S. was part of an alliance fighting Nazi Germany, fascist Italy and Imperial Japan.

Bowers was speaking in response to the deadly gun attacks in Paris Nov. 13 and the apparent bombing of a Russian airliner, both by ISIS, a radical group headquartered in war-torn Syria, from which many citizens of that country are fleeing. U.S. President Barack Obama is one of the world leaders who promised to provide sanctuary for the refugees.

“I am convinced that it is presently imprudent to assist in the relocation of Syrian refugees to our part of Virginia," Bowers said, calling for the agencies to "suspend and delay" any assistance "until these atrocities end, or at the very least until regarded as under control by U.S. authorities, and normalcy is restored."

George Takei and Lea Salonga in <i>Allegiance</i>
George Takei and Lea Salonga in Allegiance Matthew Murphy

Here is the text of Takei's response, as posted by him on Facebook: Earlier today, the mayor of Roanoke, Virginia, Mr. David A. Bowers...joined several state governors in ordering that Syrian refugees not receive any government assistance, or be relocated to their jurisdiction. Apart from the lack of legal authority to do so (under the Refugee Act of 1980, only the President has authority to accept or deny refugees), his resort to fear-based tactics, and his galling lack of compassion for people fleeing these same terrorists, Mayor Bowers made the following startling statement: 'I'm reminded that 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.'

Mayor Bowers, there are a few key points of history you seem to have missed:

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.

Mayor Bowers, one of the reasons I am telling our story on Broadway eight times a week in Allegiance is because of people like you. You who hold a position of authority and power, but you demonstrably have failed to learn the most basic of American civics or history lessons. So Mayor Bowers, I am officially inviting you to come see our show, as my personal guest. Perhaps you, too, will come away with more compassion and understanding.

-- George Takei

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