A comparison between a little-publicized episode of American private life during WWII and today's atmosphere of distrust and loss of some privacy and possibly civil liberties has been on my mind. I was reminded of it while reading a line of this blog post by Mark Cuban about what people can do to serve our armed forces:
"I wonder how future generations will look back at these Post 9/11/2001 years. Will they see us as Enlightened ? Barbaric ? Confused ?"
The WWII episode I refer to is the establishment of forced internment camps for American citizens of Japanese descent after the attack on Pearl Harbor. "Better safe than sorry" was the approach, and you couldn't be too careful when it came to spies and espionage. So, in the interest of national security, Americans (Japanese Americans, but still Americans) were rounded up and locked in camps, under armed guard, until as late as 1945. Here's a snippet from infoplease.com:
"On February 19, 1942, soon after the beginning of World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. The evacuation order commenced the round-up of 120,000 Americans of Japanese heritage to one of 10 internment camps—officially called "relocation centers"—in California, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado, and Arkansas."
Note that this was done through Executive Order, meaning that it took the signature of the President rather than legislature enacted by Congress, to begin this chapter in American history. What would be the fallout if President Bush ordered this for Americans of Middle Eastern descent, or of Islamic faith? I shudder at the thought. But, in Roosevelt's defense, the order was only temporary, with a definite end to the war bringing a definite end to the camps (he actually rescinded the order before the end of the war, however). With the present state of affairs, there is admittedly no end in sight to the war on terror, and presumably no end in sight to the erosion of civil liberties.
What's the solution? And was Roosevelt right in issuing that order? After all, it may well have prevented spying in the U.S. by some of those locked up in camps, and may have therefore played a significant part in our Pacific theater victory (and also in the secrecy of the D-Day invasion at Normandy, since any information obtained by Japanese spies in America would likely have been shared with their German allies).
But at what cost? At some point, don't democracies have to endure sacrifices for the preservation of their citizens' freedoms at home? What if internment camps for Muslims, say 120,000 of them for 3-4 years as was the case in WWII for the Japanese Americans, would have prevented the events of 9/11/2001? Should it have been ordered? I'm sure millions of people would scream "of course!" at the top of their lungs, and righfully so, if that's what they believe and how they feel. But with freedom comes risk, danger, and trust in both those that grant and protect the freedoms as well as those who enjoy them. Once they begin to be taken away, and with no timeline for their promised return, we are no longer enjoying all of the ideals and the promises of our American way of life, are we?