During WWII, the U.S. government forced Japanese Americans from their homes on the West Coast and moved them to interior states. Kansas Gov. Payne Ratner, reflected the opinions of many governors when she responded at the time with, “Japs are not wanted and not welcome in Kansas.”
With at least 22 Republican governors saying they’ll try to keep Syrian refugees out of their states, Denver University’s Seth Masket wrote a blog post yeserday reminding us of this and pointing out that Colorado Governor Ralph Carr “stood out” among his fellow governors at the time and declared that the forced relocation of the Japanese Americans under Executive Order 9066 was unconstitutional. He also welcomed them to Colorado.
Masket didn’t mention Hickenlooper, who has welcomed Syrian refugees, but the loose parallel between the two Colorado governors isn’t lost on anyone reading Masket’s post, titled “The governor who didn’t give in to fear … and paid a price for it.”
Masket: “Obviously, the relocation of American citizens of Japanese ancestry is not the same as accepting refugees from another country,” writes Masket, who’s an Associate Professor of Political Science at DU. “But there are clear parallels, particularly in the political incentives governors are confronting. It’s not just that it’s easy to demagogue against foreign invaders; it’s that it’s sometimes politically risky not to. The governors refusing to take in Syrian refugees today may or may not know Ralph Carr’s name, but they have surely imagined his fate, and they don’t want the same for themselves.” [BigMedia emphasis]
Masket cites the Principled Politician, former 9News reporter Adam Schrager’s much-acclaimed biography of Carr. The book shows the respect Carr has now, in hindsight, even though his stance during WWII ended his political career.
I asked Schrager, who retweeted Masket’s post, about the similarities–or lack thereof–between Carr’s stance and the situation today.
Schrager: There are some similarities and some differences with the Syrian refugee situation as it’s not a true apples-to-apples comparison, primarily because the “refugees” in question in 1942 already lived in the U.S. They simply weren’t citizens, and as students of Executive Order 9066 will point out, even citizenship did not matter to President Roosevelt and, at that time, to the U.S. Supreme Court, which originally upheld the de facto jailing of American citizens of Japanese descent in addition to those who weren’t.
The other major difference between the times is that Gov. Carr was basically alone in his stand. Nowhere in the country at that time do you find a politician of equal stature both agreeing to help the U.S. government “win the war” by housing/incarcerating people of Japanese descent as well as defending the Constitutional rights of Americans citizen with that heritage to remain free. One of the things that’s always struck me about Gov. Carr is how lonely he was, going against friends and relatives, who didn’t understand where he was coming from. As inflammatory as some may believe the rhetoric is today, consider that Wyoming Gov. Nels Smith said in 1942, “If anyone of Japanese descent were sent to his state, they’d be found hanging from every pine tree.” (Source: http://www.heartmountain.org/lifeincamp.html)
In today’s situation, while there are a number of politicians who are “refusing” to allow Syrian refugees into their states, there are also a number who are more accepting.
The major similarity is that, in both times, state leaders, must have known then and currently know now, they really have no authority in this area. It’s the federal government which determines immigration policy and politics aside, there’s really not much a state can do to stop a resettlement inside its borders. Sure, they can try to stop funding, but courts at the highest levels of our country have determined that even illegal immigrants are entitled to emergency care, education, etc. From reading the sentiments of 1942 leaders, including people like Earl Warren, there’s no doubt in my mind they were legitimately afraid and their comments reflect that. However, a sober approach and a conversation with their states’ respective attorneys general, would have alerted them to the realization they were powerless to stop what the federal government was proposing.
My gut reaction when I heard about this actually surrounded a couple of other situations in recent history, both of which I have little knowledge of, but I think might prove to be a more direct correlation to the topic of Syrian refugees, but even they don’t seem to fit exactly. The first also dates back to World War II when the federal government actually created Prisoner of War camps throughout the interior of the country to house mostly German and Italian soldiers captured overseas. I wonder how communities back then reacted to that.
The second and maybe slightly more relevant surrounds the resettlement of the Hmong, also largely here in the Midwestern part of the country, after the Vietnam War. Again, I have no direct knowledge of any type of xenophobia related to that situation, but I’d imagine—even though in that case you had people who had fought with us—I’m guessing there were fears of welcoming people who looked like those we had spent years fighting to communities.
In his blog post, Masket quotes Carr:
“The Japanese are protected by the same Constitution that protects us. An American citizen of Japanese descent has the same rights as any other citizen… If you harm them, you must first harm me. I was brought up in small towns where I knew the shame and dishonor of race hatred. I grew to despise it because it threatened [pointing to various audience members] the happiness of you and you and you.”