As many of you know, my recently completed novel, Go Forward with Courage, is set in and around a Japanese Internment Camp in Arkansas during World War 2. In talking with people about the book’s subject matter, it has come up several times that this sort of thing could happen again in this country if the general populace became scared enough. Well, apparently this wasn’t a far-fetched notion on my part to speculate about this sort of situation happening again. It is now being proposed as a solution to the types of terror attacks we just witnessed in Chattanooga.
And not from some “fringe” group of fear mongers, but from a former General and Democratic presidential candidate. My initial thoughts after reading this article were, “Who gets to decide who is radical?” and “What kind of evidence will our government need to detain these individuals?” Let me tell you what my research clearly showed me regarding the last time our government chose to lock up loyal citizens for the “greater good” of society: the FBI needed no concrete proof of wrong doing to imprison leaders in the Japanese American community. Within hours of Pearl Harbor, these men’s homes were searched and they were taken in for questioning–many of them didn’t see their families again for months if not longer. Eventually, entire communities of people were transported across the country and held behind barbed wire for years.
As an American, this alarms me. I wholeheartedly support our military and despise the types of terrorist acts we’ve seen in recent years. But I also value civil liberties and have respect for different cultures and belief systems. If you take the time to get to know people of the Muslim faith and talk to them about their beliefs, you will find that most of them detest this type of violence against fellow citizens as much as we do.
I’m not nearly as eloquent as the man who penned these words while imprisoned at Dachau, but his words still ring true today. “In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.” —Pastor Martin Niemöller, 1945
Our challenge as Americans is to find the balance between protecting the general public without infringing on other citizens’ rights. Obviously I am in favor of locking up people when there is credible evidence that they are planning an act of terrorism, and I’m even fairly tolerant of NSA monitoring actions of those who seem suspicious. But building camps for people with “radical beliefs” sends up too many red flags for me to simply “not speak up” about it.