It Takes Fear

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I just finished a phone interview for the local paper near the retirement community in Florida where I will be visiting next weekend to speak with their book club. The club is reading my novel Go Forward with Courage, and the reporter asked me about my motivation for writing the novel. This is a question not easily answered, but here is my response in a nutshell.

The seeds for Go Forward with Courage were planted by my grandfather years ago when he made a simple comment that has stayed with me. He said, “If my parents had been from Japan instead of Germany, I would have been in a camp during the war rather than fighting for my country.” The second seed was planted by my high school history teacher when he told us what had happened to the Japanese Americans during the war, and how much grace the families showed throughout their hardships. Then as a college student, I viewed some propaganda films made by our government to justify the internment of citizens who hadn’t been charged with any sort of crime. They were shown side by side to Nazi propaganda films and were so similar in nature that I felt sick.

There is another, more pressing reason that I wanted to write my book when I did. I honestly believe that this could happen again. All it takes is enough fear. We Americans value civil liberties and freedoms to be sure. But we also value our safety, and especially the security of our children’s futures. For the Americans of the 1940’s, the catalyst to provide the necessary level of fear was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. What would it be for modern day Americans? The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 was a start. Recently the uptick in violence from Islamic extremist groups has added more fuel to the fire.

In my novel, Jackson has to come to a point where he can separate his hatred for the Japanese who caused the death of his father from the innocent civilians locked behind bars near his grandparent’s farm. The challenge for us today is to separate the actions of extremists from those who are simply wanting to live a peaceful existence in a country which was founded on religious freedoms. This is one aspect of history that I certainly don’t want to see repeated.

Photo credit: Densho.org

Can History Repeat Itself?

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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.

http://www.arktimes.com/ArkansasBlog/archives/2015/07/20/wesley-clark-proposes-internment-camps-for-radical-muslims