I grew up in the piney hills of southern Arkansas, surrounded by lumbering oilfields, hole-in the-wall soul food restaurants, and never-ending local lore. Yet, there were gaps in the stories I heard growing up--the kind of willing omissions that one is blissfully unaware of until another he takes it upon himself to rectify it.
For instance, not until college did I learn that my state had taken part in one of the most shameful parts of American history: the illegal, unethical internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War.
On June 22, the U.S. Health and Human Services confirmed to Daniel Breen, a journalist with an NPR affiliate in Little Rock, that it was considering converting a disused Department of Agriculture facility in southeast Arkansas to house migrant children. Roughly two miles away lies the Rohwer War Relocation Center, one of the two Japanese American internment camps that were built in Arkansas.
Clearly, we are at a crucial point in our nation's path forward, and very rarely have we had the ramifications of a decision so clearly defined for us. In southeastern Arkansas, the shameful past of Rohwer screams at us to listen, so that the same mistakes will not be made all over again.
Though a nation of laws, we are also a nation that claims to operate with a moral compass unlike any other; yet, at times, what has been legal has clearly been at odds with morality and a deeper, innate sense of justice. The internment of Japanese Americans was without question unethical, immoral, and horrific, even as the Supreme Court at the time ruled--which they just this past week formally denounced--that internment was allowed in Korematsu v. United States. The same is true of Jim Crow, which was morally repugnant, and slavery, which was devoid of ethical justification, even as all levels of our government spent tremendous time, treasure, and blood trying to establish the legality of both.
At best, the Trump administration is woefully ignorant of this nation's history and deaf to the most important lessons we have learned through our predecessors' transgressions. At worst, this is an administration that openly, brazenly acts in an inhumane manner and dares us to do anything to stop them. In the 1940s, most American acquiesced to the horrific treatment of their fellow citizens in the name of temporary security. Now, 70 years later, we have an opportunity to prevent the worst nature of a man from overwhelming the best traits of mankind.
"Never again" is a rallying cry that has been offered up for innumerable crimes and offenses, but so rarely has a shockingly vile repeat of history occurred in such a blatant, sickening manner. "Never again" is now, and events implore us to heed the call of making our nation more perfect, more just, more equitable in the face of an administration that seems hell-bent on ignoring what we should have learned decades ago.
What will you do? Will you take a stand for what is right, or will you leave gaps in your story, as the generations before ours did?
Daniel Green is an Arkansas native and political partner with the Truman National Security Project. The views expressed are his own.
Editorial on 07/02/2018
Print Headline: Heed our history