Tag Archives: Japan

Japan and America’s Continued Othering of the East

I’m honored to host a guest blog from Alex Hunter (@robotbabybunnie on Twitter). Alex is from Chicago and has an M.A. in theology. Her undergraduate studies were in history, and her concentration within her M.A. is also one of the history of Christianity. In addition to studying history she also frequently studies and participates in inter-religious dialogue and attributes her desire to learn more about the division between definitions of sacred and profane to the environment in which she grew up. She enjoys the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore and Rumi. In an ideal world, she believes, people would know the difference between Library of Congress and Dewey Decimal.

This may be an emotional appeal. But perhaps emotional appeals are what are needed to engage in dialogue regarding statistics and truth and come into a spirit of reconciliation.

In 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed into action Executive Order 9066. While the language of this documentation did not specifically target Japanese Americans and Japanese nationals living in America, it did allow in the wake of the attacks on Pearl Harbor for any area that was deemed to be of military necessity to be assigned for the purposes of use for and by the military. In the end, it allowed for the relocation and internment of 120,000 persons of Japanese descent. Meaning I, who have 25% Japanese ancestry (and consider myself biracial), would have been in one of the many camps established during the duration of World War II. This was not a death camp. But it was kinda hellish, you have to admit. People gave up their entire livelihoods at a moments’ notice, and after the war, relocated away from their original homes with nearly nothing. Concentration camps of the Nazi variety are not comparable to what the Asian-American population experienced during this time. But Japanese-Americans were denied citizenship despite having one of the most decorated units in the history of the United States armed forces, the 442nd Infantry.  All this, and even so, even after the war in Europe had been surrendered, America dropped the bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. 160,000-246,000 people are estimated to have died, and the effects of the radiation have lasted through the generations, creating mental and physical defects and for some time devastating the environment.

As someone born in 1982, I avoided this affliction of Yellow Peril that affected my grandparents’ generation. My grandfather was stationed in Japan as an army officer, where he met my grandmother. They had my father, got married, and returned to the States. My generation has been one of reconnecting with our roots and remembering that yes, our great-grandparents spoke another language. But we all did at one point.

So today I’m greatly grieved that despite the fact that we should be focusing our attention on the devastation of a nation in light of a natural disaster, instead of reaching out as so many people did in solidarity with us in our time of national need only ten years ago, we instead invoke a “karmic retribution” ideal in social media regarding the tragedy that Japan faces. It’s sickening. Are we really so ready to make a joke at the expense of others instead of engaging our more socially conscious selves? This was not the result of a military attack; this is a natural disaster. We as Americans know in light of previous devastating natural disasters that timely response and compassion can be the difference between a city struggling to rise above despite all odds, and a city that thrives and triumphs. Some people lost their home and their livelihoods. So we have to pay .37 more cents for gas. Funny how the world works. By the way? Gas prices can go down. Lives are a bit more difficult to build.

Are we supposed to forget the past? Well hell no. As a historian, with an M.A. in theology, I can tell you quite succinctly that anyone who forgets the past is doomed to repeat it.

But imagine this: we are now living in an age where an entire religious or ethnic group, depending on however you choose to categorize them, can be summarily dismissed as terrorists despite misinformation and complete ignorance as to what is occurring on a daily basis in the lives of people that we have NOT, mind you, chosen to strip of civil rights this time around. Every generation has an opportunity to choose to either create a scapegoat out of fear, or create relationships out of love. An idea of “other” is only such as we are ignorant of the ways we actually are asked to be present to each other. This isn’t some hippie crap that I pulled out of my ass, people! This is about subjugating the sensational in preference of the humane. This is about knowing that when you see someone’s village on fire or being covered in a wave on the news, that’s NOT retribution for some past deed. That is someone in need of HELP. When a person is trying to live their life at no expense to yours, that is someone who could be YOU.

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