Mind Matters — “Hold These Truths …”

Did you know that 110,000 Japanese Americans were herded into internment camps during World War II? Many were citizens, other were residents who were never allowed citizenship. The historian George Santayana has said that history repeats itself until we learn from it. So I wondered, watching the moving one-man play, “Hold These Truths,” by Jeanne Sakata, what the United States and elsewhere is doing now that is not unlike what was occurring in 1942.

Peoples’s Light and Theatre presented this play as part of their Community Matters series. Joel de la Fuente portrayed Gordon Hirabayashi who, guided by Quaker principles, decided to openly defy internment. This led to his imprisonment. He “invited” prosecution so that he could appeal his verdict before the Supreme Court. Although he did not win there, he has since been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his principled stand against Japanese-American internment.

The argument of the Supreme Court at the time was that there was “military necessity” for internment. The government documents that debunked this notion were suppressed and only surfaced years later.

In fact, the major impetus for the concentration camps was not so much military necessity as it was prejudice. Allowed only two suitcases per person, families lost their property and possessions. Some farmers stated blatantly that they wanted the Japanese-Americans gone so they could have their land.

Racism thrives on a fear of the “other” and a pretense of safety. Such prejudice is not eradicated but perhaps we can heed Gordon Hirabayashi’s own words, “I seek to live as though the ‘ought to be’—‘is!’”