National Debt

Japanese American internment


When we talk about debt, we often mean a kind of personal debt that comes from borrowing money and paying it back. But there’s another kind of debt – when someone has wronged you big time, and now they owe it to you to make it up somehow. The U.S. government is no stranger to this kind of debt, or this kind of big wrong. There was slavery. And what happened to the Native Americans. And then there was what happened during World War II.

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the U.S. rounded up 120,000 people of Japanese decent and put them in internment camps. Nearly two-thirds of them were American citizens. Years later the U.S. government would apologize and pay reparations to people who had been held in the camps, but it took decades to make that happen.

In this story, Chiye Tomihiro and Sam Ozaki, two survivors of internment, describe how they went from being seen as model citizens to being seen as the enemy, and how they fought to get what was owed to them after the country admitted its mistake.  They tackle the question: how do you pay someone back when what’s been taken away is their  basic human dignity?

This piece was produced as a collaboration between Robin Amer and Jesse Seay, and narrated by Jesse.

Photo: Women at the Tulle Lake War Relocation Camp, circa 1942. Photo by Bob Bobster.  From Bob: “Tule Lake was the largest and most controversial of the ten War Relocation Authority (WRA) camps used to carry out the government’s system of exclusion and detention of persons of Japanese descent…Tule Lake became a Segregation Center to detain Japanese-Americans who were deemed potential enemies of America because of their response to an infamous, confusing loyalty questionnaire intended to distinguish loyal American citizens from enemy alien supporters of Japan.”

Categories: Uncategorized

1 reply »

  1. On July 3rd of this year, a new national monument will be dedicated at Tulelake to remember this sobering and disastrous chapter of American history. The National Monument will tell the story of the Tulelake Segregation Center. At present, the Lava Beds National Monument staff is detailed to begin the work of collecting the stories of Japanese Americans who lived behind the barbed wire and others who lived and worked in the area outside the barbed wire.
    The effort will in no way be a repayment of this terrible national debt, but it will serve as a reminder to future generations who might be tempted out of fear to repeat this terrible injustice.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s