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Commentary: Response to Nagle letter

Jim Shaw

FARGO — A few weeks ago I wrote about the remarkable story of Dr. Jim Sugihara. He's the 100-year-old former Dean of the College of Chemistry and Physics at North Dakota State University. When he was 23-years-old, he was ordered to live in an internment camp because of his Japanese ancestry.

I wrote that Sugihara was detained not because of national security, but racism. I was astounded when Tom Nagle wrote a letter to the Forum saying it was not motivated by racism, but national security. So...

• Let's set the record straight. In 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered more than 110,000 Japanese Americans to be held in what were called internment camps, but were actually prisons. People as little as 1/16 Japanese were sent to the prisons. General John DeWitt, who administered the program said, "The Japanese race is an enemy race."

• In the 1980s, Congress appointed nine people to the "Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians" to investigate the camps. The commission found that the incarcerations were unjustified, militarily unnecessary and motivated by racism.

• In 1988, Congress passed and President Ronald Reagan signed into law the "Civil Liberties Act of 1988." The legislation stated that the detentions were based on "race, prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership." There was also an apology to those who were imprisoned, and each camp survivor was awarded $20,000.

Nagle wrote that the Japanese Americans had to be incarcerated because the U.S. had broken the Japanese military code and found that "not all Japanese Americans were loyal." So, Nagle wrote that the innocent and the guilty all had to be detained so the Japanese couldn't figure out that the code was broken.

Of course, there's one big problem with this claim. Namely, not one detained Japanese American ever committed espionage, sabotage or treason.

Then there's Nagle's claim that "they were treated humanely." Sure, if you consider imprisoning 110,000 innocent people to be humane. Sure, if you consider degrading, humiliating and treating people like traitors to be humane. Sure, if you consider forcing people to live in overcrowded barracks with little heat and no plumbing facilities to be humane. Sure, if you consider inadequate medical care leading to food poisoning, dysentery, asthma and malaria to be humane.

On the 50th Anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President George H.W. Bush, a former Navy pilot who was shot down by the Japanese in the Pacific in 1944 said, "The internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry was a great injustice, and it will never be repeated."

Let's hope he's right. It likely won't be repeated if people understand what really happened.

• I had the pleasure of attending the honoring of Dr. Sugihara at NDSU on Tuesday. It was a wonderful tribute to a wonderful man.

• John McCain was a great man. Covering his acceptance speech at the 2008 Republican Convention is one of the top thrills of my career.