Archive for category: Culture

Considering Guantanamo

I’ve been asked if there were parallels between the Guantanamo detention camp and the Japanese American concentration camps, and if there were parallels, what were they? Both entities were created out of a time of war and violated civil rights. Similarities also arise from the racism and prejudice against the racial groups, but the camps had fundamental differences. One distinction is that the camps have been run by different agencies. The Japanese American camps were run by the War Relocation Authority, a civilian agency created by the US government. The US government violated the Constitution by forcibly removing a mass of Japanese Americans from their homes, regardless of age, sex, age, and citizenship without due process of law. Guantanamo, on the other hand, is a detention camp run by the justice department and holds non-American individuals with suspected ties to terrorist groups. There is one recorded instance of an American who was captured in Afghanistan and detained at Guantanamo; however, he was eventually released and forced to renounce his citizenship (see Yaser Esam Hamdi). There is also substantial documentation that the incarceration of Japanese Americans was not a military necessity. Though the Japanese did bomb Pearl Harbor, there is no documentation of espionage within the Japanese American community (see summary in Personal Justice Denied). On the other hand, there have been documented Al Qaeda cells operating within the US, such as the result of 9/11.  However, the prisoners at Guantanamo have also been denied due process of law, calling into question whether or not the detention center’s existence is justified. Human rights organizations helped bring to light on an international scale the inhumane treatment of the prisoners, suspect conditions and violation of legal rights under the Geneva Convention. Japanese Americans who were incarcerated received an official apology from the US government with the passing of the Civil Liberties Act in 1988, over 40 years after the last camp closed. The US hasn’t yet closed Guantanamo or declared it unconstitutional, but perhaps time will tell. Former Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, who was incarcerated at Heart Mountain, advocated “no racial profiling” after 9/11. Muslim Americans weren’t forcibly removed from their homes en mass like the Japanese Americans, but bigotry and fear against Muslim Americas, Islamic religion, and Arabic-speaking countries exist to this day and have influenced government policy such as the Patriot Act. In a time of war, when fear is high, maintaining the legal systems’ blindfold and even scale are paramount. The War on Terror challenges the Constitution and is an easy outlet for social prejudice based on race and religion.

Expressing the Incarceration Through Art

While home for Thanksgiving, I went to the Kohler Art Museum in Sheboygan, Wisconsin and saw an excellent exhibition titled Hiding Places: Memory in the Arts. To say the least, I was surprised to see several artworks about the Japanese American incarceration. Masumi Hayashi‘s photo collages from the remnants of the camps at Heart Mountain and Tule Lake were visually striking. Tying in with the theme of memory, the large collages are shaped out of smaller photos, which when pieced together (like snapshots of memory), recall the incarceration experience as a whole.  There were also several pieces by Roger Shimomura, who was incarcerated in Minidoka, Idaho. His seemingly benign comic book style exposes the political and social contradictions of not only the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans but also the essence of American ideals and stereotypes. If anyone has a chance, swing by Sheboygan before December 20th. I highly suggest checking out the Hiding Places exhibition.