WASHINGTON – The office of North Carolina congressman Howard Coble, who came under fire for comments he made last week approving the wartime internment of Japanese-Americans, has defended his position.
“It was both for national security and for (their) protection,” a spokesperson at the Washington office of North Carolina congressman Howard Coble said Friday.
Coble, a Republican member of the House of Representatives, made the remarks Tuesday on a call-in radio show in Greensboro, North Carolina.
“In light of the threat to our national security, the fear that the west coast could potentially have been invaded, you know he (Coble) could understand how (President Franklin D.) Roosevelt arrived at his decision,” the spokesperson said.
Roosevelt interned 120,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II.
Coble said during the radio program that Roosevelt’s decision to intern Japanese-Americans “was appropriate at the time.”
“We were at war. They were an endangered species,” Coble said. “For many of these Japanese-Americans, it wasn’t safe for them to be on the street.”
During the same interview, however, Coble disagreed with a caller who said that given the war on terror, the United States should consider confining Arab-Americans.
Coble said the U.S. is a more tolerant nation today than it was then, and that most Arab-Americans are good citizens, as were most Japanese-Americans during World War II.
His remarks have unleashed a flood of criticism from the Japanese-American and Arab-American communities. Floyd Mori, the head of the Japanese-American Citizens League, said in a statement issued Wednesday that Coble’s comments are “outrageous and uneducated.”
“To suggest that the government locked up 120,000 innocent people for their own protection is not only patronizing and offensive, but it is patently incorrect,” he said. “The government has recognized and apologized for their error of 60 years ago and we expect Rep. Coble to do so as well.”
In the 1980s, the U.S. apologized for the internment and gave surviving internees $20,000 each in reparations.
John Tateishi, JACL executive director, said, “The JACL calls on the House Republican leadership to remove him immediately from his position before he does further harm.”
Coble could not be reached for explanation about his comments, but his spokesperson said, “I think he has made it pretty clear in terms of what he meant by those comments.
“I think he has made it pretty clear that internment is not a policy that we could use today, under any circumstances,” the spokesperson added. “But he can understand how that decision was reached in 1941.”
Asked if Coble should apologize, the spokeswoman said, “He regrets greatly if anyone found his choice of words offensive, but that was never his intent. He is very sorry if anyone found them offensive.”
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