National / History

Asian-American leader records U.S. internment saga in book

Seventy years after the end of World War II, Floyd Mori is on a personal mission to remind the American public of the injustices perpetrated within the United States against those of Japanese ancestry during the war.

In November Mori published a collection of his speeches and articles from the early 2000s, covering subjects from U.S. immigration reform to hate crimes, as president of the Japanese-American Citizens League, a leading Asian-American civil rights organization.

The main purpose of the publication is to “ensure that no other people will ever have to endure such mistreatment and injustice as were inflicted upon Japanese-Americans during World War II,” Mori said in the book, which is simply titled “The Japanese American Story.”

The idea of guaranteeing human rights under the U.S. Constitution can be vulnerable “particularly when you have stress” like that following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, Mori said during a recent interview in Washington.

“The Japanese-American story is extremely relevant today because of the current prejudice against Muslims,” said Mori, 75, who heads the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies.

Mori mentioned that President Barack Obama’s administration is fighting the Islamic State extremists who are murdering American and other hostages while simultaneously working hard to prevent public prejudice from proliferating against Muslims.

Mori warned that people could be prosecuted and thrown into jail “without any due process, like they did to Japanese-Americans.”

“So the Japanese-American story is a very good reminder,” he said.

The book’s exhortation against racism rests on the experiences of individuals of Japanese descent when President Franklin Roosevelt signed an executive order in February 1942 that set the stage for the mass evacuation and incarceration of Japanese immigrants and their American children from the West Coast.

Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor two months earlier had inflamed “war hysteria,” which, coupled with deeply rooted racism, fed into the belief that those of Japanese ancestry were potential agents of the enemy, representing an internal threat to the U.S.

Some moved away from the area to join relatives in central states, such as Mori’s Californian relatives, who came to live near him in Utah. But most were forcibly sent to one of 10 dilapidated internment camps far from the Pacific Coast.

Of the around 120,000 people who were trucked off to the camps, two-thirds were U.S. citizens.

Mori said the majority of Japanese-Americans at that time were desperate to prove they were loyal Americans, so they willingly obeyed the government by going to the camps and joining the U.S. military.

But Mori encountered some struggles in the face of Japanese-Americans who chose not to follow the rest of the group. Some “loyal” Japanese-Americans even billed others as “cowards” and “draft resisters.”

In a 2002 lecture as president of the JACL, Mori apologized to those Japanese-Americans who refused to fight for the U.S. as a form of civil protest, for the “stigma” they carried for decades. The lecture is included in his book.

Although many Japanese-American veterans were upset by the apology, Mori said that had been a “very memorable” moment.

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