Historian says it’s a relief to see Trump supporter hammered for suggesting Muslims be registeredHistorians in the News
tags: election 2016, WWII, Trump, Japanese internment
When Donald Trump and other Republican legislators proposed a ban on Muslim immigration to the United States last November, many commentators turned to history. My colleague Matt Ford argued that the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, along with the jurisprudence initially used to justify it, shows why these kinds of ethnic- or religious-based policies are flawed. More recently, Trump and his aides have spoken in favor of reviving a registry for Muslims entering the United States and undertaking “extreme vetting” of Muslims fleeing persecution, including potentially creating holding areas for them outside of the United States.
In the wake of Trump’s election, some Americans fearthe possibility that hate crimes and incidents of bigotry will multiply, enabled by the new president’s rhetoric and policies. The comparison between Japanese internment and policy proposals related to Muslims speaks more to this fear than a significant chance of history being repeated. But Japanese Americans’ experiences are still instructive: They illustrate how America in 2016 resembles America in the 1940s, and show the ways that systematic discrimination can shape a minority group’s self-understanding.
Anne Blankenship, an assistant professor of history at North Dakota State University, recently wrote a book about Japanese incarceration, specifically focusing on the experience of Japanese Christians in the camps. Our conversation about her research and its renewed relevance in today’s politics is below; it has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Green: Before Thanksgiving, a spokesman for a pro-Trump PAC suggested that Japanese internment is a “precedent” for some of the Trump administration’s tentative proposals related to Muslim immigration and registries. As a scholar of Japanese internment, what have you been thinking about most in recent weeks—and throughout this election?
Blankenship: More than anything—and this might sound strange—relief is part of it, the fact that so many people are speaking out against it. And there’s a strong history within the Japanese American community to speak up for Muslims.
This wasn’t the case back in 1941 or 1942. Incarceration was widely accepted. People who were normally considered progressive heroes, like Dr. Seuss, who has all these books on progressive causes, drewcartoons showing caricatures of the Japanese lining up from Washington to California, picking up their bricks of TNT to go do their sabotage. The only people who did speak out against it were the church groups.
It’s nice to see, now, that it’s not just a limited number of people. ...