None of the 24,000 Japanese Americans sent to live in the shallow volcanic lakebed of Tule Lake for the duration of World War II wanted to be there, but their presence makes this a National Historic Landmark.
In hindsight, an airstrip operating on a site of this historic significance is not an appropriate or compatible use, but before anyone could know that, the government after the war granted homestead rights to farmers, and in 1951 granted two-thirds of the main detention and barracks site to the city of Tulelake for an airstrip, which today hosts just one business, a crop-dusting service. It’s not easy to see without an aerial view, but the airstrip runs left to right in the photo below.
In the historic aerial photo below, inside the blue line look for the diagonal open space between the barracks, from lower left to upper right. That’s where the airstrip now exists. Now imagine an 8- to 10-foot high fence, topped with three strands of barbed wire, surrounding the airstrip along the blue line. That’s what visitors would see, and the area which would be off-limits to them, if a fence proposed for the airport were erected.
Our friends at the NPS have a preferred plan — Alternative C — which will provide for stabilization of structures at the CCC isolation camp, reconstruction of the notorious Tule Lake Stockade and a replica guard tower, and open the site for year-round visitation.
But in order to create that site preservation and public access, the staff at NPS needs a public record that shows public support for it. The other two Alternatives, A and B, are unacceptable as they provide minimal effort toward creating a National Park that would preserve and interpret the unique Tule Lake story.
In the meetings, and for the meeting records, it is vital that we raise the importance of access to the larger site, the lands where the barracks and blocks once stood. As the Tule Lake Committee says, it is all hallowed ground, and visitors should be able to experience and walk on the lands where their families once endured incarceration and segregation — without the barrier of an 8- to 10-foot high fence around an existing airstrip that cuts through the heart of the old barracks ground.
The Heart Mountain resisters refused induction in 1944 as a last-ditch attempt to clarify their status as American citizens and challenge the constitutionality of the American concentration camps in which they were held. With the actions being threatened by a new Administration, a new kind of resistance is now being called for in the 21st century.
It’s only been one week since the election, and an adviser to the President-elect is testing the public’s willingness to go along with creation of a national registry of all Muslims in America — a database whose only useful purpose would be to make it possible to round them all up for some kind of mass action.
Journalist James Omura saw the dangers of mass registration in February 1942, in his testimony to the Congressional Tolan Committee, which was preparing the public for acceptance of the mass exclusion of a feared racial minority perceived as the enemy. “Has the Gestapo come to America?,” he asked.
“This is how it starts,” warns the New York Times. “1942 all over again?” This is what backers of the President-elect have in mind when he talks of going back to the good old days — when they cite the WW2 incarceration of Japanese Americans as a precedent for a Muslim registry.
Thankfully, there are voices in Congress now that can push back against these dangerous ideas, like that of Congressman Mark Takano.
Outgoing Congressman Mike Honda is echoing the cry for the President-elect to denounce the loose talk, in an interview with The New Republic: “This is fear, not courage. This is hate, not policy.”
And the Densho Project in Seattle points out that if people seek a precedent, they need look no further than the government’s apology and monetary compensation for the Constitutional violations of mass eviction and incarceration without charges or hearings:
We as Japanese Americans realize we have a moral obligation to defend others targeted on the basis of race or religion, because we have been the targets before. That living memory of exclusion and incarceration brings with it a moral authority to speak when fear of a minority drives the nation down that road again. So we can be horrified at talk of a Muslim registry, and at the same time not surprised, because we’ve seen all this before.
In May, a different kind of fear brought us together in Seattle for a panel on Connecting the Lessons of History, the fear that the racial mistrust and fomenting of aggression seen in the presidential campaign would become normalized. We could see that regardless of the outcome of the election, meaning after Trump lost, we would have much work to do to repair the rips to the fabric of civil discourse. I never believed we would need to be fighting against authoritarians and demagogues gaining real power in America. But that’s where we are this week.
The resistance at Heart Mountain was a classic of American civil disobedience in the 20th century. The example they set — that is the precedent which should guide us now. This is how it starts.
UPDATE: The BBC World Service called to talk after this post. Click on the image for the program page and drag the slider to the 30:44 mark. On the last question to me about fear for national security, add this thought: That’s what they said after Pearl Harbor. That we can’t tell the sheep from the goats, so lock them all up. But history has shown, and a Congressional commission concluded, that the real reasons for the incarceration were race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership. And it’s fear and racial demagoguery that are behind this call for a Muslim registry.
In her revelatory new book, Mira Shimabukuro sets a new standard in camp studies with her framing of what she calls “writing-to-redress.” She goes beyond Bulletin #3 from the Fair Play Committee to recover a wide range of camp writing that challenges authority, much of it by women. such as the letter from the Mothers Society of Minidoka protesting the drafting of their sons, signed by more than 100 Issei women.
Tule Lake is unique among all ten American concentration camps as a Segregation Center and a government deportation center. A local airport should never have been allowed to be built there in the 1950s, right on top of this site of historic significance.
Kudos must go to the Federal Aviation Administration for underwriting a series of “collaborative discussions” with local and government stakeholders to share views about to resolve the problem of the airport’s presence. These talks are held under what’s known as a Section 106 process under the National Historic Preservation Act, and are being managed by the Udall Foundation, an independent Federal agency promoting conflict resolution in the areas of environment, public lands, and natural resources. They’re underwritten by an FAA grant of about $125,000 that is being administered by Modoc County, California. Continue reading “Collaborative discussions” begin over fate of airport fence that threatens Tule Lake→
Proving that “racially motivated policies and discriminatory practices are timely issues,” law students at Fordham University in New York City on April 6 re-enacted both the mass trial of the 63 Heart Mountain resisters for refusing to report for Selective Service from inside an American concentration camp, and the subsequent trial of the 7 leaders of the Fair Play Committee and journalist James Omura for conspiracy to encourage draft resistance.
A report is just in from Japan Culture NYC that students at Fordham Law School in New York City on April 6 will re-enact two of the trials of members of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee, evidently as a moot court study in Constitutional law and incarceration history.
Right now, the Tule Lake Committee is in the middle of a fight to save the Tule Lake National Historic site from a destructive airport located in the center of this hallowed ground. We’ll have more to report on this in the weeks ahead.
In the meantime, NBC Asian America has posted a special magazine piece to mark the 70th anniversary of the closing of Tule Lake, which is today, March 20th. Of the five surviving Tuleans interviewed, one was a draft resister, one a no-no boy, and one is the sole surviving member of the resistance at Block 42.