Documenting the history of Japanese American incarceration, and the resistance to incarceration, was always important, but it remained just that — history, something good to know about, to make sure that mass exclusion on the basis of race “never happens again in America.” But when rangers in the National Park Service have to go undergound, and Smokey the Bear is raising a fist in flames, you know something has gone terribly wrong.
We have just passed the tipping point and now live with an authoritarian American government. #Resistance is a trending hashtag. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich posts a daily “Resistance Report” on YouTube. Former sportscaster Keith Olberman rebrands his show on GQ as “The Resistance.” Reuters is instructing its reporters how to cover the new Administration as if it were a banana republic. And the story of the Heart Mountain resisters is getting renewed attention.
Thanks to host Bill Radke and producer Shane Mehling for having me on Seattle’s NPR affiliate today, on KUOW’s “The Record,” to connect the Japanese American resistance to the current actions in the streets. Here’s a link to the full 11-minute conversation, which has been well-received. As I said to Bill, I feel both validated that the Fair Play Committee is getting recognized, and appalled that we are now talking about a very real threat to Muslim Americans and Mexican Americans for the purpose of fulfilling a campaign promise to a resurgent white nationalism.
Now everyone can know how the Heart Mountain resisters — 63 young men of high school and college age, really — felt in taking on the United States government in court and putting their futures and families on the line. But here’s a key difference — their draft resistance came two years after the initial expulsion and incarceration. Breaking the Selective Service law as the last hitch upon which they could hang a test case. Thankfully, as the mass actions of the last two weeks have shown, a significant number are standing and resisting now, before the authoritarian crackdown comes down. My favorite sign from last weekend’s airport protests against the Muslim travel ban, edited for a family audience, was the one on the right. It captures the spirit of resistance today, one which comes with the benefit of knowing our history.
As social media posts are teaching us now about the German playbook from 1933, and how the German people came to embrace fascism, we’ve learned there’s a German proverb to “Beware the Beginnings.” We’re clearly at the beginning of something right now. I fear this is not likely to end well for our nation. What we can do is rely now on individual and collective action. To quote my favorite dystopian, time-travel film series, which also features a Resistance: “The future’s not set. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.” We can hope for the best, but we must prepare for the worst and work to avert it.