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[HISTORY] Internment is Questioned

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  • madchinaman
    Internment Lesson Plan Is Under Attack A school program teaches that confining Japanese Americans was a mistake. Some want it to include the opinion that it
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 16, 2004
      Internment Lesson Plan Is Under Attack
      A school program teaches that confining Japanese Americans was a
      mistake. Some want it to include the opinion that it was just.
      By Tomas Alex Tizon, Times Staff Writer

      BAINBRIDGE ISLAND, Wash. — More than six decades ago, this tranquil
      island in Puget Sound became roiled in conflict after hundreds of
      Japanese American residents were forced off the island into World
      War II internment camps. Neighbors argued, sometimes violently, over
      the rightness of targeting an entire population based on race.

      The argument has surfaced here again, this time over a sixth-grade
      social studies program that teaches, among other things, that the
      internment of 110,000 to 120,000 Japanese Americans in the 1940s was
      a mistake.

      A group of residents is demanding that the school board change the
      program so that it includes different opinions, including the view
      that the internment was justified. The group also wants to omit
      discussions that hint at parallels between the internment and the
      U.S. Patriot Act. Some members say they are prepared to pursue legal
      action, if necessary.

      School officials would consider making "refinements" to the program,
      but "the basic tenor would remain the same," said Bruce Weiland,
      president of the Bainbridge Island School Board. The overall message
      would continue to be that "the internment was a mistake, that it was
      illegal and it was a tragedy."

      Weiland and others said that view was shared by most scholars and
      the U.S. government, which issued a formal apology and reparations
      to surviving internees. For many supporters of the program, the
      debate has long been settled.

      The new conflict began after a social studies teacher at Sakai
      Intermediate School (named after a local man who was interned) won a
      $17,000 state grant to teach about the internment and how it
      affected the residents of Bainbridge Island, which is a half-hour
      ferry ride from Seattle and has a population of about 20,000.

      The program, called Leaving Our Island, was first taught in February
      as part of a U.S. history class. Students went to a museum, wrote
      haiku, built an internment barracks and interviewed local Japanese
      Americans who had been evacuated. The program was supposed to last
      two weeks, but instead went on for about a month.

      Early this year, some parents expressed concern that too much time
      was being devoted to only one aspect of the war. Private discussions
      between parents and teachers continued through the year. As
      preparations were being made this summer for the start of the new
      school year, the discussions heated up.

      A handful of parents aired their concerns at a school board meeting
      late last month, and the group attracted others, including some
      World War II veterans, as news of the rift spread. A public meeting
      Thursday drew a capacity crowd and elicited an outpouring of
      arguments for and against the program. The majority of the estimated
      40 speakers expressed support. But opponents drew the most

      "I firmly believe that the teaching unit in question rises to the
      level of propaganda," said Mary Dombrowski, who has a daughter in
      the sixth grade. The program, she told the board, must "allow
      students to hear from those who believe that internment was not a

      Dombrowski cited a current bestselling book that defended the
      internment, in part because the government believed at the time that
      there was a network of Japanese spies on the West Coast. (A recent
      statement signed by 39 historians and researchers, including faculty
      from Stanford and Harvard universities, called the book "distorted"
      and "historically inaccurate.")

      Dombrowski said she had received many calls of support from the
      island and all over the country, but that many were afraid to come

      Resident James Olsen called the program "an example of an agenda-
      based curriculum that is designed to lead our 11-year-old Sakai
      students to hate America."

      Olsen said the school's policy dictated that discussions of
      controversial subjects must include opposite viewpoints. "A demand
      will be made that they adhere to their stated process of dealing
      with controversial issues," he said. "Otherwise, steps can be taken.
      School districts and school boards sometimes find themselves in

      Many supporters expressed incredulity that the issue was being
      debated. "To me, the debate has already come to a conclusion," said
      Clarence Moriwaki, a member of Bainbridge's Japanese American

      Moriwaki, who heads a group that is working on building a $4-million
      memorial to the island's internees, said some ideas, such as
      slavery, are no longer debatable.

      "No reasonable person today believes it's justified to have people
      as property," he said. The internment of thousands of American
      citizens who did nothing wrong "is the same kind of thing: it is no
      longer justifiable."

      Japanese began immigrating to the island in the late 19th century,
      working as laborers, mill workers and farmers. At the outset of
      World War II, Bainbridge had a thriving Japanese American

      Executive Order 9066, enacted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt
      shortly after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, was deemed a
      military necessity to protect against domestic espionage and

      On March 30, 1942, between 227 and 270 (the numbers are disputed)
      Japanese Americans on the island became the first group in the
      nation to be evacuated. Families were split. Many lost livelihoods,
      homes and their life savings. Most of the Bainbridge evacuees were
      sent to Manzanar War Relocation Center, a camp near California's
      Mojave Desert.

      In 1976, President Gerald Ford declared the evacuation wrong.

      A federal commission in 1983 concluded that the internment of
      Japanese civilians, two-thirds of them born in the United States,
      was "motivated largely by racial prejudice, wartime hysteria and a
      failure of political leadership."

      In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill that awarded $1.2
      billion in reparations to about 60,000 surviving detainees, who
      received about $20,000 each. The bill also set up a $1.25-billion
      trust fund. Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton issued
      formal apologies to survivors.
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