Internment Camps — Bring ‘Em On?

Here’s a new one for the “why it’s a bad idea to allow ideologues to write history standards” file — a file that is growing by the day, thanks to the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE).

Today’s example comes from the Rev. Peter Marshall, appointed earlier this year by far-right SBOE members Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, and Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, to the “expert” panel advising the board on new social studies curriculum standards. (Read about Marshall’s appalling lack of qualifications here.) Marshall writes a weekly commentary on his “Peter Marshall Ministries” Web site, which typically consists of boiler-plate attacks on liberals, communists and moderate Republicans, all of whom supposedly pose an imminent threat to America’s very existence (in Marshall’s bizarre theology, at any rate). In this week’s commentary — entitled “Alien Invasion” —  Marshall proposes an alarming solution to the tragic shooting in Fort Hood:

Apparently, there are about 4000 Muslims in the United States Military. They should be immediately examined — all of them.

Now before you go and jump to the conclusion that Marshall is suggesting the government round up American Muslims and force them into detention camps (à la the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II), let’s hear him out.

But I promise you that it [the examination of Muslims in the military] won’t happen. Too politically risky, it will be said. Obviously discriminatory.

Yep. And so was the treatment of Japanese-Americans in the early months of World War II. To have rounded up thousands of Americans of Japanese descent on the West Coast and imprisoned them in detention camps seems to us today to be a grevious [sic] violation of civil rights. But what was President Roosevelt to do? There had been reports that Japanese-Americans were engaging in spying for Japan in Hawaii and on the West Coast. There was no telling how many spies existed among us, and how much damage they could do to the war effort. Only by quick and drastic action to isolate the whole group could enough time be bought to interrogate them and try to root out the dangerous ones. Hence, the detention camps.

Were mistakes made with the Japanese-Americans? Yes. Were they detained too long? Yes. Could the problem have been handled better? Without question. But at least they tried to handle the potential danger. Which is more than we are doing now, with what amounts to a dangerous fifth-column invasion of potential Muslim terrorists in our midst, and even within our military. Will anything be done about it soon?

Didn’t think he would go there, did you? You thought justifying the forced detention of an entire ethnic group — and what’s more, actually calling for it! — was going too far, even for someone like Marshall.


And remember, this guy is helping create the American history standards that will guide what Texas schoolchildren study for a decade or more.

12 thoughts on “Internment Camps — Bring ‘Em On?

  1. TFN, make sure the State Legislature knows what Marshall said and who put him on the committee.

    This just proves that if the far right controlled everything, no one would have any rights and anyone that disagreed with them would be labeld an enemy of the state and jailed.

  2. Two words: Ruth Benedict.

    As an anthropologist, I need to comment on this. Back in my university days, I had one textbook that, to the best of my recollection, actually blamed the Japanese internment on Ruth Benedict. Ruth was a professor of cultural anthropology at Columbia University when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. One of the first things the U.S. government wanted to do as part of the American war effort was to “get inside the Japanese mindset and culture” to see if there were any juicy psychological, cultural, or social tidbits of information that could be used to unravel their war effort. Benedict was appointed to the team and charged with developing a detailed profile of Japanese culture. However, there was one big problem. Ethnographers normally collect such information in person by immersing themselves among the actual people and in their culture. The war barred them from traveling to Japan, so they had to do it from afar using newspaper articles, books, and interviews with Japanese Americans in the United States. Therefore, the Japanese internment camps served as giant guinea pig farm for holding Japanese people so they could be interviewed to undergird the profiling effort. However, it is my understanding that the internment operation was carried out alone by the government before Benedict began the profiling effort, so it is not clear to me that it was actually her fault.

    However, in one of my classes, I believe one of my professors (perhaps wrongly) said that Benedict had advised the government that the fundamental nature of Japanese culture was such that loyalty to ancestors and Japan itself would supercede any loyalty to the United States—apparently with regard to even those who were born and raised in the United States. Therefore, the Japanese could not be trusted and needed to be quarantined in their entirety.

    The textbook I was using dated to about the time when the American people were first learning, on a nationwide scale, about the Japanese internment camps, which was really in the early 1970s. I had never heard about them until then. I suppose the textbook author blamed Benedict for the internment because the Japanese had to be kept there for years to support the interview process, and it is interesting to note that Benedict did not publish her famous book “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword” until right after the war in 1946. Basically, looking back with 20/20 hindsight, we could call it racial profiling gone crazy.

    However, as an anthropologist, I would have to say this. Although it did not work out that way with the Japanese, I cannot assure you that this kind of study would not have immense value with some other culture. For example, if you were to study 100 human cultures, there might really be some cultural tendencies that would supercede American norms and sensibilities—posing a real danger to us. Therefore, much as I dislike the notion of racial or cultural profiling, there may be some instances in which it could be very useful for homeland security purposes, and this “Islamic Thingy” might be one of them. I would not intern Islamic Americans like the guy at Fort Hood, but the anthropologist in me would have a good cultural anthrpologist and the FBI watching every single one of them like a hawk.

  3. “Oh my, oh dear, oh no, and oh ***t!”

    Recently, in Florida the Rifqa Bary case caused quite a stir. Without going into too much detail, she was a girl from a Muslim family in Ohio who converted to a (very extreme) version of Christianity and fled her home to Florida where she was taken in by a Christian family, possibly involved in her conversion. When her parents sued to have her returned, she made a number of statements that she would be in danger of her life, giving ‘corroborative details’ that in every case were proven false. (For example, she claimed her parents did not know she was a cheerleader, would have disapproved and prevented her from being one and might have physically abused her. When reporters went to the home, there was a picture of her proudly displayed — wearing her cheerleading costume.)

    But the relevant fact is not about her, but about her lawyer, who had previously sued a car rental company after a crash on the grounds that “[the company] “knew or should have known about the unique cultural and ethnic customs existing in Ireland which involve the regular consumption of alcohol at `Pubs’ as a major component to Irish social life.”

    He went on to charge that [the company] “knew or should have known that Sean McGrath would have a high propensity to drink alcohol.”

    Nonsensical, of course, and he wasn’t an ‘anthropologist’ but, in retrospect, is it any more nonsensical than Benedict’s statements you quote — and which were disproven by the exploits of Nisei soldiers who, in many cases, signed up directly from the camps and fought extremely well, knowing all the while that their parents, friends, and relatives were still interned.

    Anthropology is far from an ‘exact science’ and some people would argue it is far from being a science at all, despite its value in some cases. but even if it were, a person is more than a ‘representative of his culture.’ He is, and should be judged, and one of the principal beliefs, I would assume, of people commenting here is that he MUST be judged, as an individual.

    (And, btw, you might show you even have a knowledge of the ‘cultural differences’ in Muslim countries like Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia, Egypt, and Nigeria before you make such a statement.)

    I am not sure if I should apologize for the length of this post or its brevity, considering how much I could say about the toxic absurdity of this from someone whose other comments I had grown to respect.

  4. You must have misunderstood. I was merely relating what I knew of Benedict’s involvement in the internment. With regard to the Japanese, I was not supporting Ruth Benedict or the internment.

    However, with regard to our current Islamic problem, I would not want to see people interned. However, I do feel that a full understanding of various Middle Eastern cultures and the role of Islam in those cultures and the fabric of peoples lives might be useful in understanding how and why their could be ticking time bombs like Major Hasan among us. I do not apologize for that, but thanks for your comments anyway.

  5. If that is what you meant, then we hardly disagree. (And I have no idea — nor do I care except as a personal lesson to myself to read more carefully — how much fault for our misunderstanding was on each side. I know that it was not 100% on one side — and it rarely is.)

    I’ll have some more to say on this over the next couple of days, but mundanity is pulling hard and I have other comments here and on other blogs that are also yelling to be written.

  6. “Could the problem have been handled better? Without question.”

    Why don’t we handle it better then?

  7. In reference to Charles’ comment, “I do feel that a full understanding of various Middle Eastern cultures and the role of Islam in those cultures and the fabric of peoples lives might be useful in understanding how and why their could be ticking time bombs like Major Hasan among us.” : I believe that Major Hasan’s psychological profile and his social isolation are more important determining factors of his actions than his religious beliefs. His radical religious beliefs were a vehicle to give his life focus and meaning and certainly played a major role in his actions, but it was his mental state that drove him there.

    While it is important that we understand the religious beliefs of Islam and the ethnic cultures of the various groups of Muslims, but we must also keep in mind that these groups are made up of complex individuals just as all groups are. We must not paint all Muslims with the brush of fanaticism and terrorism, which are the actions of highly politicized religious beliefs. Millions of Muslims live peaceful, ordinary lives. Extreme religious conservatism and fanaticism have been seen to develop in other religions, and such beliefs have much in common regardless of the religious environment from which they came. The murder of Dr. Tiller was the action of a Christian fanatic who came to believe that such action was justified. The actions of such an individual are not an indictment of all Christians but of a particular mindset and an example of the logical outcomes of extreme viewpoints.

  8. In fact, IF Hasan’s actions were caused — in part — by him turning to a more radical form of Islam, it was the general ignorance of the differences in Islam that kept people from spotting this. There was a long letter posted on another blog — I think Ed Brayton’s — from a fellow Muslim who’d worked with him. In it, the writer mentions Hasan’s use of ‘revert’ rather than ‘convert’ to describe the writer. That, in itself should have set off alarms, because, afaik, it is only used by Selafists (they prefer the term to ‘Wahabbists.’), the extreme form that is centered in Saudi Arabia.

    Unfortunately, nobody who dealt with him picked up on this.

  9. From all I’ve heard (mostly discussions on NPR), this is a specific case, specific to Maj. Hasan – not all Muslims. From what I understand, it’s still unclear which came first: his mental/emotional condition or his embracing of radical militant Islam (for lack of a better description). It’s pretty clear that both were at work.

    It’s also becoming pretty clear that the Army refused to deal with Maj. Hasan – for whatever reason. It could have been an inappropriately heightened sense of political correctness – as has been written about ad nauseum. It could also be attributed to the fact that it’s very difficult to “get rid” of less-than satisfactory upper-level health professionals. It may be even more difficult to do so in the armed forces.

    The more I hear about how Maj. Hasan’s case was overlooked or ignored and passed along to someone else, the more it sounds like those cases of child-molesting priests who were transferred around from one parish to another – to sweep the issue under the carpet and keep it hushed-up.

    This case also appears to painfully point out how stretched the armed forces are. Things may have been pidgeon-holed and forgotten due to sheer overwork and understaffing.

    Of course, right wingnuts are taking great pleasure in politicizing this, blaming this on Obama – calling the army “Obama’s army.” Yet it’s the same army that was around during the Bush administration. And let’s remember we had military people going “postal” during the Bush years as well as now; soldiers shooting soldiers. Did not someone with overhwhelming PTSD shoot a bunch of fellow soldiers a few months ago? And let’s not forget Timothy McVeigh – a verteran – who decided to kill 169 Americans. Is Obama to blame for Tim McVeigh?

  10. Yes, this debate reopening the question of whether the internment of Japanese Americans was justified has been simmering and sometimes flaring up for a few years. People on the right have invoked this question as a way to say the U.S. is not doing what it should to root out Muslim extremists because of some misguided guilt about the internment.

    Aside from the fact their pro-internment arguments are based on flawed facts, reasoning and ethics, like Rev. Marshall they’re also maddeningly vague about what they think should be done. They’re usually quick to say they’re not calling for internment for Muslims, even though their arguments point to that inevitable conclusion.

  11. I feel the camps were not fair. Most Japanese Americans were born in the U.S. They did not practice their customs they were proud to call themselves Americans. There was never any prove that there were spies or plans against the U.S. It was unjust the Japanese were humilated and some had no homes to come back to they lost their work,homes and lives. The actions taken were not just and could have been avoided.