JANM Statement on Letter Published in L.A. Times

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This Los Angeles Times opinion piece by David Ulin prompted letters to the editor about the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans.

The Japanese American National Museum issued the following statement on Dec. 6.

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Two years ago, The Los Angeles Times published two letters that attempted to justify the forced removal and unlawful incarceration of 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry in the Western United States during World War II.

After appropriate outcry from other readers and leaders in the Japanese American community — including the Japanese American National Museum — the newspaper’s then publisher and editor-in-chief, Davan Maharaj, said the letters should not have been published because they did not meet the newspaper’s standards for “civil, fact-based discourse.”

But here we go again.

The Times just recently published another letter that defended President Franklin Roosevelt’s actions that directly led to the forced removal incarceration of 120,000 during the war.

Mr. Maharaj and many others at the newspaper have left since the 2016 incident, but that’s no excuse for a media outlet of such influence and importance to forget or be ignorant of key parts of this nation’s history: that the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians found that the broad historical causes for the policy of exclusion, removal, and detention were “race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership.”

Those findings ultimately contributed to the United States government issuing a formal apology and paying reparations to surviving Japanese Americans through the bipartisan passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. That act was signed by President Ronald Reagan, who said at the signing, “We gather here today to right a grave wrong.”

President Roosevelt’s actions were wrong. It’s as simple as that. The Times must acknowledge that it has again published a letter that does not meet its standards and commit itself to preventing any such future publications.

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On Nov. 30, The Times published an opinion piece by contributing writer David Ulin titled “Manzanar is too stripped down to memorialize what we must remember: American xenophobia.” In response, reader William David Stone of Beverly Hills wrote:

“President Franklin D. Roosevelt acted not out of xenophobia toward Japanese Americans, but rather his intent to protect citizens after a horrendous act of war perpetrated by the Empire of Japan.

“It is fairly easy, 73 years after the resolution of the conflict, to Monday-morning quarterback his actions, but I don’t remember many who thought his response to keep us safe was worthy of shame.

“Having lost a number of family members in that colossal conflict, I have felt a tremendous number of emotions, but shame is not one of them.”

A rebuttal to that letter from Lorelei Laird of Culver City read:

“I literally dropped my spoon when I read the letter defending the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Even Ronald Reagan, that noted liberal, was willing to acknowledge that it was wrong.

“As for the claim that few at the time felt ‘shame’ about internment, that’s a very selective view of the past.

“Among other things, there were three challenges to the internment and related rules that made their way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The government hid evidence in order to win them, and the decision in Korematsu vs. United States is a blot on our legal history.”

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