Japanese-American leaders in the San Fernando Valley criticized two local assemblywomen Wednesday for backing an unsuccessful Assembly resolution declaring that the mass World War II roundup and detention of Japanese-Americans was militarily justified.
Assemblywoman Cathie Wright (R-Simi Valley) and Marian La Follette (R-Northridge) voted Tuesday in favor of the resolution sponsored by fellow conservative Assemblyman Gil Ferguson (R-Newport Beach). The resolution was defeated 60-4 after a lengthy, emotion-charged debate.
“It’s surprising that in 1990 they’d take such a reactionary stand. . . . It’s unfortunate that they are still creating problems in race relations in 1990,” said Paul Tsuneishi of Sunland, past president of the Valley chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League.
The roundup and detention in guarded inland camps of 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry and Japanese nationals have been widely condemned in recent years. In 1983, a presidential commission concluded that the internment was prompted by “race prejudice, war hysteria and a lack of political leadership” and was not militarily necessary.
Two years ago, former President Ronald Reagan signed legislation giving a formal federal apology and $20,000 in reparations to each of the 60,000 former internees still living.
After 70 minutes of reminiscences and public repentance by legislators Tuesday, the Assembly voted overwhelmingly to reject Ferguson’s resolution. He had argued that the internment was a mistake but was militarily justified in the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and reports of thousands of Japanese subversives in California.
La Follette, who said she lost friends during the war, said she voted for Ferguson’s proclamation because she objects to “politicians . . . telling how history should be taught.”
“I’ve been very proud of this country that we have not altered our history but we have presented it as it was, right or wrong,” she said. “I feel strongly that our children need to learn the facts and let them make the determination.”
Wright said that although she agrees the internment was “absolutely unnecessary and wrong,” she sided with Ferguson because she supports him and because Democratic Assembly leaders made the debate into a political show designed to discredit Ferguson.
“If you’re going to teach history, teach it as it was then. . . . It was a combination of hysteria and military necessity” that led to the decision to intern Japanese-Americans, she said.
But Phil Shigekuni of Sepulveda, legislative chairman of the JACL’s Valley chapter, said Ferguson’s resolution was “completely countered” by the presidential commission’s findings on the detention.
“I think I’d ask them if they’ve taken the time to read through the commission’s report. . . . I’m very upset they would take that position,” he said.
Wright also said she was angered when Ferguson told the Assembly GOP caucus that a state-commissioned videotape intended to explain the internment to junior high school students was edited to delete a sequence showing the bombing of Pearl Harbor after objections by Japanese-American leaders.
A spokesman for the state Department of Education, which commissioned the tape, said it was met with a very negative reaction by Japanese-American activists who objected because it “dwelt on war hysteria” as the primary reason for the internment. The tape, which is being produced by a private filmmaker, is not finished.
The spokesman, Glen Thomas, said he could not recall if the bombing sequence was dropped but that a new version of the tape places less emphasis on wartime emotions as the internment’s cause and more on anti-Japanese sentiment. He said, however, the new version also has less footage on poor living conditions at detention camps.
Two years ago, La Follette came under fire from fellow lawmakers for opposing a bill to exempt from state income taxes the reparations paid by the federal government to wartime internees.
In opposing the bill, La Follette said she “would like to see an apology from the Japanese government for the killing and maiming of our young men.”
Several Democratic lawmakers criticized La Follette’s remarks as racist, and one said U.S. citizens of Japanese descent had nothing to do with the attack.
Staff writer Mark Gladstone in Sacramento contributed to this report.