The Times regrets publishing letters about the Japanese American internment that weren’t ‘civil, fact-based discourse’
Many Times readers have taken issue with two letters in the Dec. 11 Travel section, which criticized a Nov. 27 article about National Park sites that address issues of race and ethnicity in America’s history.
The letters employed cultural stereotypes to suggest that the mass internment of Japanese Americans during World War II was justified and sought to minimize the hardships they endured.
Davan Maharaj, editor-in-chief and publisher of The Times, said the letters did not meet the newspaper’s standards for “civil, fact-based discourse” and should not have been published. He said The Times apologizes for the distress the letters caused.
The Nov. 27 article highlighted the Tule Lake and Manzanar relocation camps in California, where thousands of Japanese Americans were detained. Tule Lake was especially notorious, the only one of the 10 war relocation camps with a stockade and jail. Japanese Americans deemed disloyal were sent there.
The article quoted park ranger Angela Sutton, who has worked at Tule Lake since the park was established in 2008, on why it’s important to remember what happened: “We take a dark spot in our own history, something other countries might want to cover up,” she said, “and we maintain it and preserve it so that future generations can learn.”
The facts surrounding the internment are well-established. In all, 120,000 Japanese Americans were detained during World War II. Most were U.S. citizens.
In 1988, President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act, in which the U.S. government formally apologized to the internees and established a $1.25-billion trust fund to pay reparations.
The law said the mass internment resulted from “race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership” rather than from legitimate security considerations.
The two letters published in the Dec. 11 Travel section accused the National Parks article of engaging in an “anti-U.S. remake of history” and of needing balance. The letters included racial stereotypes.
They also suggested that it wasn’t so bad in the camps and that the detainees could have had it worse elsewhere.
Outraged readers found the opinions offensive and insensitive. Some of those views appear in the expanded Letters that appear in the Dec. 18 Travel section; more are included below.
The Times’ Travel editor, Catharine Hamm, said she approved publishing the letters, thinking the writers’ views, although provocative, would be balanced by subsequent letters of response.
Hamm said that, in retrospect, that was not the right decision because the views expressed in the letters did not lend themselves to reasoned discussion.
Maharaj made the same point in discussions with staff members disturbed by the letters, and in remarks to editors last week during a Times daily news meeting.
“Letters in The Times are the opinions of the writers, and editors strive to include a range of voices. But the goal is to present readers with civil, intelligent, fact-based opinions that enlarge their understanding of the world,” Maharaj said.
“These letters did not meet that standard.”
— Deirdre Edgar
Readers react to ‘ignorant’ views
I don’t understand the purpose of printing the hate-filled and historically incorrect letters about Japanese American internment [Letters, Dec. 11].
I would hope that The Times, as a reputable news organization, would not print letters for their sensational value.
To give your entire letter space to people who still think imprisoning our citizens was a good idea and who make the camps sound like a summer camp is irresponsible.
I hope you will detail the number of people who died because there were not enough doctors in the camps.
I hope you will describe what it was like to be taken from your home and sent to live in a horse stall in a race track. I hope you will explain the cold and what it was like for young children to live in what my grandmother-in-law called “that hell hole.”
I hope you will explain the economic and racist basis of the mass incarceration.
And because that ignorant view of history has been spread by The Times to a wide audience and been given credentials as true since it was “printed in the L.A. Times,” I hope you will now take the print space to give the accurate history, which is widely available.
In 1988, Congress passed legislation granting reparations to those who were interned by the U.S. government during World War II. The legislation, signed into law by President Reagan, said the internment was based on “race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership.”
Under the law each surviving internee received $20,000 from the government. More than 80,000 checks were distributed.
That is history’s verdict, in my opinion.
The letters regarding Japanese American internment echo the propaganda rationalizing the internment camps in the government film I show my students to teach about propaganda.
Most of these people were American citizens stripped of their rights and property without due process. They were not treated well and lost everything.
The people who wrote the letters should read “Farewell to Manzanar” for an accurate picture. They should have seen the Skirball Museum exhibition earlier in the year.
The internment was a continuation of the prejudice against Asians who were not allowed to become naturalized citizens. The internment was unconstitutional.
These disturbing letters are yet another sign of the rise of racism in the guise of “making America strong again.” What are we going to do next? Intern all Muslims?
Palos Verdes Estates
Neither letter mentions that these 120,000 individuals were American citizens or resident aliens. However, apparently that was OK because all 120,000 American citizens and resident aliens were housed and fed and had “assigned jobs.”
The housing was tar-paper shacks in the desert surrounded by fencing topped with barbed wire and armed guards standing watch.
I, too, “have zero respect for those trying to rewrite history just to make themselves feel good.” I also agree that “one-way reporting” is not very effective for the educated public.
Please try a little balance next time. It’s more effective and honest. Instead, read history written by historians such as Peter Irons and Jacobus tenBroek.
I am livid after reading those letters, especially the racial profiling and denying the rights of fellow Americans.
Japanese Americans are Americans. We are born and raised in the United States of America but were deemed “the enemy due to looking like the enemy.”
You can educate yourself by visiting the Japanese American National Museum, 100 N. Central Ave., Los Angeles. A recently opened exhibit details the concentration camp called Tuna Canyon. Legally documented immigrants who had been living their lives were labeled “enemy aliens” or “illegal immigrants” and had to register. That was the law.
That is what is so scary.
Many were never given an explanation for their arrests; they were just abruptly torn from their families and incarcerated. The government justified it by saying it was for “their own safety and protection.” Many lost their personal properties and businesses and never recovered them. They were subjected to subhuman conditions. They were sent to different concentration camp locations across the country, many on undesirable lands where the weather was harsh. They were behind barbed wire fences, watched by armed guards in watchtowers with orders to shoot them if they tried to escape. Many Japanese American men chose to enlist in the Army and fought in the 442nd regiment, a highly decorated group who defended a country that didn’t trust them or their families.
My family survived the camps. Let’s not let history repeat itself. The conversation needs to be “we” as a country, not about narrow-minded people who still delude themselves that they are privileged or better because of the color of their skin.
If one is still breathing, then one can still learn.
I am sansei, a third-generation Japanese American.
My parents experienced different sides of the issues internment raised. Neighbors of my mother’s were interned, and my father served with Asian Americans in the Marines. They were ashamed of what fear and hatred can inspire.
Apparently it’s OK to spout such “reinventions” in today’s atmosphere, where you can hide behind your keyboards and hope your churches and employers don’t know what you spout in private.
I hope articles such as Carolina A. Miranda’s [“Honest History,” Nov. 27] continue to remind us that if we don’t remember the wrongs of the past, how can we hope to avoid repeating them in the future?
Julie T. Byers
Talk about the pot calling the kettle black about revisionist history concerning the Japanese American internment.
If you call living with multiple families in Army-style barracks with rooms separated by a blanket for privacy and tar-paper-thin walls to keep out the subzero temperatures “housed,” having potato soup for dinner “fed,” having rifle-toting guards staring into the compound from outside the barbed-wire fence “protected and cared for,” then you have different definitions from mine.
To state that American-born Japanese would have followed the orders of the elders in Japan is ludicrous. No doubt that had the Japanese American population been allowed to stay in their homes, they would have been subjected to hostility, injury and even death, but the U.S. Constitution gives each citizen that right to make his or her own choice: to stay or leave. The letter writers seem to have drunk the WWII-era propaganda Kool-Aid hook, line and sinker.
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