Yeah, you read that headline right. Over the weekend, Eric Bolling, the host of Fox News’ Cashin’ In went to Michelle Malkin-land and justified criminal profiling of Muslims based upon the notion that sending pretty near every Japanese American on the U.S. mainland (120,000+ people) and not a few in Hawai’i to prison camps in WWII contributed to the success of the U.S. war effort. According to Bolling, “we know how to find terrorists among us: profile, profile, profile.”
Doubling down on that sentiment, panelist Jonathan Hoenig said:
…Let’s take a trip down memory lane here: the last war this country won, we put Japanese-Americans in internment camps, we dropped nuclear bombs on residential city centers. So yes, profiling would at least be a good start…
I know this view of Japanese American internment (not to mention killing at least 80,000 civilians with atomic bombs that also poisoned tens of thousands more for years afterward) is meant to drum up controversy; to lift ratings. But for the sake of those of you who, like me, have friends and family members who take the info-tainment on Fox seriously, here are a few facts to consider.
Imprisoning Japanese Americans had nothing to do with the success of the U.S. in WWII. In fact, this obvious violation of human rights cost the U.S. dearly, both financially and in terms of public opinion. We should not forget that the U.S. government built support for involvement in WWII among the American public and international allies by casting the war effort as a fight against fascism and intolerance. The fact that it did so while simultaneously sweeping up approximately 120,000 residents of the U.S. for no crime but ethnicity was a contradiction in terms that was not missed by many in the American public and the international community.
In order to make internment palatable, Roosevelt justified it by claiming that imprisonment was ordered, in part, in order to protect Japanese Americans. Photographers like dustbowl documentarian Dorothea Lange were commissioned by the government to go to the camps in order to take happy pictures that would reassure America and the world that internees were just fine with being held captive, thank you. But Lange joined the ranks of skeptics upon visiting the camps and many of her photos were censored.
The necessity of trying to clean up the image of the American government in the wake of the decision to intern its own citizens without evidence of espionage, and in spite of the fact that many were born on American soil, is indisputable. Internment was a propaganda liability undertaken at great expense for no good reason. Cases of genuine disloyalty, much less espionage, were virtually non-existent.
Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act into law in 1988. The Act provided each surviving internee $20,000 in “compensation” for government actions the federal government has admitted via this Act were taken for no legitimate security reason.
While $20,000 is a paltry sum relative to what Japanese Americans lost as a result of internment, the Civil Liberties Act is significant, particularly when you consider Reagan is the president whose signature is on the Act. Reagan used Asian American model minority stereotyping as a justification for civil rights opposition. Reagan understood that in order to justify opposition to civil rights for Blacks while positioning the U.S. as a champion of democracy and liberty at home and abroad in the context of the Cold War, he would need use the model minority as a shield against accusations of racism.
On matters of international public opinion, the civil liberties of Americans matter. We empower the recruitment efforts of anti-U.S. forces abroad when we arbitrarily act against the civil liberties and human rights of American citizens and residents.
According to research conducted by the Rand Corporation, “there is no statistically reliable link” between nationality, place of birth, or religion and a propensity toward terrorism. And, today we also know that while Buddhist or Shinto religious affiliation made Japanese Americans more vulnerable to being caught up in the first wave of internment during WWII, there was no link between the faith commitments of internees and a propensity toward disloyalty or espionage.
American public opinion appears to be turning against Muslims and Arabs. A Zogby poll cited in the Huffington Post indicates that about 42 percent of Americans believe that profiling Muslims and Arabs is justified. Only 36 percent of Americans view Arabs in a favorable light, down from 42 percent in 2010. The favorability rating of Muslim-Americans is down to 27 percent from 36 percent. We tread on dangerous ground when we casually link Muslim religion or Arab ethnic identity and terrorism for the sake of driving up ratings.
Japanese American internment is no justification for profiling Arabs and Muslims. In fact, internment of Japanese Americans should warn us against anti-Arab and Muslim profiling. So when the folks on Fox try to make the case for anti-Arab and Muslim profiling by using the “success” of Japanese internment, it should send up a red flag. Even if that red flag doesn’t quiet our fears, those who hold Muslims and Arabs in suspicion might want to keep it to themselves. That suspicion is based on a pre-judgement for which there is no meaningful evidence, and when prejudice comes into play, we too often end up sacrificing democratic values in order to assuage our fears.