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Welcome to STop, the Seattle Times Opinion blog where our editorial writers and editors share their evolving thoughts on a variety of issues. STop is a place where opinion writers and readers can exchange views and readers can learn more about how editorial positions are formed.

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September 09, 2005

Germans and German Americans

Responding to my column on the Japanese internment, a German-American writes:

As a daughter of a WWII internee, I was very interested in reading “Fair or Not, Internment was fearful sign of the times”. Your assessment that internment occurred because of hysteria and fear are accurate. Even today in this country, we can not have an open discussion regarding internment. As a daughter of a German internee it’s insulting to see that historical references completely ignore German and Italian internment.

Just like the Japanese, internees of European descent relate to the embarrassment, fear, and lack of control they had over their lives during their WWII internment. My father was a German Internee, one of 11,000 incarcerated in a web of internment camps across the United States during WWII. The German internment is unknown to most of the public even today. (see www.foitimes.com)

Appropriately, the Japanese internment story has been told and the US government has apologized for it’s actions. Unfortunately, our government has refused to acknowledge European internment. Sixty years after WWII, German internees are still fighting to have their stories told. In a few years all German internees will be deceased and unavailable to bear witness to the injustices they experienced.

It saddens me that our country, whose citizens believe we are a humane and moral country are not aware of the abuses conducted under their names. Currently, we have a bill in congress the “Wartime Treatment Study Act”, (S1354, HR3198) whose purpose is to study WWII European internment. Once again, we are lobbying legislators to support this non partisan bill. As always, to assure the bill's success we need political leaders to step forward and join us.

To prevent future abuses of civil liberties based on race and nationality it is important to correct historical documents to reflect the complete accurate story of internment during WWII. It is important that the government take responsibility for it’s actions and acknowledge internment. Your conclusion that “when people are fearful they do not respond with fairness and law” certainly was demonstrated by internment. To avoid the same mistakes in the future we must learn from the past. To do this it is necessary to tell the whole story of internment not just bits and pieces. After 60 years it is time to set the record straight, please include all internees not just the Japanese when writing about internment. By historians and journalists writing only part of the story of internment they continue to perpetrate the myth.

Shirley A. Weiss
West Linn, Oregon

My comment:

There is a legitimate story to be told here. But do keep in mind: According to the web page mentioned (and I think the page is correct) only enemy aliens were forcibly interned. "Enemy aliens" means German citizens, which in common parlance means "Germans," not "German-Americans." And, according to the web page, there were individual hearings for each German detained, and the ones interned received negative decisions from the hearings board. According to the web page, these hearings were often unfair. That may be so. But, still, there were hearings. And still, the Germans forcibly interned were non-citizens. That is, they were citizens of Germany, and Germany was at war with the United States. They may have some valid complaints, but in my view they could not demand the same rights as citizens.

Respond to Bruce.

 
Posted by Bruce Ramsey at September 9, 2005 12:15 PM



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