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Scholars Say Don’t Forget Pearl Harbor’s Other Victims - Japanese- Americans

December 6, 1991

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Count the victims of the Pearl Harbor attack and you must number among them 120,000 Japanese-Americans forced into West Coast relocation camps, say scholars and camp survivors.

″When (President) Roosevelt said it was a day of infamy, Japanese- Americans would have said the same thing, both in terms of Pearl Harbor and in terms of what happened to them,″ said John Liu, an assistant professor of social sciences at the University of California, Irvine.

″The attack was terribly wrong,″ Liu said. ″But there were other victims; those victims happened to be Americans of Japanese ancestry.″

Two-thirds of those interned after the Dec. 7, 1941, surprise attack on Pearl Harbor were American-born, Liu said.

One of them, 68-year-old Sue Embrey, still holds powerful memories of the time she spent at the Manzanar relocation camp in the mountains 200 miles north of Los Angeles.

″I’m an American. I did not bomb Pearl Harbor. I hate to have people look at me and say you’re part of that group,″ said Embrey, whose Manzanar Committee is working to gain a historical designation for the Sierra Nevada camp.

Internees lost homes and land valued in the billions of dollars, and close- knit communities of Japanese-Americans were torn apart, said Gann Matsuda of the Asian American Studies Center at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The internment program, which included 10 camps in California and other Western states, began in February 1942, two months after Japan’s surprise attack killed 2,400 people, destroyed much of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and plunged the nation into World War II.

It began with Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066, which gave the military power to incarcerate any person to protect the nation from spies and terrorists.

Liu said it was racism that prompted the action, noting that German- Americans and Italian-Americans were not incarcerated although the nation was also at war with Germany and Italy.

″Even at the time, people were arguing it was racism,″ he said. ″Germans and Italians were not picked up en masse, only Japanese-Americans.″

The federal Commission on Wartime Relocations and Internment of Civilians, found that the action ″was not based on military necessity.″

A resolution based in part on that finding and passed by the California Legislature in 1989 said the internments were the result of race prejudice, wartime hysteria and a failure of political leadership.

In 1988, the Reagan administration issued an apology and approved payments of $20,000 to each of 60,000 surviving internees. But for some the nightmares of incarceration lingered.

In Embrey’s case, every time the Santa Ana winds would blow through Los Angeles she would think of the time she spent in the camp.

″I don’t like the wind,″ she said she once told a neighbor. ″I was in Manzanar,″ she explained. ″The wind blows awfully hard up there.″

She said her bitterness has given way to sadness - and also to fears that the flood of anniversary attention given Pearl Harbor this week might renew hostility toward Japanese-Americans.

The Guardian Angels volunteer safety group said Thursday it would have members patrolling Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo section this week to protect residents.

Matsuda is organizing events at UCLA to mark the event, in part ″to defuse the hate that obviously is going to come out of commemorations of Pearl Harbor.″

But Mitsuo Nitta said he believes the country has gone beyond those days, adding that Japanese-Americans are now accepted ″on every level.″

Nitta, 71, was an officer in the Army’s Japanese-American 442nd during World War II. At the same time, his relatives were incarcerated in Arizona.

″This is what makes America so strong,″ Nitta said. ″They make mistakes, but admit it and say, ‘Let’s go from here.’ ″

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