A Sermon for March 13, 2016
A five year old tells the story of the spring of 1942, when soldiers with bayonets marched up to his home and ordered the family out. The soldiers made them leave most of their belongings behind. The boy and his family were brought to a concentration camp.
The little boy, Georgie, talks about life in the camp as a five year old and waiting in line for the bathroom in the freezing cold. His mother looked at him and she said, as she said many times, ‘Georgie, gaman.’ It is a word the family relied on in those difficult times; it means ‘to endure with dignity,'”
Georgie remembers sitting in a class room and looking out the window at a barbed wire fence that surrounded the detention camp. He remembers being told to stand and to declare his allegiance to the country that rounded up 100,000 people for similar camps. The children were lead in the pledge of allegiance.
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America,
and to the Republic for which it stands
ONE nation under God,
with liberty and justice for all.
George and his family lived in Los Angeles. George and his family were denied their rights and liberties and their crime was that they were descended from Japanese immigrants.
I don’t think any of us knows what it felt like to be in America in 1942 unless we were there. Would it seem reasonable to round up Japanese Americans? German Americans and Italian Americans were suspect and subject to government surveillance and interrogation.
People will forget the guarantee of rights and liberties in a time of fear and they will seize upon simple answers and definite action to address their fear.
George tells this story and has brought it to Broadway as a musical titled “Allegiance”. George was five and would turn seven before being released from an American detention camp because the country was afraid and could focus their fear on his family. For many years George would blame his father for going along with the insult to his family and their fellow Japanese Americans. He would question him about it sharply. He remembers hating his father’s acceptance but now after his father’s death he remembers what his mother said: “Georgie, gaman.” It is a word the family lived by in those difficult times; ‘to endure with dignity.’ His father once explained his understanding of the hypocrisy of that and other American tragedies: “This is a democracy, yes, but it is a people’s democracy.”
Our democracy is not perfect but we should pledge everyday to uphold its principles, such as “liberty and justice for all.” We should remind ourselves of our Constitution. We are not a majoritarian democracy. The majority must not trample the rights of a minority. This country has been blessed with great leaders who upheld those principles. One of the greatest, to me, was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the same president who issued Executive Order 9066 creating interment camps for Japanese Americans.
There WERE people who sympathized with our enemies during that war. People like American Hero Charles Lindberg and Edward VIII who became the Duke of Windsor after abdicating the throne of England.
Meanwhile, Japanese Americans distinguished themselves in the Armed Services. Along with African American units there were also Japanese American units such as the 100th Infantry Battalion and The 442nd Infantry Regiment which became the most decorated unit in U.S. military history.
Ten internment centers were set up and every one had active boy scout troops. One Scoutmaster was an American veteran of World War I. Many Japanese Americans were not brought to internment camps and many volunteered to serve. Some internees also volunteered to serve in the U.S. military. One Scout remembers a ceremony raising the flag to half-mast during a Memorial Service for the first six soldiers from his camp who were killed in action in Italy on August 5, 1944.
George Takei tells a story we must not forget. Not a single case of sabotage was ever found by a person of Japanese ancestry in America.