Infamous

December 8, 2020

Yesterday was the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.  While there were plenty of ignored warnings of the pending attack, including sightings of two minisubs in the Bay and the squadrons of planes advancing on radar blips, the Pacific Fleet was caught completely by surprise.  The attack commenced at 7:48 a.m. Hawaiian Time.  The base was attacked by 353 Imperial Japanese aircraft (including fighters, level and dive bombers, and torpedo bombers) in two waves, launched from six aircraft carriers.  Of the eight U.S. Navy battleships present, four were sunk and all were damaged.  The Japanese also sank or damaged three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship, and one minelayer.  The delayed declaration of war did not arrive in Washington until later that day.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed December 7, 1941, “a date which will live in infamy”, because the attack happened without a declaration of war and without explicit warning.

The response by America was both swift and brutal.  War was declared in both the Pacific and Atlantic theaters.  America joined the rest of the world who had been at war since September 1, 1939.  The other response was Executive Order No. 9066.  While this did not identify Japanese Americans specifically, it resulted in the forced relocation and detainment of about 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry.  While many parents had their property confiscated and their family jailed, their sons of age served honorably in the European Theater.  More than 112,000 Japanese Americans living on the West Coast were forced into interior camps. However, in Hawaii, where over 150,000 Japanese Americans composed over one-third of the population, only 1,200 to 1,800 were interned.

When I worked for the State of Utah, I visited one of the Japanese Internment Camps at Topaz, Utah.  The camp closed on October 31, 1945.  Topaz was named for the Topaz Mountain which overlooks the camp 9 miles (14.5 km) away.  While this is listed as a National Register Site, there was little left.  It was built in the Utah desert where building supplies were scare.  After closure, the local farmers stripped the camp of anything salvageable.  The only thing left were the concrete slabs and outlines of the buildings.  Eerily, there were also outlines of the rock gardens and Koi ponds the interred families created to provide a sense of place.  It left me with a haunting feeling.  

Thoughts:  When I moved to Berkeley, I became friends with a Japanese man who owned the grounds keeping company which took care of the grounds where I lived.  I had spoken with him on many occasions when somehow the topic of Topaz came up.  I believe I mentioned that I had visited the site.  He responded he had been imprisoned there during the war.  My mind went back to the cramped quarters and attempts to make a life in the desert with little resources, a fact still evident at the abandoned camp.  I found myself empathizing with him for what he had endured.  I realized when we get to know others and their circumstances, it can change your understanding of what is infamous.  Do the work.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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