I find it interesting that Dennis Prager has not responded directly to my own email to him last week , criticizing him for having stated that the internment of Americans of Japanese descent had no racist dimension and asking him to reconsider that position and retract it. He did respond to a member of the Japanese-American community who was alerted by my complaint and wrote in to him. Here is the text of his response:
Dear Ms. XXXXXX:
I never in my life “spoke out against the Japanese.” Any references to Japanese-Americans I ever expressed have been in the positive.
You will notice that the professor, another one of those people who yell “racism” where there is none and thereby damage the fight against real racism, never once quoted me directly.
I did say that the internment, which I consider a moral wrong, was not animated by racism. I still believe that. Unlike the professor, quick to judge America 66 years after Pearl Harbor, I do not believe that Franklin Roosevelt and all the other Democrats who supported him were racists.
Thank you for contacting me. Dennis Prager
Okay, Dennis, you want me to quote you directly? No problemo.
The context of Mr. Prager’s comments was a segment he was doing towards the end of his show Thursday entitled: Has America been Good for you? (You can listen to the broadcast yourself here ).
The segment began with Mr. Prager saying he wanted to discuss a proposition he had recently gotten a Hindu Professor to agree to that US is least xenophobic country in the world. (Which, is in itself, not an unreasonable argument, by any means.) His first caller, a Kathy from Granada Hills stated she had moved to the US from Costa Rica in 1977 when she was ten years old and that she had ever felt prejudice or racism (in Florida, Virginia or Boston until she moved to LA. Now she finds herself being categorized as now Hispanic. She said it was “Probably because of the kind of foreigners we have here and their not so American behavior.” Prager’s response was:
“the irony is the more homogenous white America has become for you, that’s been less xenophobic.” He continued: “What has happened is the left has played the pol—remember, race geneder and class, those are the three determinants of human behavior for the left, and so they are far more race, ethnicity oriented and celebratory than American values are and mainstream America is. And so you are in a place which is very, very politically correct on racial/ethnic matters and, therefore, far more sensitive to it in a way that draws attention to it. Where as the average American couldn’t care less.”
In other words whatever feeling of exclusion the caller was feeling came from left wing political ideas. As opposed to right wing, anti-Hispanic rhetoric which has flourished in recent years, particularly in Southern California and particularly on AM talk radio and which, of course, has not the slightest tinge of xenophobia about it. (The Minutemen are, of course, as concerned about illegal Irish immigrants in Boston and collusional Canucks sneaking across the Canadian border as they are about Hispanics coming up from the south.) Or because the increase in the number of organized anti-Hispanic hate groups (up by more than 200 over the last five years according to the Southern Poverty Law Center in a report release just yesterday.) But, then, they must be just another collection of looney liberals. Prager’s formulation is simple: anything perceived as wrong in America is the product of America-hating leftist propaganda. All is perfect in Pleasantville, USA. I
Indeed, according to Mr. Prager’s logic, once all Hispanic-Americans—or Americans of whatever hyphenation—become more homogenous to White Americans the more they will be accepted by White America. What some may perceive as racism or discrimination therefore becomes, what? The fair price to be paid for daring to be different and heterogenous?
The next caller, Jennifer in Des Moines Iowa, teed up the Internment issue. She began by saying she hadn’t ever really heard the expression xenophobic used to describe American politics. But she went on to talk about the internment of Japanese Americans in concentration camps during WWII. Mr. Prager immediately corrected her saying,
“They weren’t concentration camps. The word shouldn’t be used. They were detention camps. It’s important that we not use the term.”
As I pointed out in my blog yesterday, Dictionary.com defines “concentration camp” as:
“a guarded compound for the detention or imprisonment of aliens, members of ethnic minorities, political opponents, etc., esp. any of the camps established by the Nazis prior to and during World War II for the confinement and persecution of prisoners. [Origin: 1900–05, applied orig. to camps where noncombatants were placed during the Boer War]”
Based on this standard definition of the term calling the Interment Camps “concentration camps” is, at least technically, correct. You could also call them Prison camps, State detention facilities or even Coercion-based Year-Round Summer Camps With Attitude. I concede Mr. Prager’s underlying point, however, that the term “concentration camp” is historically and politically charged—though so, too, is the underlying issue of Internment. If the purpose of using the term is to equate the treatment of Americans of Japanese descent to Jewish and other peoples incarcerated in Nazi concentration camps the usage is totally inappropriate. The Nazi camps were death camps dedicated to one goal: systematic genocide. The American Internment camps were driven by security concerns and those incarcerated, while seeing their general standing of living decline, were not treated with brutality or subjected to excessive (as in life ending) hardships.
If the point of using the term Concentration Camp is, however, to point out that the mass detention of peoples of a particular social, ethnic or racial group without probable cause and due process, even without the presence of mass lethality, a direct perversion of the rule oof law and the Constitution, then I believe its usage is appropriate. In any event, if the people who went into such camps (which would include by own niece’s grandparents) and their descendents chose to use that term I find it inappropriate for those who did not share this experience to quibble with them.
Jennifer went on to say that, with 9/11 she saw rising suspicion of people looking Arabic. She reported she knew of a gas station who’s windows were smashed in after 9/11. She said, “One thing I think that should be thought about too, is, you know, that we can get kind of suspicious of anybody who’s a little different from us when things start happening.”
Prager responded: “Well, those are two examples and they are…America’s embarrassed about the issue of the internment camps, the Japanese-American internment camps. The issues is that we were at war with a country that had attacked us and then had committed enormous atrocities in Asia, and there was a fear that the, the…those who had moved here from that country may have a split loyalty in that war. Whether that fear was founded or not I don’t know. But it wasn’t based on racism, it was based on—on a, on a concern—and it may have been an illegitimate concern-but it was based on a concern—I mean afterall, other Asians were not locked up. IT was only a matter of Japanese and since there was such a, a deep, deep emotional connection to Japan and to the Emperor it was thought of—by a liberal administration, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Administration—that these people should be removed from society for the time being—they were well fed, they were taken care of, they were returned to their jobs. It is an embarrassing chapter in American history, but it is not specifically racist. It wasn’t done against any other Asian group or against any other different racial group. They were the people who attacked us, who were committing all of these atrocities and there was that worry. “
An “embarrassment,” Mr. Prager? (As opposed to, say, an injustice, an abomination, a disgrace? ) Why was the internment of Americans of Japanese descent for no greater reason than they had a Japanese lineage an “embarrassment” if, as you say, it was a rational response based on legitimate security concerns of a nation that had just been attacked by another nation engaged in atrocities in Asia?
You state that Japanese-Americans had “deep, deep emotional connection to Japan and to the Emperor,” because of which, the implication being, Japanese-Americans must not have assimilated as well into American society as had other immigrants and, therefore, their loyalty could be challenged prima facie without any additional proof or verification.
Do you, Mr. Prager, have any evidence—any qualified studies, facts, measurements—to demonstrate that Japanese-Americans indeed could reasonably be seen as suffering from “split loyalty” any more so that Italian Americans attending Son’s of Italy Dinners or German-Americans attending anti—war Bund meetings? Or is that just a gut-instinct because making this critical assumption about Japanese-American loyalties is necessary to advance any rational argument that the Internments had the slightest real justification? Given that the overwhelmingly vast majority of the interned proved themselves to be loyal Americans – so loyal that, even after their internment, they did not actively protest their unjust treatment by their own government—a reasonable person might just have to concede that, indeed, in retrospect, there was absolutely no justification—security or otherwise—to justify the forced incarceration of over one hundred thousand American citizens.
You do state that concern over Japanese-American loyalties may have been “illegitimate.” Yet just before that you state that the fear of split loyalty may have been justified – you just didn’t know? So why not give the benefit of your doubt to FDR and the people living 66 years ago? After al, you castifated me in your email response above for being “quick to judge America 66 years after Pearl Harbor.” If you have the courage of your convictions why not simply say that, under the circumstances, the Internment was justified, especially since it was not race-based in any way?
Oh, and as for FDR—you stated in your email “I do not believe that Franklin Roosevelt and all the other Democrats who supported him were racists,” meaning Roosevelt could only have supported a racist policy if he, himself were a dedicated racist and that, if he were, anyone who supported him must have been a racist too. You stated on your show that the Internment policy was “by a liberal administration, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Administration “ implying that, since liberals have never been racist, the policy could not have been racist. Both are historically inaccurate assertions and logical non sequiturs. The fact of the matter is that the Roosevelt with the strong record against racism was Eleanor, not Franklin. FDR deliberately chose not to engage the race issue in America for political reasons. And many of his Democratic supporters, particularly in southern states, were proud to embrace racist doctrines, particularly when it came to African-Americans, Catholics and Jews. To say the either none of FDR’s supporters were racist or all of them were makes no historical or logical sense. Many economic and social liberals in the 1930s and 1940s harbored social racist viewpoints, just as many Republican conservatives were anti-segregation. In any case, the direct racism , or lack thereof. of Roosevelt or his supporters is not evidence, one way or another, of whether or not the policy itself was racist. It is the intent and consequence of the policy that must be judged.
After a break you made the following comment: “By the way, a point to be made as well about the Japanese internment camps—it was only on the west coast because of fear of Japanese attack on the west coast, so if it was race-based it should have been for Japanese—Amerricans everywhere in the country.” That statement paired up with your statement before the break—“I mean afterall, other Asians were not locked up.”—are also non sequiturs. According to this argument – unless all Japanese and Asian Americans were the victims of a state-sponsored racist policy then none can be considered victims of racism is akin to saying “Since every state in the Union did not allow slavery or segregation and every person of color was not a victim of slavery and segregation slavery and segregation were not racist. “ Which, of course, is complete horse-hockey. As is the argument you made concerning the Internment.
You concluded the segment by saying that “It may well have been wrong—and probably was—but it wasn’t rascist.” Again, what do you base your assertion that the policy was wrong upon, given how systematically you laid out its defense? Unless you do understand that this was not simply a policy decision gone awry?
Finally, as for your categorizing me and my complaints about your illogical and insulting argument on Internment as “another one of those people who yell “racism” where there is none and thereby damage the fight against real racism” I have a question for you. If the internment of Americans of Japanese descent precisely because they were Americans of Japanese descent isn’t racist, what is? Slavery and only slavery?
You concluded by saying: “ That’s all, I’m talking about how unxenophobic Amerrica is, how welcoming it is, of all backgrounds.” Was the systematic discrimination against the Irish, Jews, Italians, Eastern Europeans, Catholics, Hispanics and just about every new group that ultimately melted its way into our cultural melting pot an example of Americans’ being “welcoming”? Or is it an example of the true success of American history, that, despite the prejudices and fears we, as Americans, carry within ourselves we have, over time, managed to conquer these baser all-too human emotions and rise above them to create a country that is strong enough to admit when it has made mistakes and corrected them in the future?
I’m not arguing, Mr. Prager, with your underlying assertion that the US is the least—or, at least, one of the least, there being Canada and all that—xenophobic nations on earth. But being the least doesn’t mean being without. It is precisely in recognizing where we have had are darker, xenophobic moments as a nation that we become best prepared to avoid repeating those past mistakes.
Thus the correct argument you should have advanced in support of the supposition that the US is not a xenophobic nation was not that the Internment of Americans of Japanese had no racial dimension but, rather, that we learned as a nation from that moral and constitutional wrong and avoided doing something similar to Americans of Russian descent during the Cold War and Americans of Arab descent after 9-11. American democracy is an experiment in learning to live up to five simple words: “All men are created equal.” We weren’t very good as a nation on the equality thing in 1771 or 1788. We were a little bit better at it by the end of the Civil War. We were certainly better at it by the 1960s compared, say, to the 1890s and the era of State-sponsored segregation. And there is still great room for improvement. Does that mean the US is a terrible country? Of course not. The US is a great country—but can, and should, be greater still. Achieving that greatness and perfecting it is the duty and obligation of each generation of Americans.
You, Mr. Prager, however, prefer the lazy approach to patriotism: never criticize any action by America and condemn anyone who does as being un-American—a product of the America-hating liberal left. But, then again, you never seem to hesitate in criticizing precisely those Americans who disagree with your own narrow-minded, revisionist view of this country and its history.
AM talk Conservatives (which I consider a separate and minority breed compared to mainstream, main street conservatives I have known) always blast those they disagree with for being “Politically Correct.” Yet AM talk conservatives like yourself practice your own brand of “PC”: America, love it or leave it or, at least, shut up about it; tobacco doesn’t kill; any reference to global warming is a sign of insanity; anyone can make it in America so those who don’t deserve not to; anyone who complains they are a victim aren’t—they’re just liberal whiners; etc. In your overarching imperative of proving your point that America is not xenophobic (a point, which I hope I have made clear I, for the most part, agree with) you were willing on your show to reduce the a historical injustice of historical proportions to nothing more than a policy “oops”—probably unjustified, probably shouldn’t have been done but not a symptom of any deeper problem in American culture and society of the time. In so doing you emptied your argument of any legitimacy and logic it may have had. That you simply reject this charge without the slightest amount of deep reflection is regrettable.
The irony of all this is that, of the various voices on the AM talk spectrum, I typically find yours to be one of the more rational. Indeed on topics of inter-personal relations and religion, in particular, your observations are usually well-founded and insightful. It seems to be in the discussion of things political that you have the greatest tendency to allow ideology to overcome reason, history and logic. Such is the sad case with your unfortunate and inaccurate statements on the internment of Americans of Japanese-descent. These statements added nothing to the understanding of just how America has, over time, been able to emerge as one of the least xenophobic societies on Earth. Instead, they were needlessly provocative, insensitive and detracted from the legitimacy of your argument.
I hope that, in the unlikely event you actually read this missive, it my give you cause for pause and reflection on this topic. Unfortunately, experience with people who have turned to becoming ideologues is that such reflection diminishes the more ideological