Commentary on REPARATIONS

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from CANE Newlsetter
Sept - Oct '78

Reparations, monetary compensation for losses suffered during World War II, has been an issue of much discussion. There are diverse views on whether or not Japanese people should get reparations.

Recently, the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) held a National Convention in which they voted in a proposal of $25,000 for each individual who suffered any "expulsion from an areas, and/or incarceration into concentration camps." Eligibility is only for those people who were incarcerated or forced to move out of the "exclusion areas," and is limited to survivors only. Also, many Japanese were brought in from Central and South America, and incarcerated in the U.S., and they too would be eligible. The processing and payment of individual claims would be the responsibility of the U.S. government, and a trust fund would be set up for the benefit of Japanese Americans to be administered by a Japanese American Cormmission. This proposal is soon to be introduced into Congress for passage.

At the same time, there are strong criticisms about the reparations issue, coming from sources like S.I. Hayakawa and the Wall Street Journal . Hayakawa stated that the Japanese people should "stop looking back," and concern themselves with the problems ahead of them. He thought that the $25,000 demand was ridiculous, and he is in total opposition to it. The camps, he states, were specifically for the safety of the Japanese, and were a perfectly understandable situation!

Along similar lines, the Wall Street Journal claimed that today the Japanese Americans are exemplary citizens, the most prosperous ethnic group, and that racial prejudice against them is almost dead! So why should reparations be demanded now? They characterize the reparations issue as compensation for "ancient wrongs" under the guide of human rights," and decry the guilt of those responsible for the camps being turned into a "commodity."

These comments are totally absurd: Both the Wall Street Journal and Hayakawa miss the whole point of reparations. First of all, were Japanese forced to give up land, homes, personal belongings, education and careers or not because of evacuation? It is a basic fact that Japanese had no choice but to give everything up; yet, this point is either glossed over or ignored by Hayakawa and others. Japanese have every right in the world to demand compensation for the many things that were in essence, stolen from them.

Secondly, reparations, even if paid, would not completely absolve the U. S. government of what they did to the Japanese - it would not "right past wrongs". Individual reparations would help compensate the thousands of Japanese for part of their property losses, but could ever repay the emotional and physical suffering they endured. The trust funds, meanwhile, could greatly benefit the Japanese communities and people throughout the country by providing for much needed community services such as Issei centers and services, youth services, bi­lingual services, immigration services, childcare, re­sources, history projects, as well as many other cultural services.

The important thing to remember is that, contrary to Hayakawa and the Wall Street Journal, the camps were not an isolated incident of injustice and discrimination against the Japanese. Our history in this country is full of such experiences. Since the arrival of Japanese as contract laborers in Hawaii, Japanese have always had to deal with anti-Japanese social, political, and economic restrictions. Even upon returning from the con­centration camps, Japanese had to confront a hostile, anti-Japanese sentiment and continuing discrimination. Today, redevelopment, cut-backs in social services, lack of community services, employment discrimination, immigration restrictions are examples of the unequal status held by Japanese in this society.

Overall, we in CANE feel that the JACL reparations proposal is good, with some points we want to emphasize. In order for the reparations issue to truly benefit the Japanese population in the U.S., it must involve as many, people as possible. Within the Japanese national minority there are different sectors - workers, students, and several generations, from Issei to Yonsei, with different opinions which we must try and involve. Also, there has to be support for the reparations demand among other nationalities. We cannot rely on a mere handful of poli­ticians to take up this issue, but rather, we must make this a broad campaign, something which many, many people know about and can participate in. In this way, the reparations for the Japanese will surely succeed.