Monday, March 24, 2008

America's Conscience

One of the more shameful episodes in American history was the internment of American citizens of Japanese descent during World War Two on the west coast of the United States. Although treated humanely according to the standards of prison camps, they were internees who were deprived of their freedom of movement. Many lost homes and businesses in the aftermath of their detention. The $12000.00 dollars given each detainee decades later by an act of Congress was a paltry sum that can only be considered to be a gesture.
Looking back at the war years, I can not help but note the grim treatment accorded Europeans who found themselves in lands under Japanese occupation. Massacres, slave labour, forced prostitution and expropriation of property are all part of a long list of complaints by Koreans, Chinese Europeans and others who found themselves classified as enemy aliens or simply inferior.
What is most noteworthy is the contrast between Japan's lack of acknowledgment of its war time behavior and America's relative candour in facing up to far less weightier transgressions. Our evolving concept of American identity with equality under law of all citizens is relatively new in world history. We have become demanding of ourselves as a nation. I find myself proud of our ability to feel shame.
Self criticism is good as long it is in the interest of preserving our values and way of life. When it degenerates into disparagement of the American system and political values, then it ceases to be useful.
Many countries are forced into the role of being national states, protecting members of their nationality dispersed around the world. Turkey performed this role admirably in the 1980's when the Bulgarian communist dictatorship under Todor Zhivkov began persecuting its Turkish minority, even banning the use of spoken Turkish and the use of Turkish names.
The U.S. has no core native ethnic group other than its native peoples. Our concept of nationality does not always transplant well to other countries with different demographics. This presents us with unique opportunities as a nation in promoting a universal citizenry with roots around the world.
We are sure to continue to make mistakes as we collectively write the history of our unique country. Yes we should have the courage to be self critical. But we should always remember that we are criticising ourselves to strengthen and improve our collective self.
Copyright 2008 by Magdeburger Joe

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