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Were We the Good Guys?

A winning essay in the Rotary Club of Farmington Essay Contest.

Nicholas Rossitto

Grade 6

Teacher: Mrs. Alvarez

Most people would answer yes to the question, “Are you proud to be an American?”  History teachers are always telling us about great events in our country’s history like gaining independence from England or inventing the first working airplane.  But when they talk about some events, they tend to gloss over finer points.

Any U.S. citizen alive today would know about the attack on Pearl Harbor and how we came back to help the Allies win the war.  What most people don’t know is how Japanese-Americans were ridiculed after the horrible attack.

After the bombing, people were afraid.  They were afraid of Japan’s power.  They were afraid of another attack.   And when people are afraid, they naturally want to get rid of all threats.  This is one reason why fingers - prejudiced fingers - pointed at Japanese-Americans who were living peacefully in their new “free” home.

So FDR gave all Japanese-Americans forty-eight hours to pack up and move out.  They could only bring what they could carry, which wasn’t much.  Everything else was to be sold, put up for rent, or abandoned altogether.  After the maximum two days they were transported to one of ten internment camps across the U.S.  Of the one hundred twenty thousand internees, over two thirds of them were U.S. citizens and half were children.

But these internment camps were not summer camps.  Residents were constantly under the watch of armed guards and lived behind barbed wire.  Living conditions were way below standard.  Many died from inadequate medical care or even emotional stress.  Some families were split up and sent to different camps.  Few internees protested because they feared being accused of spying for Japan.

But don’t worry; Japanese-Americans were released from the camps after the war ended in 1945, five years later.  Once freed, they had no jobs or homes to go back to. After all the trouble these people went through, only ten Japanese-Americans were ever discovered to be spies - only ten out of one hundred twenty thousand detainees.

Looking back at WWII and all its burdens and casualties, were we any better than Adolf Hitler and the Nazis when we locked up Japanese-Americans like animals?  Were we tirelessly working to defeat Hitler or merely following in his footsteps by herding innocent people into concentration camps?  Were we the good guys?

Saul Freedman June 06, 2012 at 01:19 PM
Is America perfect? No. But what a shameful essay.
Corey Fyke (Editor) June 06, 2012 at 01:33 PM
Saul, I was impressed with Nicholas' essay. It takes courage to ask tough questions about your own country's moral accountability, especially at an age when I wouldn't have guessed that he'd be aware of Japanese internment camps. With more context, and a few more years of study, I'm sure his take on the subject will become a bit more nuanced. But I admired his guts in writing something like that for this essay contest where the easy thing is to wrap yourself in the stars and stripes.
KAH June 06, 2012 at 05:14 PM
What an audacious and informative essay Nicholas! You and your parents ought to be very proud. Anyone can write an essay about the greatness of America (which she is) and make us feel good about ourselves, but very few can write critically about such a dark period in American history. Unfortunately, we seem to be repeating mistakes of the past in the aftermath of 9/11, where we are fighting wars and killings many, many people who have nothing to do with 9/11 or the security of our nation. Here at home, civil liberties are being trembled in the name of national security. Our hope for the restoration of sanity and moral leadership in the world rests with young people like Nicholas. Keep up the hope. I am honored to know you! KAH
Ryan Takemiya June 07, 2012 at 12:35 AM
I got halfway through this article thinking it was the lead-in to the kid's essay, written by an adult, and thinking, "This is all very informative, but where is the kid's essay?" Then I realized it WAS the kid's essay @_@. Kid, you write like a seasoned journalist. Fooled me! Well done.
Dianne K June 08, 2012 at 03:38 AM
Stated, "After all the trouble these people went through, only ten Japanese-Americans were ever discovered to be spies - only ten out of one hundred twenty thousand detainees." What was the outcome, where they convicted of spying, or just falsely accused?

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