It’s a lesson learned many times before, but which requires constant reminder: without fierce vigilance, U.S. civil liberties can slip away so very quickly. Beloved actor, activist and social media rock star George Takei took to the Huffington Post this week with that very same reminder.
Last week Takei traveled to McGehee, Ark. to dedicate a brand new Japanese American Internment Museum located nearby the Rohwer internment camp, where Takei and his family were detained before being transferred to another camp in Tule Lake, Calif. During World War II the U.S. set up internment camps scattered throughout the country to detain—“without charge or trial”—120,000 Japanese Americans who were living on the West Coast. And Takei was one of them. It’s an ugly, shameful part of U.S. history.
Very little remains of the camp where Takei was housed, but his memories of being denied his freedom are still strong. Takei wrote:
I have memories of the nearby drainage ditch where I used to catch pollywogs that sprouted legs and eventually and magically turned into frogs. I remember the barbed wire fence nearby, beyond which lay pools of water with trees reaching out from them. We were in the swamps, you see: fetid, hot, mosquito-laden. We were isolated, far enough away from anywhere anyone would want to live.
He says those memories and political lessons are particularly relevant, given the current political discourse:
As I write this, once again the national dialogue turns to defining our enemies, the impulse to smear whole communities or people with the actions of others still too familiar and raw. Places like the museum and Rohwer camp exist to remind us of the dangers and fallibility of our democracy, which is only as strong as the adherence to our constitutional principles renders it. People like myself and those veterans lived through that failure, and we understand how quickly cherished liberties and freedom may slip away or disappear utterly.
Places like Rohwer matter, more than seventy years later. And so, we remember.