"I've got nothing against the Japanese," the cabbie said, "but I've got a problem with this latest thing."
He then proceeded to attack the federal commission that recently recommended that the government spend up to $1.5 billion, as "an act of apology," to compensate survivors of the World War II internment camps. I thought the injustice of what happened to Japanese-Americans during the war was rather obvious, and I told him so.
"Oh, I'm not saying it wasn't unjust," he told me, "although I imagine it looks a lot more unjust now than it did right after Pearl Harbor, when nobody knew how this thing would come out. But my point is, what's the point of one set of government officials apologizing to a group of folks for what another set of government officials did to those folks' parents, or maybe grandparents."
"And what's wrong with saying 'I'm sorry?'" I demanded, ignoring his syntax. "Besides the apology is just part of it. The commission that looked into this business also recommended paying some $20,000 each to the survivors of those relocation camps. After all, a lot of people lost their property and their jobs . . ."
"I've got a problem with that, too," the cabbie said. "I mean, where do they get the $20,000 figure? Why not $2,000 or $200,000? If specific people lost businesses, maybe you could figure that out. But in terms of the jobs they lost, isn't it a fact that one result of the internment was to scatter the Japanese across the country rather than leaving them all cooped up on the West Coast? I imagine that a lot of them are better off in terms of education and income than they would have been if they hadn't been scattered after the war. Should their education and economic improvement be charged against their $20,000?"
"Let's be fair and reasonable," I cautioned.
"You want to talk fair and reasonable?" the cabbie said. "Okay, here's an internment camp survivor who dies the day after the compensation act goes into effect, so his family inherits $20,000. Here's another guy who dies the day before the act takes effect, and his people don't get diddly. Is it fair for them to miss out just because it took Congress so long to pass the bill? What about the people who died shortly after they left the camps? Maybe the ones that didn't survive are the ones that got hurt the worst. Is it fair not to give their children anything?
"You want fair?" He was fairly shouting by now. "What's fair about compensating the Japanese-Americans and not compensating the Navajos and the Sioux and the others we took land from? What's wrong with compensating the Chicanos for taking Texas and Arizona and Southern California? You're not talking fair. You're talking dumb. You're talking about draining the national treasury, as if the economy's not in bad enough . . ."
"There's one group you forgot to mention," I interrupted. "The descendants of the ex-slaves who were promised 40 acres and a mule. Now mules don't have any offspring, so I guess that part's about dead."
"Forget the mule," the cabbie said, suddenly thoughtful. "But it sure would be nice if I could pick up Grandpa's 40 acres, particularly if it happens to be in downtown Atlanta or Birmingham or someplace like that. Of course if my 40 acres happened to be sitting under the Superdome or maybe in the middle of some fancy country club, I might sell it back to them--at market rates, of course. Then, there's my wife's 40 acres . . . matter of fact, the more I think about it the more sense you make. It's about time this country made up for the way it treated the Japanese. And others."