UPDATE: Roanoke Mayor David Bowers apologized Friday for his statement. "It’s just not in my heart to be racist or bigoted," Bowers said, according to WBDJ News. "I apologize to all of those offended by my remarks. No one else is to blame, but me." Here's the original story:
Twice in one day now, politicians have evoked the powerful memory of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II to argue about whether the United States should continue plans to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees after the terrorist attacks in Paris.
One politician, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), pretty eloquently argued that closing the doors to these Syrian refugees would be a mistake driven by the same kind of irrational fear that led to the unlawful imprisonment and stripping of property of U.S. citizens based solely on their ethnic heritage.
Another politician, though, made the exact opposite argument. He said that Americans were safer then because the country locked up potential perpetrators who wish to do harm and that the United States would be safer now if it essentially does the same with the Syrians.
Roanoke Mayor David Bowers, a Democrat (and Hillary Clinton supporter), made that case in a statement Wednesday in calling for the Virginia city to suspend Syrian refugee aid until "normalcy is restored."
"I'm reminded that Franklin D. Roosevelt felt compelled to to sequester Japanese foreign nationals after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and it appears that the threat of harm to America from [the Islamic State] now is just as real and serious a threat as that from our enemies then," he said.
In case you need a history lesson (which Bowers pretty clearly does), the Japanese internment camps are not exactly remembered as being a well-handled and reasonable reaction to a perceived threat. To the contrary, what the United States did to Japanese Americans in the 1940s is pretty universally remembered as being very wrong -- next to slavery, one of the worst blights in American history, in fact.
But don't take our word for it. Here's what, Josh Schwerin, of Clinton's campaign, had to say when The Post's David Weigel asked about supporter Bowers's statement: "The internment of people of Japanese descent is a dark cloud on our nation's history and to suggest that it is anything but a horrible moment in our past is outrageous."
In fact, the mention of internment camps is so politically dangerous that a source close to the campaign confirmed a Buzzfeed report that Bowers was kicked off her Virginia leadership team after floating the internment defense.
That's because American leaders of both political parties have spent the past few decades trying to atone for the sins of those fearful years: After intense lobbying by Japanese American advocates, President Jimmy Carter launched an investigation into what happened, and President Ronald Reagan officially apologized to those affected and signed into law repatriations -- eventually totaling $1.8 billion.
What's more, there's some evidence that even in the face of yet another attack on the homeland, Americans clearly shun the idea.
In a 2001 Time/CNN poll taken the days immediately following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, 57 percent of Americans opposed letting the U.S. government "take legal immigrants from unfriendly countries to internment camps during times of tension or crisis." (Just 29 percent supported it, while 11 percent didn't know.) And that was right after 9/11, when tensions were running very high.
Compare that to the 67 percent of Americans who said yes, they wouldn't mind other arguably unsavory methods of protecting America -- like letting the CIA contract with criminals to pursue suspected terrorists overseas or allowing the CIA to conduct assassinations overseas when pursuing suspected enemies of the U.S.
The legislation Congress eventually passed authorizing reparations in locking up Japanese Americans after the Japanese Empire's attack on Pearl Harbor said the U.S. government succumbed to "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership."
Whatever your feelings on whether to take Syrian refugees, that's a pretty bizarre way to make your case.
David Weigel contributed to this report.