We have counted George Takei, Mr Sulu from Star Trek: The Original Series, as a friend for many years. He’s been a guest in our home for dinner. The entire Trimble family helped in his campaign for the 10th Councilmanic District of Los Angeles. We’ve shared conventions with him as guests, and always enjoyed his marvelous laugh. And we shared congratulations when he and Brad married.
Recently, we went to the AMC theater in Arcadia to see George Takei’s Allegiance on Broadway. This performance depicted the experiences suffered by hundreds of innocent U.S. citizens when they were uprooted and interned within days. George pulled no punches. This play is his answer to General John L. DeWitt, head of the Western Command administering the internment program, who said “…. It makes no difference whether [a Japanese] is an American citizen, he is still a Japanese. American citizenship does not necessarily determine loyalty… But we must worry about the Japanese all the time until he is wiped off the map.”
George stepped out of his happier Mr. Sulu character to make some very strong statements. He was incarcerated in one of those camps, and knew what it was like, how the Japanese-Americans were treated as if they had no feelings or intelligence, and how they managed to keep their sanity and their humanity, even when they didn’t have enough blankets, their children were hungry and their few precious belongings were taken away.
The staging was minimalist, giving a strong Japanese look to the production. It could be moved around as needed, and utilized in several interesting ways. But the starkness also showed how the captives were forced to live, without beauty, without hope.
Many members of the audience were older Japanese or Japanese-Americans, and we heard whispers between strangers about which camp they were in. It was heartbreaking to hear the one word answers: “Manzanar,” “Tule Lake,” “Heart Mountain,” “Gila River” and more. No one called these places by their official title: War Relocation Centers.
When George’s father refuses to sign a loyalty oath, on the grounds that he had done that when he became a citizen, it is as if the authorities were waiting for this to allow even more mindless reactions. The “real” Americans were allowed to mistreat and bully their charges. Medicine was refused and even small privileges were revoked. Everything was done to degrade the Japanese-Americans.
The U. S. Government came up with an alternative to loyalty oaths: young Japanese men could join the Army and fight on the European front. This caused a severe split in the united front of the Japanese-Americans. Those young men who were willing to serve were viewed by some as taking an easy way out of the camps; by others as toadies to the government. Unspoken was the anguish and grief suffered by parents when their children marched off to war.
When the all-Niesi 442nd Regimental Combat Team went into action in Europe, the Japanese-American fighters won a reputation for their fierceness. They distinguished themselves so well that their team won more Congressional Medals of Honor than any other American unit. Instead of being honored, these soldiers’ families and loved ones were kept in the shoddy concentration camps, behind barbed wire — with machine-gun towers at each corner.
The Japanese-Americans sustained great damage to their pride, and that instilled a sense of shame in those adults who could not protect their children. As a result, they would not speak of the experience. It took years of distance from that shameful episode and a next generation before it could be talked about openly. Their story is one that should be taught in every school. But those who perpetrated this crime have discouraged mention of it.
Years later, an investigation of the internments was considered to have resulted more from racism than from any security risk posed by Japanese-Americans. R.C. Hoiles, publisher of the Orange County Register said, “It would seem that convicting people of disloyalty to our country without having specific evidence against them is too foreign to our way of life and too close akin to the kind of government we are fighting…. We must realize, as Henry Emerson Fosdick so wisely said, ‘Liberty is always dangerous but it is the safest thing we have.'”
Only recently have books and photos about the camps appeared. George Takei has taken a lead in that movement. His play Allegiance and his part in creating the Japanese-American Museum in L.A.’s “Little Tokyo” are a strong part of this change. “Mr. Sulu” continues to strive for equality and human rights for all.
Note from the Trimbles: There are those fans who will say that Star Trek is just entertainment and should not concern itself with politics, even past politics. We can guarantee that Gene Roddenberry would ask if these fans have ever really watched and listened to his creation. The stories were, and still are, often political; saying and doing things via science fiction that could not be safely or diplomatically said in modern times. Not caring is the best way to lose many privileges, as “the kind of government we are fighting” becomes our own government. We have come very close to this situation many times through history and must always be on guard.
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