This may be a good moment for the opening of Idaho’s newest staffed visitor center, in one of the not especially scenic areas of the state.
And one of the historically ugliest.
The site is the Minidoka War Relocation Center east of Jerome, which has been a designated federal historical site for a while and has allowed visitors in, but only now is staffing up so managers can show visitors around. Self-guided tours have been available for awhile, but only now is the site properly being staffed.
There’ll be plenty to talk about, and a lot of it is sadly pertinent today.
In 1942, shortly after the United States entered World War II, many Americans of Japanese ancestry, half of them children, a large majority American citizens, were uprooted from their homes and businesses and forced into “relocation camps.” (Americans of German descent were not similarly relocated.) A number of these camps were located around the western part of the country, and they were all primitive, degrading places. The camps remained in operation throughout the war. At Minidoka (or what’s more often been called the Hunt Camp) about 13,000 people were effectively imprisoned.
In his book, Idaho for the Curious, writer Cort Conley quoted a former Denver Post editor, Bill Hosokawa, who was among those held at Minidoka: “It’s important to remember this chapter in American history. There are so many people completely unaware of what happened. We can set down the story of what happened, not out of bitterness, but to remind us, and to make damn sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Evidently, we need the reminder.
Last month the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial was vandalized, not once but repeatedly, with ugly, hateful graffiti. Boise Police Chief Bill Bones was quoted as saying, “There’s an obligation to call this what it is. It’s a cowardly act. It’s a criminal act. The words that they wrote are obviously attacks against people that live in this community simply based on the religion they practice or the color of their skin.”
All true. The same and more could be said of the recent killings on a Portland train attributed to a Portland white supremacist who, at his court appearance, shouted out, "You've got no safe place!" and "Death to the enemies of America!"
He was in practice providing cheer for anyone who wishes ill for America.
Our real problem is the people who would turn us all against each other. If you want to consider who serves the interests of people who wish disaster on America, that’s an excellent place to start.
A number of Idaho public officials, including Senator Mike Crapo and Boise Mayor David Bieter, did speak at a ceremony to protest that Anne Frank attacks, and that was helpful. These kinds of strikes at decency and community should not go unrebutted.
But the understanding that all Americans ought to be free from attacks and fear, something most of us probably would take as a given, appears to need much more persistent effort if we don’t want to travel down a road to a new set of relocation camps.