Editor’s note: We’ve written often with affection towards past Wallowa County Chieftain editor, Gwen Coffin. We thought that it would be a treat, but also valuable to run one of his past editorials. This particular editorial is meaningful because it shows a glimpse of the courage and foresight that Coffin would rely on through his long tenure as editor and publisher of the Wallowa County Chieftain.
When historians sit down to write the history of the present war we venture a guess that the government’s treatment of the Japanese in this country will come in for some pretty severe criticism. There is very little to be said in favor of what has been done so far.
In the hysteria of the first few weeks after Pearl Harbor the Army decided that the presence of thousands of Japanese in the Pacific coast region constituted a threat to the safety of the country and a policy of wholesale deportations to concentration camps was decided upon. No effort was made to determine who were loyal Japanese and who were disloyal or potentially so. All were given short notice to dispose of their homes and their businesses preparatory to being moved to hastily improvised camps where thousands were crowded into barracks with few facilities for maintaining life on anything like a normal basis.
The whole business is foreign to our conception of fair play and orderly process. Had the procedure adopted been necessary the picture of families being torn from their homes and mode of life and sent to distant internment camps would not have been quite so pathetic. But it is highly doubtful whether the policy was ever really necessary.
We have not felt obliged to send German and Italian nationals to concentration camps in wholesale batches, although it would be exceedingly difficult to make out anything like a convincing argument in favor of a more lenient policy toward these people than toward the Japanese.
There are no doubt disloyal and traitorous Japanese in this country but probably they represent no greater a proportion of the total Jap population of the U.S. than the proportion of disloyal Italians and Germans in the total population of those two national groups.
It should have been possible to have segregated the Japanese known to be loyal to this country from those who were known to be disloyal or about whom there might be doubts. The loyal Japanese should have been given every chance to contribute toward the successful prosecution of the war instead of being immediately branded as outcasts and thrown in with the known traitors and shipped off to detention camps.
Besides being an undemocratic process the whole business is unsound economically a Senator Chandler of Kentucky has decided in introducing a bill in Congress calling for the release of loyal Japanese from detention camps so that they may return to useful occupations furthering the war effort and cease to be charity wards of the United States government. Senator Chandler estimates that more than $50,000,000 a year would be saved if this segregation were made.
Much of the resentment on the West Coast toward the Japanese was not the outgrowth of the war but arose during peacetime as the Japanese achieved some success and prominence in their pursuits of agriculture and trade. Many employers preferred to see the Japanese remain in the ranks of low paid wage earners. Others were resentful at the sight of Japanese prospering better than many Americans.
It is foreign to our conceptions of democracy, however, to distinguish between peoples on the basis of color or nationality. There should be only one test for the right to share in the opportunities which this country provides and that is the test of belief in our democratic ideals and government, and a willingness to work with other Americans to further those ideals and to support this government.
Gwen Coffin, editor and publisher, Wallowa County Chieftain