On September 13, 2001, two days after the incredibly horrific destruction at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the loss of thousands of lives taken by aircraft commandeered by Muslim terrorists, President George W. Bush met with Congressional leaders and Cabinet members to discuss the situation and how to return air travel, which had been suspended, to normal.

David Bonier, Democratic Congressman from Michigan, told the President of his Muslim constituents’ fears about being rounded up and detained. The President responded, “David, you are absolutely correct, and we are equally concerned, and we don’t want to have happen today what happened to Norm in 1942.”

“Norm” is Norm Mineta, Bush’s Secretary of Transportation. What happened to Norm Mineta in 1942 is that at 11 years of age he and his family were rounded up along with 120,000 Japanese Americans and placed in “Internment camps” hastily erected in remote locations pursuant to Executive Order 9066 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. This was, of course, just after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and a hysteria similar to that against German Americans in WW I and Muslim Americans after 9/11 had consumed America.

Recently, a House Resolution (HR 6434) designed to promote the knowledge of those WW II “internment Camps” so that the lessons of history be not forgotten was passed 402-16 by the House of
Representatives and sent to the Senate for approval. One of the 16 votes against the measure was that of Montana’s Congressman Matt Rosendale. He has his reasons, I am sure, and I have mine for wishing he had voted otherwise.

First and foremost, I had two friends who were incarcerated in “Internment Camps”. One was born at Camp Manzanar in the California high desert, the other was my friend and neighbor Lee Nakamura, who was 17 when he was interned along with his family at Camp Amache, in Colorado. I asked him if he was Nisei, which is a term for a second-generation Japanese in America. He held up three fingers, “Sansei,” he said, meaning that his parents were American citizens, and he was third generation American.

When Lee turned 18, he enlisted in the United States Army and traded a life of incarceration for one of fighting for his native land—America.

Second is the story of two 11-year-old kids who met at a Boy Scout Jamboree at Heart Mountain Internment Camp near Cody, Wyoming. It is probably the only Jamboree ever to be held behind a barb wire enclosure guarded by soldiers with machine guns. The Scoutmaster at the camp had issued an invitation to other troops in Wyoming of which only one accepted. Alan Simpson of Cody, and Norm Mineta of San Jose, California shared a small tent during the Jamboree.

They became friends for life—close friends. Mineta is a liberal Democrat who was a member of Congress for 22 years and then Transportation Secretary under Bush, Simpson a conservative Republican who represented Wyoming in the Senate for 18 years. Together they have helped form the Mineta Simpson Institute at Heart Mountain whose purpose, its website explains is “designed to foster empathy, courage, and cooperation
in the next generation of leaders”.

Third, the round up and incarceration of American citizens of Japanese descent is a blemish on our history and has been condemned by American leaders of both political parties.

In 1976 President Gerald Ford repealed Executive Order 9066 and said: “February 19th is the anniversary of a sad day in American history. It was on that date in 1942 … that Executive Order 9066 was issued … resulting in the uprooting of loyal Americans … We now know what we should have known then—not only was that evacuation wrong, but Japanese Americans were and are loyal Americans … I call upon the American people to affirm with me this American Promise—that we have learned from the tragedy of that long-ago experience forever to treasure liberty and justice for each individual American, and resolve that this kind of action shall never again be repeated.”

Which is exactly the purpose of HR 6343.

Jim Elliott served sixteen years in the Montana Legislature as a state representative and state senator. He lives on his ranch in Trout Creek.