There was fear of foreign peoples and customs. There was fear of terrorism. Just like there is today — but this was 75 years ago. The attack on Pearl Harbor unleashed fears about national security, particularly on the Pacific coast. President Roosevelt ordered relocation for anyone of Japanese ancestry, whether an alien or a citizen, to one of 10 remote inland camps outside the Pacific military zone. This order affected 120,000 people, two-thirds of whom were native-born American citizens.
Minidoka, 15 miles north of Twin Falls, Idaho, was one of these camps. About 10,000 citizens lived there between August 1942 and October 1945.
The camp had many appearances of a small town with hospitals, schools, a library and retail stores. But the perimeter of the 950-acre site was fenced with barbed wire and contained eight watchtowers.
The residents contended with inadequate nutrition and health care, and lived in substandard housing. Their livelihoods and businesses had been ripped apart, and they were forced to live in a desert, surrounded by tarpaper shacks, sagebrush and rock.
About 1,000 Japanese Americans from Minidoka served their country in World War II. The camp is now a National Historic Site.
Roosevelt’s executive order was deemed a military necessity at the time, even though there had been no proven sabotage by any Japanese American. In 1983, the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians concluded that the relocations "were motivated largely by racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership."
This era in our history illustrated the dynamic tension between our desire for security and a citizen’s right for personal liberty. We see these tensions recurring today in our political discussions regarding immigration, refugees and our internal security.
To help us reflect on the past and its relevance for the present, the Columbia Basin Badger Club is pleased to welcome Mia Russell, executive director of the Friends of Minidoka, to talk about Minidoka. Mia was raised in Boise and earned her bachelor’s degree in liberal arts from Soka University of America. Mia then worked toward her master’s degree in applied historical research from Boise State University. She has developed a mobile app for touring the Minidoka National Historic Site. She has worked with National Park Service staff in researching collaborative preservation efforts at Minidoka.
In addition, the evening will include a performance by Portland Taiko, which blends the tradition of Japanese taiko drumming with a sense of Asian-American identity and creativity. For the past 20 years, they have performed at arts festivals, concert halls, community events and school assemblies.
The Columbia Basin Badger Club is a nonpartisan Tri-City organization that is dedicated to civil discourse on topics important to our region.
Allan Konopka is a member of the Program Committee for the Columbia Basin Badger Club. He is a retired microbial ecologist who lives in Kennewick.
IF YOU GO
When: 6 p.m. Jan 19
Where: Shilo Inn, 50 Comstock St., Richland
Cost: This is the Badger Club’s annual meeting — free to members, $30 for nonmembers, $35 for day-of-event registration. The price includes a buffet dinner.
RSVP: Call 628-6011 or go to cbbc.clubexpress.com