Teach the Truth About America's Less Than Glorious HistoryRoundup
tags: culture war, internment, teaching history
Richard T. Hughes is the author of Myths America Lives By: White Supremacy and the Stories that Give Us Meaning.
I have spent 50 years teaching college students from coast to coast and points in between, and while much has changed over those years, one thing has not: an often abysmal ignorance among my students of the less-than-glorious side of American history.
That disturbing reality slapped me across the face anew when, early this month, I asked a first-year university honors class how many had heard of the Japanese internment camps. The reason for my question was the book that serves as the common reader for this year’s first-year students — George Takei’s graphic memoir, “They Called Us Enemy.”
The young people in my class are all high-achieving students. Racially diverse, they hail from many parts of the United States — Massachusetts, Ohio, Indiana, Florida, Texas, California, Virginia, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee and Pennsylvania.
Given their honors status, coupled with their racial and geographic diversity, I surmised that at least some of them would be familiar with the details in Takei’s book: In the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the federal government rounded up more than 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry, two-thirds of them American citizens, and incarcerated them in “relocation camps,” often hastily built in desolate regions of the country and always ringed with barbed wire and guarded by federal troops.
The government gave these citizens a single week to report to detention centers, forced them to abandon their homes and businesses, and allowed them to take to the incarceration camps only what they could carry. They remained imprisoned until near the end of World War II.
Not a single student in my class professed to know anything at all about this tragic chapter in our nation’s history.
I shouldn’t have been surprised. We witness every day similar ignorance, coupled with a persistent reluctance to acknowledge our nation’s crimes.
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