Hubby and I explored Idaho history this past week. Several years ago, the historical museum of Idaho closed for a couple of years so they could completely redo the place. We visited for the first time and were amazed at how updated and modern it looked. There were lots of hands-on activities and short clips of historical events or places. I highly recommend visiting the Idaho State Museum if you ever visit Boise.
The Smithsonian exhibit about the internment of Japanese people during World War II drew us to the museum. One of the largest internment camps was located near Minidoka, Idaho. At the highest, over 13,000 people were held there behind barbed wire fences and guard towers. These people had done nothing against the government and were no threat to national security. An Executive Order signed by FDR was all it took for the military to round up anyone with the right (or wrong) skin color, black hair, and dark eyes and haul them away. All their property and businesses were turned over to whoever wanted them. They lost everything because they looked like the enemy.
Most of the people were taken from the California, Oregon, and Washington coasts and dropped off on the windy desert lands of southern Idaho where it can be bitter cold and scorching hot. One panel said most were ill-equipped for the weather there. Since they could only bring what they could carry, they suffered from the elements. The buildings were thrown up and not well built. Privacy was practically nonexistent. Families were put together in a small house. The common restrooms of the bunkhouses had no stalls.
What struck me most about the stories were how the people organized themselves to deal with their circumstances. Working together they put in walkways, planted flowers, and hung curtains in the windows. They had schools for their children and gardens where they raised food. They organized baseball teams which provided recreation and entertainment. Men learned woodworking skills, and women took sewing classes. Impressive examples of their creativity were in the exhibit.
Many young Japanese men (most were American citizens, having been born in this country) joined the military and served honorably in the European theater. A Japanese unit was highly decorated during the war. The exhibit had photos of soldiers visiting their parents at the internment camps which seemed hurtful. Their children were risking their life for the country while the parents were suffering in prison-like camps because of who they were born to be.
After the war was over, the people in the camps were given a $25 bus ticket to wherever they wanted to go. Most went back to where they’d been living before the war. Some didn’t. Overall, most rebuilt their lives and businesses and became very successful. I’m amazed and awed at their example of working hard and succeeding in spite of all that happened to them.
In the first decade of this century, the US government issued an apology to all those affected by the Executive Order and given $20,000 in reparations. Many of the internees were still alive, and they accepted the apology and the money. It didn’t cover their losses, but it was a token of admitting doing wrong.
The strange thing was that years later, one of the former internees found a scandalous document in the Library of Congress (LOC). The initial report to Congress and the President in 1941 said the Japanese American population presented no threat to national security. A Congressman and a Cabinet member disagreed with the report and ordered the report rewritten to say the opposite. The two collected all known copies of the original report and burned them. Thankfully, they overlooked one which survived and made its way to the LOC where it was discovered in the 1990s. It documents what harm false information and misguided individuals can do to society.
Corruption and prejudice is nothing new in government. It’s been around since the Founding Fathers. We need to pray for our leaders. To quote I Timothy 2:1-2 (NKJV): Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings, and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.
It’s lovely to visit these types of museums. Nice to think about all the lives well lived amid hardship.