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evaluating the negative
Scott spent the next several evenings reacquainting himself with his other classes. In his preoccupation with The History Shoppe he had let his studies slip. He had neglected algebra homework for too long. He was behind in Spanish, needing to recommit himself to memorizing those pillars of foreign language study: vocabulary and conjugation. And in English there were two short stories and a three poems he had to master—as well as an essay that was due immediately after the vacation period.
Scott had even shortchanged Mrs. Sweeney's history class over the past few weeks. With history, however, the issue wasn't a lack of time. Frankly, Scott was becoming bored with the teacher's approach to the subject matter. He showed little excitement for lists of highpoints in the presidential administrations of Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. He found Progressivism and the Bull Moose Party politics interesting; but he felt the complexities of the era were being overlooked. He also disliked the way World War I was presented as an inventory of dates and events that occurred on those dates. No STAMPIERE in this classroom. No Clio either. That left Scott disappointed.
On Saturday morning, the Tennyson family vacation began. The four of them piled into their Plymouth SUV and left the city heading north to the lake. It was a 75-mile drive and Scott enjoyed every minute of it. He felt as though he had earned a few days of midterm relief.
He also felt a sense of satisfaction in having reached a new plateau in self-awareness. He had always been a smart student, but he had never applied himself as rigorously as he had since meeting Dr. Pop. What he received from that effort was an understanding of how to organize his studying and how to maximize his learning. In short, Scott Tennyson was beginning to think critically and constructively about history, and by extension, beginning to think intelligently about himself.
At the lake, however, the budding historian was just a kid on vacation. The family had reserved a large cabin for five days. Located in a forested glen about 100 yards from the lakeside, it was within striking distance of swimming, boating, fishing, hiking, and evening campfires. And the Tennyson family members took advantage of all these activities, and several others, during their stay.
There was also a small town adjacent to the campground complete with touristic things to do. There were souvenir shops and one ice cream parlor. Window shopping at the clothing boutiques was enjoyable. Several times during their stay, the family had dinner in one of several local restaurants and went to a movie afterward.
Sometimes, however, Scott felt like doing nothing at all—just chilling out. It was good to relax in a comfortable chair, feet plopped on a fat hassock, sipping a soft drink, doing nothing. This was a young man at leisure, resting the gray cells of his brain.
Even before going to the lake, Mr. and Mrs. Tennyson had recognized a subtle transformation in their son. They both commented on his new sense of self-confidence. Just seeing Scott lounging in that chair confirmed their suspicion that Scott was passing out of boyhood. They explained it as part of the change that normally comes with puberty. A deepening voice and a few hairs on his upper lip were also signs that their boy was becoming a man. Even Jennifer lightened up on teasing her brother, sensing instinctively that he was not as vulnerable as in the past.
But Scott knew better than anyone what was happening. While he understood the physical changes that were occurring, he also recognized deeper changes taking place in his mind. He felt older, calmer, more in control. He knew better than ever what he wanted to do with his life. He had found a passion, an intellectual preoccupation that he thoroughly enjoyed. More than the boyish King of All History, he saw himself as an intellectual explorer preparing to learn and understand as never before.
And Scott knew why he felt so fulfilled. Still, he never tried to describe it to his family or friends. He had made a pact with Professor Papadopoulos never to reveal what happened in the Clio machine. And he intended to keep his word. Besides, who would believe him if he did tell? Transported? Guernsey? A-bomb? Rossiter? It sounded so preposterous. No one would believe him!
Still, Scott hated to leave the lake. He enjoyed his vacation very much. It had been well-earned, he felt. He now realized that the meaning of the word recreation was really re-creation. And after a week of fun and mindless escape, Scott felt re-created.
Nevertheless, when the days of recreation ended, Scott was anxious to return to JFK High School and to renew his weekly visits to The History Shoppe. Back in the family SUV, back on the highway, a two-hour drive back to the city: Scott's life was about to get serious again.
“Scott! Are you going to that History place again today?” Mrs. Tennyson yelled from the kitchen as her son put the final touches on combing his hair for school.
“Yes, mom! It's Wednesday! That's the day I usually go,” he answered loudly. “I haven't been there for a couple of weeks!”
“Then, why don't you ask Professor Papadopoulos how much he wants for that old French coin he loaned you last month?” she hollered. Before she had finished the question, however, Scott had entered the kitchen causing her to drop the intensity of her voice from a yell to a more conversational tone. “Would you ask him how much he wants for it?” she continued. “I really enjoyed looking at it. It reminded me of my years in college. So, I'd like to own it if it's not too expensive. A little nostalgia never hurt anyone.”
“I'll ask him, mom, but now I'm off to school,” Scott said brusquely while grabbing his jacket and heading toward the back door. “I'll be back sometime late this afternoon. Bye.”
His school day was unremarkable except that Scott had caught up with the homework and felt less pressured than before the vacation break. The best part of the day came when the final bell rang and Scott could make his way to what his mother had called “that History place.”
Actually, Scott missed his weekly visits with the Professor. So he was very happy when he entered the Shoppe and found the Professor Papadopoulos rearranging one of his bookshelves.
“Hello, Dr. Pop, I'm back,” he said. “Remember me?”
“Of course, Scott, it's so nice to see you again. How was your holiday in the woods?” he asked in a friendly voice. “Looks like you might have put on a few pounds while you were away.”
“Just a few pounds, but the vacation was great. Thanks for asking,” the boy replied. “How have you been these past few weeks?”
“Oh, a little arthritis, a sore lower back, feet are a little painful. The normal complaints of old age. But, nothing major,” the Professor answered.
“Did you get any new and interesting items since I was here?” asked Scott.
“Actually, I did,” he answered. “I acquired several items that should interest you. Let's see, I acquired a collection of postage stamps from several French colonies in Africa in the 1940s and 1950s. The stamps provide a window into European colonialist thought in the final decades of imperialism. I also picked up a wonderful set of world travel books published in 1910, and a compete run of TV Guide magazines dating from 1953 to the present. The travel books show us the world as it was understood a century ago; the magazines reveal American tastes in television programming and popular culture for more than a half-century.”
“Great. They all sound fascinating,” Scott said. “But nothing is more fascinating than being transported into one of your films.”
“True,” the Professor replied. “I hope this doesn't mean you spent a lot of vacation time trying to figure out today's film.”
“Honestly, Dr. Pop, I let it all out of my mind and concentrated on having fun—not that being here on Wednesdays isn't fun. You know what I mean,” Scott responded. “But I'm really curious to learn the topic of today's movie.”
“I like your enthusiasm, Scott, but first, let me make a few points,” the old man said as he buttoned his sweater in preparation for the mini-lecture he was about to deliver.
“One of the perplexities facing the contemporary historian is how to deal with the brutality that marks human history, and especially in the modern age. On the one hand there are horrible events, genocidal events, such as the destruction of Native American nations by European settlers in North and South America—the Armenian death marches in the Ottoman Empire—the forced relocation of the kulak peasant populations in the Soviet Union—the wholesale slaughter of innocent people that was the Nazi Holocaust—the butchery perpetrated by Pol Pot's fanatical regime in Cambodia—and the massacre of the Tutsis people by Hutus in Rwanda. The list is long and horrifying.”
He continued, “And, we cannot overlook the bloodbath that was the First and Second World Wars. As I mentioned to you earlier, they were two halves of a single global war that lasted from 1914 to 1945 with twenty years of peace, 1919-1939, between periods of major combat. Many people died—military and civilian deaths. Historians place the figure at nearly 20 million dead in World War I and close to 73 million in World War II. These numbers do not include the number of wounded people. It was a terrible toll.
“On the other hand, the scholar of this history must avoid becoming an emotional propagandist who simply condemns brutality. It would be so easy to lash out at specific individuals or countries as totally responsible. Instead, you must be an honest investigator and recorder of the human story. You have to control the repulsion you may feel personally and be thorough in your research, fair-minded in your judgment, and informed when presenting your conclusions,” he advised.
“The good historian is like an effective lawyer operating in court,” the Professor suggested. “A lawyer arguing a case with anger instead of tangible proof will lose because a trial is about proving your case with the verifiable details. It is not about personal distaste or name-calling. Similarly, an effective historian must avoid personal feelings and allow the facts to do the screaming. Facts are much more impressive and persuasive than personal animosity.”
Scott paid close attention as the Professor spoke. But one thing puzzled him. “What if I know an historical event was evil—say, the Nazi Holocaust. Should I abandon my prejudgment and approach it with no opinion?”
“That's a fair question, Scott,” the old man responded. “I am not saying have no information in your mind every time you investigate an historical subject. That would be impossible. An historian seldom conducts research knowing nothing the subject. The more you study history, the more you develop an intellectual consciousness that you bring to your next historical project.
“Similarly, as you mature you develop a personal moral code. You decide what is right and what is wrong, what is civilized and uncivilized. For many people, such a code is derived from their religious beliefs; for others, it is influenced by a humanistic code that values the fundamental dignity of human beings. I am not saying abandon that morality when you investigate the past. You couldn't, even if you tried.
“What I mean, young man, is to be fair and deliberative. Don't make up your mind about your subject and then gather only facts that substantiate your preset opinion. Don't allow personal morality to predetermine what you will conclude. Allow your research to lead you to the answers, and never distort or misinterpret or overlook facts to fit your prejudgment. If your investigation proves your original understanding, fine. But the process of research must be above reproach.
“Furthermore, young man, be fearless,” the Professor declared. “This is important, Scott. If your conclusions challenge popular opinion, never withhold your findings for fear of upsetting people. You must be forthright and brave. If you have the facts and they prove your conclusions, you are on solid ground.
”Remember, ordinary people will tell you what they think or what they believe to be true. But, as a historian you must tell them what you know and what you can prove to be true. Factual information communicates much more effectively than belief. On a scale of one to ten, what you think ranks low; what you verifiably know is a ten.”
Scott was impressed. He never saw history from such a noble, even moral perspective.
“With that said, please follow me,” the old man said leading Scott toward one of the glass cases in which he kept unusual artifacts. Reaching in the case he retrieved a stack of very old newspapers. After thumbing through the pile, Dr. Pop handed a few of them to Scott. “Here, look at these publications. They are mostly from the first half of the 19th century. What stories in these documents do you find most interesting?” he asked.
At first Scott was intimidated. To be handed a group of newspapers and asked for an immediate assessment was a tall order. But after about 10 minutes of inspection, Scott had his answer.
“Well, Professor,” he noted, “all of them are American papers and their most striking aspect is that all have references to slaves and slavery. Needless to say, I'm not used to reading about slavery in the newspaper we have delivered at home. So, what strikes me most is the existence of the slavery issue. I have read about human slavery in textbooks, and I've seen it dramatized in feature films. But experiencing slavery as it was reported in actual daily newspapers is very strange.”
“And another point, Professor,” Scott continued. “I find it interesting
that the newspapers from early in the century refer to slaves and negroes, but the later papers drop the word slaves and only call them negroes.
“You are very perceptive, Scott,” the Professor said, “Slavery was a common and controversial problem in the 19th century. And as criticism of the practice intensified over time, the slave-owning society downplayed the more offensive word in favor of negroes. It was more public relations than emancipation. But, can you give me some examples from the newspapers of what you find interesting?”
Scott was quick to reply. “I sure can, Dr. Pop. Here's one in the classified section of a New Orleans newspaper, The Weekly Picayune, from February 2, 1846. It has an advertisement offering a $10 reward for the capture of a runaway slave named Emerson. The slave owner describes him as “about 5 feet 8 or 9 inches high, with a goatee under his chin, a good looking and slender Griff.” The owner also offered $20 for the conviction of anyone helping Emerson to escape.”
“But, what is a Griff?, Professor,” Scott asked innocently.
“A Griff , young man, was a negative word that defined an African American who was only 75% African,” the Professor answered. “It means that Emerson's complexion was too dark to be a mulatto—that is, someone who was half-Caucasian and half-Negro—but too light to be a full-blooded African.”
Scott gulped in dismay. “That sounds terrible. But, there's even more in this newspaper,” he continued. “In the same section there are ads for the sale of two plantations. Here's one in Mississippi that comes with ‘10 or 15 acclimated negroes.' Here's another plantation, this time in Louisiana , and it comes ‘together with several negroes.'
“This is The Charleston Mercury from South Carolina, on March 15, 1860, approximately one year before the Civil War began. There are lots of runaway slaves in his one. Here's ‘a NEGRO GIRL named MOLLY, about 15 or 16 years old.' That's my age!” Scott explained.
“Here's a $50 reward for a runaway named Tom who is described as ‘a very large prime looking negro, tall and well built, large feet and ankles, and lisps slightly when talking.” Here's a $150 reward for ‘a light black Woman named Amelia or Anney.' And here's $50 for the return of two slaves named Isaac and Matt who apparently ran away together. Their owner will pay the reward when Isaac and Matt are delivered to his plantation ‘or in any jail in or out of the state.'
“I found so many examples, Professor,” Scott continued. “Here's a Virginia newspaper from July 12, 1842, the Richmond Enquirer, with a front page announcement of the sale of land that comes with 15 or 20 slaves. And readers are assured that these ‘men, women, boys and girls are in good health and valuable.'
“One of the most striking newspapers is this issue of The Charleston Courier from December 10, 1828,” Scott explained. “On its front page I found many examples of a slave society in full bloom. There are ads offering rewards for runaways: $20 for ‘a Mulatto Wench named Judy;' $10 for ‘a Negro man, Joe' who was described as being “of a yellow complexion, and has a very large flat nose.'
“Here's a forthright announcement, Professor. ‘FOR SALE A stout healthy NEGRO GIRL, about 15 years of age, accustomed to house work, and of excellent disposition.'
“Apparently, commercial products associated with slaves were of questionable quality,” Scott suggested. “This ad, ‘Blankets, Negro Cloth, etc.,' describes the sale of cheap cloth apparently for making clothes for slaves. And this one, ‘ Negro Shoes,' is selling well-constructed but very unfashionable, even ugly, shoes for slaves.”
Finally, Dr. Pop, let's go back even further,” Scott said. “Here's The Charleston Courier , from April 18, 1807. The paper lists six slave ships that recently docked to sell their human cargoes. The slaves were brought from the West Indies and Africa. The Alice had 364 ‘PRIME NEGROES;' the Anne had another 368; the Tartar brought 240 ‘Prime Angola Slaves,' and from the Congo the Tartar brought 300 people and the Sherwood another 383. The Duddon delivered an undisclosed number of slaves. All sales of these slaves took place aboard the individual ships.
“I must say, Professor, this is very creepy,” Scott suggested.
“Unfortunately, creepy is the appropriate word,” the old man said. “But you've done an excellent job picking up on the theme for today's film. As you may have guessed, the film you will visit today deals with slavery, or, more precisely with the legacy of involuntary servitude in the United States.
“It is important to remember, Scott, that although the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 freed most Southern slaves, and two years later the Thirteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution ended legal slavery, the legacy of this institution continued to flourish. Sharecropping, the Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crow laws, lynchings, chronic poverty, discrimination, segregation—these were all historical realities that for more than a century kept people of African ancestry from enjoying full citizenship rights in a nation supposedly committed to the individual's right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
“Did you know that as late as 1967 there were 16 states in which racial intermarriage was against the law? Into the 1960s, restaurants and beaches, hotels, public restrooms and mass transportation were legally segregated in many states. And some states even forbade—by tradition or by law—sporting events in which white athletes competed against black athletes.
“As late as the 1970s many U.S. cities, North and South, had Sunset Laws on their books. These were legal statutes that demanded that African Americans be out of town before the sun went down,” the Professor explained.
“It's a terrible record,” Scott interjected. “We never studied that part of American history. There were African American heroes in our textbooks, people like Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and Martin Luther King, Jr. But we never studied it the way you describe it—and the way these old newspaper reveal it to have been.”
“With all this in mind, then,” Professor Papadopoulos announced, “allow me introduce you to today's motion picture. It's a short training film called The Navy Steward. It was released by the United States Navy in 1954, so it is a U.S. government film from the Cold War era, meant to inform a certain sailors, the ship stewards, what was expected of them. You will quickly discover the film's relationship to what we have been discussing.”
Scott seated himself in the familiar chair and placed the transporter over his head. The Professor started the Clio machine, and instantly the young historian was on a Navy ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
“Welcome aboard, sir,” said a sailor dressed in a blue shirt and dark slacks. “I'm Messmate Second Class Murray Dodd. Welcome to our ship, and welcome to our educational movie.”
“Thank you, Mr. Dodd, I am Scott Tennyson and I'm pleased to join you,” the young man replied.
Scott had little chance to do anything except introduce himself and shake hands with his guide because the narrator was already explaining how every ship in the U.S. Navy had an organized chain of command with officers at the top. It was the officers, the narrator noted, who were most responsible for guiding the ship, tending to the powerful engines that propelled the ship, and scanning the skies for possible dangers.
Scott was already impressed. “Gee, I've often thought about a Navy career for myself. This movie should be informative,” he said to Messmate Dodd.
By this time the narrator was introducing the main subject, the Navy Steward, the man who plays an essential role in the ship's chain of command. But, where Scott was expecting sailors in little white hats and bell-bottomed trousers, he saw only an African American man dressed in a white jacket that made him look like a waiter or a domestic servant. Indeed, his notion that these were servants grew stronger as more black sailors appeared, and he learned from the narrator that their job was to make coffee and look after the officers of the ship, all of whom were white males wearing official-looking uniforms.
“What's going on here, Mr. Dodd? Are these Navy stewards just acting as servants for the officers on the ship?” he inquired.
“Well, there's nothing wrong with being a steward. It's an important job in the Navy,” Dodd replied. “It would be impossible to sail this vessel without someone doing the work assigned to our stewards.”
“True enough,” Scott remarked, “but must all of them be African Americans? Are there white men who are stewards? Are there black men who perform other jobs for the Navy?”
“Actually, it's a service tradition that Negroes are the cooks and servants for the officer corps of the Navy,” Dodd said. “Sometimes you'll find Filipinos who are stewards, but white men, no. And black men seldom handle other Navy jobs. They seem to prefer cooking and cleaning.”
The narrator continued to explain what was expected of the stewards whose labors relieved the officers of routine household duties. “The way you carry out your duties can make your ship a good ship—a credit to the Navy,” he announced.
Scott was amazed, not by the patronizing tone of the narration, but by the phrase “a credit to the Navy.” He remembered learning the phrase from his father who spoke of the great heavyweight boxing champion, Joe Louis, an African American who, from the 1930s into the 1950s, was sometimes introduced by ring announcers as the heavyweight champion of the world and “a credit to his race.” Mr. Tennyson had explained that this was a racist phrase meaning Joe Louis was an ideal black man: he pleased whites as an athlete, but he made no abrasive demands for equal treatment or full citizenship rights for himself or other African Americans.
“Isn't that phrase, ‘a credit to the Navy,' really just code talk for stewards to do their jobs and keep away from white people? Look at that,” Scott exclaimed, “the stewards even sleep in their own section of the ship, separated from the rest of the crew. Isn't that segregation?”
Before Messmate Dodd could answer, the narrator was introducing other aspects of the stewards' responsibilities. As well as keeping the coffee hot, they were expected to cook the food and serve the officers with courtesy and efficiency. Then, they were to clean the dining table, wash the dishes, and mop the floors.
Other domestic chores included cleaning an officer's stateroom, making his bed, rearranging messy desks, taking care of dirty laundry, brushing the officer's dress jacket, and shining his shoes.
As far as Scott could discern, the only area of independent thought for these servants was in preparing the week's menu. But even here the Chief Steward, an African American, had to submit his menus to a white Mess Caterer for approval.
Lunch time came quickly. And it was a stunning picture: ten white officers seated around the table humbly served by four black stewards, again appearing as waiters in white serving jackets. Then it was time for more cleaning up.
Maybe in the afternoon, Scott thought, these men will get a chance to leave the dining area and go topside. But such was not the case. The narrator explained that afternoons were for polishing silverware, cleaning the pantry and galley, folding napkins and tablecloths, polishing the porthole, and dusting the couch. “Your cleaning gear are the tools of your trade,” the narrator proclaimed, reinforcing the message that these black men were the Navy's housekeepers.
Just as Scott began to think that stewards had no leisure time, the film showed several at rest during an afternoon lull. Here the narrator recommended activities such as playing board games among themselves, working at a hobby, writing letters, napping in their segregated bunks, or above all, studying for advancement within the steward classification. In other words, as Scott understood it, the stewards were directed toward private activities that restricted, even prevented, their interaction with white crew members.
The first time the stewards came on deck was during a General Quarters drill. One Messmate joined in a human chain to move ammunition from one place to another, while another black sailor used binoculars to watch the sky for possible attack. But, the film made it clear that main task of the steward in a naval battle was to make coffee, sandwiches, and hot soup for the officers.
The drill completed, the stewards resumed preparing dinner. Then, they cleared the dining table, washed the dishes and silverware, and manned the coffee machine. Here it occurred to Scott that not only was this institutionalized racism; this was a dull existence that was far from the excitement and adventure he imagined a career to be in the U.S. Navy.
The only social diversion depicted was a single steward in fatigues sitting in the wardroom where he was allowed to join the officers and their guests viewing movies at night. Noting that the steward was seated at the back of the room, Scott asked Mr. Dodd if this was the normal seating area for stewards to watch films.
“Well, he wasn't an official guest of the officers,” Dodd explained. “You wouldn't have expected him to be in the center of the crowd, would you?”
Scott had no time to respond because the narrator was now establishing the rules of conduct for stewards when in port. And once again this included setting the table for the officers, their guests, and visiting dignitaries. Once more serving etiquette and good cooking were emphasized. Here, too, the narrator shocked Scott when he urged the African American cook to be imaginative in his preparation of the meal so as to be “a credit to yourself and your ship.”
Then came liberty, time off to leave the vessel and explore the city the ship was visiting. Scott felt it ironic, however, when the narrator urged the black sailors to take pride in the Navy and their ship. When on leave, he announced, “You become an ambassador of goodwill and a spokesman for the American way of life.”
Just as Scott started to remark on this cynical statement, the film was coming to an end and the narrator was offering his third variation on a now-familiar racist phrase. This time he concluded that a good steward helps the ship become “a safer, happier ship—a credit to your Navy.”
The movie concluded and Scott sat for a few seconds in silent disbelief. “That was a terrible film, Dr. Pop. I just visited a racist film and the United States Navy produced it,” he said.
“Well, it was a long time ago, and matters have improved greatly in the modern U. S. Navy” the Professor answered. “Nevertheless, you are correct. The film shows clearly that sailors of African American descent were treated as servants of the white officer corps as late as the 1950s.”
“It wasn't that black men were stewards,” Scott asserted. “There's nothing wrong about being a steward, I guess. But, first, these men were treated as personal servants. Second, only black men were stewards. Third, they were clearly segregated from the rest of the crew. Fourth, no officer was black. Fifth, except for the stewards, no crew member was black. This is an indictment.”
“It was comparable to the apartheid system which in South African legally separated the races to the detriment of the powerless black Africans,” the old man added. “But, what about the announcer? What did you think of his words?” the old man added.
“Well, I detected a lot of condescension in his script,” said Scott. “His continued use of ‘a credit to' would not have been said of white sailors. Is this what you meant by the residuals of slavery enduring well beyond emancipation and the legal end of slavery?”
“Yes, that should be clear,” said the Professor. “This film is a powerful example of the persistence of racial prejudice almost a century after the Civil War. It was just one more injustice confronted by the modern Civil Rights movement. That upheaval, ironically, was energized and popularized in 1954—the year of this film—when the U. S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Brown versus The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas that ‘separate but equal' in education was inherently unequal, and that public schools had to be integrated immediately. It was the beginning of a tumultuous social challenge which has still not been fully resolved. But it's definitely improving.”
Scott was clearly frustrated by what he had just observed. “You know, if I were an historian doing research in this area, it would be easy for me to become angry,” he said to the Professor. “I was getting upset with Messmate Dodd, and he was an African American.”
“Ah, but you must control your emotion in these matters,” the old man responded. “A hot-headed scholar compromises his or her effectiveness. You were very effective enumerating the examples of prejudice you recognized in the film. To refute you, someone would have to argue away those facts. But, were you simply to rant against the situation, people could dismiss your accusations as the result of prejudiced scholarship. What would you rather do, Scott, set forth a strong, reasoned case against racial segregation, as attorney Thurgood Marshall did in the arguing the Brown case before the Supreme Court, or scream your exasperation and throw stones at the sun?
“However, before you answer, I want you to enter another short film,” said the Professor Papadopoulos. “It offers another example of controversial treatment of a racial minority. Can you endure another such film?”
“Sure, I'm game. What's this one about?” asked Scott.
“This one involves Americans of Japanese ancestry. Specifically, it concerns the treatment of the Japanese Americans who lived in Arizona and the West Coast states in the first months of World War II,” he explained.
“I don't know anything about it,” Scott declared.
The Professor proceeded to tell Scott about the long history of discrimination against East Asians in the American West. He talked about Chinese and Japanese immigrants being abused by unfair laws and by racist white settlers, particularly in California in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
“Following the surprise attack on the United States Navy at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941 the situation for Japanese Americans became precarious,” he pointed out. “The average American, especially along the West Coast, was terrified and angry. And, unfortunately, most of the Americans of Japanese ancestry were concentrated in California, Oregon and Washington state.
“Many of these people were not American citizens. This was because U.S. law would not allow a person born in Japan to become a naturalized citizen. However, the American-born children of such immigrants were citizens by birth. By early 1942 about 60 per cent of all Japanese Americans were citizens.
“But in early 1942, citizen or not, President Franklin Roosevelt issued wartime Executive Order 9066 which commanded the U.S. Army to round up all people of Japanese ancestry and move them from their West Coast residences to concentration camps in the wilderness. These people were given only a few weeks to get rid of their homes, land, businesses, and personal property and be ready to be imprisoned in remote places such as Manzanar and Tule Lake in California ; Heart Mountain, Wyoming ; and Gila River, Arizona.
“That's unbelievable,” Scott interrupted. “The U. S. Government wouldn't take innocent people out of their homes and place them in concentration camps, would it?”
“It is not a matter of would it, Scott, this actually happened. Now, these were not death camps such as those in Nazi Germany. But innocent people were forcefully imprisoned in these internment camps. And in the middle of World War II the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the entire process was constitutional,” replied the Professor.
“That's hard to accept,” Scott said with resignation in his voice.
“The last film today will show you very clearly that it happened,” Dr. Papadopoulos promised. “The movie is called Japanese Relocation, and it was produced by the United States government in 1943. I think you will find it enlightening”
Scott, who had not even left his chair in the Clio machine, repositioned the transporter. He was ready. And once the film began, he was away.
“Greetings. Welcome to our motion picture,” said the tall woman in the gray business suit. “I'm Ursula Keitz. I'm with the Office of War Information in Washington. And you are?”
“Oh, pardon me,” Scott responded. “I'm Scott Tennyson. I'm here to learn more about your film.”
“I'm glad to have you here,” she said. “As you can see from the opening scroll, the movie is about the relocation of several thousand people of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast to what we prefer to call ‘relocation centers' located far from the vulnerable Pacific coast. But first, let's listen to some of what Milton Eisenhower has to say. He's director of the War Relocation Authority—and he's the brother of General Dwight Eisenhower who is overseas leading U.S. forces against Germany and Italy, you know.”
As she finished her introduction, Director Eisenhower began speaking to the audience about the reasons for the film. He explained that this was a time of war and those residents of Japanese ancestry, whether born in the United States or not, represented a dangerous unknown should Japan 's troops invade the West Coast. He also revealed that the “several thousand” which the film claimed was actually more than 100,000, of which two-thirds were natural-born citizens of the United States.
Eisenhower concluded his on-camera remarks by asserting that this “mass migration” was accomplished by the U.S. Army “as a real democracy should, with real consideration for the people involved.”
With scenes of men women and children “cheerfully” registering to be imprisoned, disposing of their belongings, their stores and farmland, their careers and freedom, Scott quickly become uneasy. “For what crimes are these people being rounded up and taken to concentration camps?” he asked his guide.”
“First, we no longer call them concentration camps,” Miss Keitz answered, “We don't want people to confuse them with the death camps established by the Germans in Europe. We call them relocation camps. Second, these evacuees aren't being moved because they committed crimes. This mass migration is for their own safety—they being of the same race as the enemy Japan. At the direction of President Roosevelt and Executive Order 9066, we decided to move them to facilities in the deserts of California, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Arizona, and places like that. They'll be more secure there. And we'll be safer with them away from our ports, aircraft plants, oil wells, and other vital facilities. ”
Scott was not convinced. “But if they didn't commit crimes,” he asked, “how can the government just arrest and forcefully banish them? How can the government just uproot these people from their normal lives and put them in camps in the desert?”
“Because this is wartime, young man, and in time of war, government sometimes must take drastic measures to insure the public safety,” she replied. “Besides, we helped them lease, sell, or store their belongings—although most took great financial losses because all this happened in just a few months in 1942. But, we're confident that most Japanese Americans felt this was a small sacrifice they could make to help the American war effort.”
As Miss Keitz finished her reply, more images of human dislocation passed by the screen. The prisoners were shown being herded into Assembly Centers at fairgrounds and race tracks where they would remain until construction was completed on what narrator Eisenhower called “pioneer communities” in the American interior.
“Where do they find residence in a race track?” Scott inquired.
“Oh, we set up hundreds of wooden buildings at tracks like Santa Anita in Southern California and Tanforan in San Francisco. Some families actually stayed for a while in the stables. Of course, that was after they cleaned out the stalls where the thoroughbred racehorses had been kept.”
Scott watched in disbelief as the filmmakers tried to smooth over this massive denial of civil rights. Next to images of a packed dining hall, cute children walking by, and prisoners devoutly holding religious services in the track grandstand, there were scenes of cramped busses and railway cars moving evacuees to their isolated Relocation Centers where many would stay until the war ended in 1945.
“But these are innocent people,” Scott protested. “Plus, they're private people, and you're placing them in public shacks built of plywood and tarpaper. I imagine that even the toilets and showers are public. No one living in those fragile-looking buildings could have any privacy.”
“Well, young man,” Miss Keitz said, “I can only repeat what Director Eisenhower just said when he referred to the Relocation Centers as being “new areas, where land was raw, untamed, but full of opportunity.”
“That's bogus,” Scott asserted. “They're here because they are of Japanese descent, and Japan is at war with the United States.”
“That's right, Scott,” she answered. “ Japan is our treacherous enemy. We're afraid many in this group could be secret enemy agents. And we don't want Remember Pearl Harbor to become Remember San Francisco or Remember Los Angeles.”
“But Germany and Italy have also declared war on the United States,” responded Scott. “Should we arrest all Americans of German and Italian descent? And, by the way, isn't Keitz a German name? Maybe you should be taken from your home and belongings, denied your livelihood and robbed of your freedom, then be sent in a train with blinds drawn shut to explore those great new opportunities in the wilderness.”
Tired of Scott's tone, she interrupted him. “You're being insolent, young man. Please recall that you're a guest in this film. Don't be rude.”
Scott quickly realized that he was acting improperly. He apologized for his comments. But inside he felt he was right to question vigorously what he was seeing.
As camp life unfolded, Scott was impressed with the prisoners' activities. There were Japanese American doctors helping to fight disease, college students taking “Americanization” classes and becoming teachers of the camp children. There was limited self-government among the prisoners, and the agricultural achievements were impressive. However, he realized all this was accomplished within internment camps surrounded by barbed wire and patrolled by armed U.S. Army soldiers.
Nonetheless, it was the contradictory words of Milton Eisenhower that most disturbed Scott. Eisenhower longed for the day when loyal Japanese American citizens could “once more enjoy the freedom that we Americans cherish.” And, he claimed, in treating the evacuee so humanely “we are protecting ourselves without violating the principles of Christian decency.”
“That's questionable,” Scott said to Miss Keitz. “don't America 's laws presume innocence until proven guilty? It's true for aliens and citizens alike. How can you imprison thousands of people, none of whom was charged with a crime, and still say Americans cherish their freedom?
Scott continued, “Furthermore, about 60,000 of the prisoners are American citizens as much as Mr. Eisenhower. But they have just had their cherished freedom taken away from them by their own government!
“And as for Christian decency, where does religion enter this scenario? Granted, these are not death camps, but they are military prisons where every prisoner is innocent. This is not religious, this is racist. Why else would only Asians be imprisoned, while German Americans and Italian Americans remained untouched?”
Scott was still fuming when the movie ended and he was back in The History Shoppe. Professor Papadopoulos immediately detected the anger in Scott tried to hide.
“You appear to have had a difficult time, Scott,” he asked.
“You were correct, Dr. Pop. That film did upset me,” Scott confessed. “If I hadn't seen it myself, I wouldn't believe that something like this actually happened in the United States.”
“Well, I am pleased that you now understand that laws are not always followed, even at the highest levels of government, any government,” the Professor declared. “Citizens who want liberty must be on guard at all times to struggle for it if they don't have it, and to protect it if they already enjoy it. Even if freedom is enshrined in law, that does not mean it will never be violated.”
“It's difficult for me to understand this attack on basic civil rights,” Scott told the Professor. “As an historian, it would be difficult for me to remain neutral in explaining what happened here in 1942.”
“Please, do not misunderstand what I said earlier today,” the old man interjected. “I never meant that an historian must remain without an opinion, an informed opinion, about the historical event he or she is researching. I meant that the researcher must be objective in searching for answers and in drawing conclusions. He or she must try to see all sides and then offer an informed interpretation. Here, let me show you.”
The Professor moved toward the blackboard where he drew a long perpendicular line. “On one side we'll put FDR, and on the other we'll put JA: two sides, on the left side the case for the Roosevelt government, on the right the case supporting the Japanese Americans. Now, Scott, give me some points for the JA side.”
Scott thought a few seconds. “Well, there's the issue of civil rights,” he asserted “Then, there's the fact that no crime was committed. And, remember, no crime was ever charged. Related to that, the evacuees were denied their constitutional right to due process of law. Also, I imagine there were a lot of families separated by the imprisonment. For instance, if the husband were of Japanese descent but the wife were not, what happened? He would be sent to an internment camp but what would happen to her? And what if they had children, what would happen to the kids?”
“All good points,” the Professor commented. “Now, let's do the other side. Can you give me some points for the FDR side?”
Again, Scott thought carefully before speaking. “No, sir, I can't think of a single one.”
“Then let me add a few,” the Professor began. “First, there was a clamor on the West Coast for the Japanese to be removed. People feared an attack similar to Pearl Harbor —even an invasion of the West Coast by the Japanese army. The Canadian government had already removed its residents of Japanese ancestry from British Columbia.
“Second, the American people had opposed entering World War II when it began in 1939. They did not want this war, and consequently the government could not be certain the population would support it for a long period of time—especially a two front war because Germany and Italy declared war on the U.S. two days after the Pearl Harbor sneak attack. The federal government felt that the unjust imprisonment of 100,000 people—enough people to fill a large football stadium—was a small, if distasteful price to pay for solving a domestic problem and bolstering popular support for the war.
“Furthermore, the bulk of the American defense industries were located in coastal cities from Seattle to San Diego,” the Professor continued. “In Washington, D.C. some Congressmen were demanding that the government build aircraft plants in places like Texas and Utah where they wouldn't be vulnerable to Japanese attacks from the sea. Thus, many West Coast officials felt compelled to protect their local economies by drawing federal troops into their states, something that happened when the U.S. Army was placed in control of the evacuations.
“And you may remember the final words of Milton Eisenhower when he suggested that the humane treatment of Japanese American prisoners should be a model for enemy nations holding American prisoners. Obviously, the federal government hoped that respect for the evacuees here might prompt similar treatment of Americans prisoners held by enemy nations, especially by Japan.
“Oh, and do not forget that the Supreme Court in a case in 1943 ruled that the federal government had the legal right to take this action,” the Professor added.
“Do you mean there were legitimate reasons for this massive violation of human rights?” asked Scott.
“That's up to you as an historian to decide, but in an informed manner, and only after you have investigated the subject as thoroughly as possible and are prepared to argue against the government's reasoning,” replied the Professor.
Scott was perplexed. “Well, it may not be as clear as I first thought, but it was a violation of American law by our government, and that outweighs everything on the other side,” he declared. “I come down on the side defending the rights of the Japanese Americans. I condemn the government's action.”
“That's fine,” said Professor Papadopoulos. “But this exercise in historical research begins to introduce the theme of our next encounter. That is the complexity of interpreting history and the emergence of what historian call ‘schools of thought.'”
“Do you mean, Dr. Pop, that had I chosen the FDR side, that could be considered a school of thought, just as the Japanese American side could be another school of thought?” Scott asked.
“Exactly, my young friend,” the Professor said. “And a third school might be one that blends both sides and finds a middle ground in the argument. Such a spectrum of opinion typifies most major issues in history. But, more about that next time.”
Scott rose from his chair and thanked Professor Papadopoulos for another afternoon of thoughtful challenge. “Sounds like another great meeting next week,” Scott remarked.
As he walked toward the front door, Scott remembered his mother's request. “Oh, by the way, Professor, my mother asked me to find out what price you're asking for that French coin you loaned me several weeks ago. She really liked it. It reminded her of her years in college when she studied French.”
The old man looked at Scott quizzically. “No one has ever asked that before. I really don't have a price for it, Scott,” he answered. “I've had it for so long, I never thought of anyone else owning it. Let me think over your request. We can talk about it next Wednesday.”
Scott understood the Professor's reluctance. It was a rare item, but this was a store, wasn't it? However, he just smiled and nodded his agreement. “I'll see you next time,” Scott said as he open the door and heard again the now-familiar sound of the ringing bell. “Good bye.”
|Copyright © 2009 J. Fred MacDonald-All Rights Reserved.|