Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Oregonian Shuffle on the Japanese and Memorials

The Oregonian took on a difficult issue in today's editorial: Gresham blunders in proposing honor for racist mayor.

Unfortunately its editor came out swinging in spite of two major problems.

1. The editorial rails against a small offender while failing to mention the really big offender against Japanese Americans.

2. The editorial condemns former Gresham mayor Herbert Hughes without citing a single fact about his beliefs or actions regarding Japanese Americans--other than that he was part of a group (apparently for less than 6 months) that urged anti-Japanese policies.

Here's how The Oregonian framed the issue:
When 120,000 Japanese Americans were forced to relocate to internment camps during World War II, some lost everything they owned. But then-Mayor Hughes and a dozen other men formed Oregon Anti-Japanese Inc., apparently to ensure they would never get it back. Some in Hughes' group favored expulsion of Japanese Americans, or a constitutional amendment to revoke their citizenship.
Who forced 120,000 Japanese Americans into internment camps? Mayor Hughes? No. It was a leader who is not even mentioned in the editorial: Franklin D. Roosevelt. There's no evidence that Mayor Hughes caused real damage to Japanese Americans. There's a ton of evidence that President Roosevelt did. In fact it was Roosevelt's policy that caused "some" Japanese Americans to lose "everything they owned" (to use The Oregonian's phrasing).
The editorial goes on to say:
In 1993, President Clinton apologized to Japanese Americans for their internment. The nation's actions, he wrote, were rooted in "racial prejudice, wartime hysteria and a lack of political leadership." While Hughes accomplished some good things, he failed a key test of his time and led his community in the wrong direction.
[emphasis mine]
One could say about a lot of people who have memorials erected to them (including FDR) that while accomplishing "some good things", each failed "a key test of his time" and led "his community in the wrong direction".

The Oregonian suggests a fix for how to memorialize someone's good points and yet acknowledge their darker side:
Maybe Gresham should research Hughes' career, unblinkingly, and create an unorthodox memorial, with the full participation of the Japanese American community. While acknowledging Hughes' dark side, it could also pay tribute to those courageous Oregonians who argued on the right side of history.
How easy to call for a memorial acknowledging "Hughes' dark side" when the editor undoubtedly is walking around with a memorial to FDR in his pocket or her purse which indicates nothing about FDR's "dark side". Isn't it rather unfortunate to start on someone who did very little, if any, harm? There are bigger fish to fry that would illuminate the wrong done to Japanese Americans better.

That leads to the second problem with the editorial. There is no clear information about Hughes' actions and beliefs. Here are the concrete "facts" The Oregonian editorial presents:
- "He was also, apparently, a bigot".
- "Still, the virulence of Hughes' hatred towards Japanese Americans stands out even by the standards of his own time. As The Oregonian's Robin Franzen and Eric Mortenson reported Sunday, Hughes helped ignite a hate-mongering campaign that flared briefly in late 1944, aimed at stripping Japanese Americans of everything they had left, which in many cases wasn't much."
- "But then-Mayor Hughes and a dozen other men formed Oregon Anti-Japanese Inc., apparently to ensure they would never get it back."
- "Some in Hughes' group favored expulsion of Japanese Americans, or a constitutional amendment to revoke their citizenship."
- "Did Hughes come to regret his involvement in this group? Some believe he did, but no one has substantiated that claim."
[emphasis mine]
As its basis, the editorial cites an article published in the March 12th edition: Gresham confronts pride and prejudice in recalling its past. But, that article presents no hard facts about Hughes' beliefs or actions. In fact, it clearly says there is no evidence even on Hughes' beliefs about Japanese-Americans, let alone his actions. The March 12th article explains:
The depth of Hughes' involvement at the time is unclear. He does not appear to have been quoted about his feelings about Japanese Americans, leading some to conclude he might have quietly dropped out of the group after deciding it was wrong.
Why does the The Oregonian feel a need to condemn Mayor Hughes before digging up hard evidence on what he did and did not do and believed and did not believe regarding Japanese-Americans? If membership (especially six months or less) in an organization is enough to condemn, Joe McCarthy would be a hero today.

How to present and memorialize leaders who did much good but made grave mistakes in moral and ethical judgment is a tough issue. Instead of presenting clear steps on how to confront this, The Oregonian has elected to do a mere shuffle. It has not advanced thinking on the issue because it took the easy route of ignoring the egregious example (FDR) and focusing on a local leader who is easy to beat up (without solid evidence) because hardly anyone has heard of him, remembers him, and will stick up for him.



b!X said...

I imagine that Theo is just trying to make up for the publicized views of their newspaper's publisher.

terrance said...

If it was an attempt to make up for the publisher's views, it doesn't say much for the editor's own values on easy labeling and condemning of a target that can't fight back, does it?

Thanks for the comment.