Sunday, September 18, 2016

Internment Camps in the United States

Miyuki is old enough to have been a child during World War II. Indeed, some of her students are that old as well but they are eager to learn and listen to her carefully.

She is a teacher of floral arrangements in the Japanese style of Ikenobo but her face always seems sadder than the flowers in the beautiful arrangements she makes. Her life has been a mixture of grief and joy. 

Her parents emigrated to the United States from Japan before World War II and Miyuki was born in Seattle. Her parents owned a newspaper there but it was confiscated by the government when they and their children were sent to an internment camp during the war. 

After the war Miyuki’s parents did not get their newspaper back nor were they compensated for it. But they found another way to make a living. They opened a flower shop and their daughter Miyuki dealt with customers after school. Bilingual by then, she spoke beautiful English. 

Between customers she would watch her parents make arrangements and in time learned the art of Ikenobo, arranging flowers in the spartan Japanese style that proves less can certainly be more. She has been teaching Ikenobo now in America for more than 50 years. She is certified as a professor of Ikenobo by the society that overseas the Ikenobo school in Japan.

Every once in a while Miyuki pauses in her classes to discuss different aspects of Japanese culture with her mostly Caucasian students, ladies of similar age and above-average means. They seem to enjoy these interjections as much as learning how to arrange flowers in the Ikenobo style.

One day Miyuki took time to explain that because she was born in America to Japanese immigrants she is classified in the Japanese community as Nisei. Her children, born here as well, are classified as Sansei and her grandchildren as Yonsei. She did not say much more about that but her students realize that she is often as spartan in her comments about Japanese-American life as she is in the Ikenobo arrangements she makes on her table in front of the class.

Some of her American students were children as Miyuki was during the war with Japan. They have a vague memory of President Truman’s decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Many think Truman did the right thing, a few think it was a mistake, and the rest aren't sure.

But many of them wonder if putting Japanese Americans in internment camps during World War II had any merit. Perhaps they think about it even more now as the tumult in America grows over the conflict with ISIS and its verbal threats toward America. 

In the aftermath of Nine Eleven, everyone remains wary. What next? But so far, there has been no talk of internment camps for Muslim Americans, which in effect would be an encore of what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II.

Perhaps some day a student will ask Miyuki what she would think as an American citizen about establishing internment camps for Muslims in America should the conflict with ISIS continue to grow and begin to present a very real threat to the United States. She might have mixed feelings as many of her students do now when they think about not only the atomic bombs dropped on Japan but also the disruption in the lives of Japanese Americans during and after the war. 

It’s obvious this small group of people interested in learning how to make beautiful flower arrangements has much to think about regarding what has happened in the past, what is happening now and what may happen in the future. In this respect they are no different than every other citizen in the United States today. 

Donal Mahoney

Monday, September 5, 2016

Agent Orange Is Still Killing Veterans Slowly

This is a true story told to me recently by a friend who wishes to remain anonymous. It explains his experience with the legacy of Monsanto and Dow and the ongoing effects of its product, Agent Orange, the lethal spray used in Vietnam during the war. 

My friend’s brother died a slow death from the effects of Agent Orange. And the other day while at the mall he met someone now going through what his brother went through prior to his death. 

He said a man stepped out of a store wearing an orange T Shirt.  On its back was, "I was killed in Vietnam I just haven't died yet.” 

Roy walked up to him and asked if his shirt pertained to Agent Orange. He said that it did, and he began to tell Roy his story. He was just out of high school when he joined the service and was sent to Vietnam. He said he was in the Highlands with the Big Red One.  Fighting was intense, snipers were everywhere and Operation Ranch Hand sprayed Agent Orange day after day.  He finished his tour, came home and thought he was safe.

But all the symptoms of Agent Orange poisoning except diabetes soon appeared: breathing problems, cancer, genetic problems that he passed on to his children and heart attacks. He has fought the cancers for years. Now the cancer has returned in six locations.  

He said when he first reported his health problems, the Veterans Administration denied, denied and continued to deny that they were due to Agent Orange. Finally, they admitted, after analysis proved the danger of dioxin, that he had indeed been poisoned. By this time, he had accumulated debt, had a checkered work record because of all the health episodes and had suffered for years without adequate medical care.

As Roy listened, he found it to be the same refrain other veterans had told him, including his brother. The VA knew about Agent Orange, but they felt if they kept stonewalling, the Vietnam Vets would die or just give up on getting the care they needed and deserved.  

Roy said this man at the time didn't question the morality of the war in Vietnam. He went and fought, got a biological injury he did not get a purple heart for and returned to a nation that turned its back on him. No veterans in the history of this country have been so maligned.  

As the man Roy met in the mall said, "The only parade my fellow Vietnam veterans got to honor them started with a hearse and ended up at a graveyard.”  

Roy didn't get much sleep that night as he thought about the truth of that man's statement and remembered as well the agony of his own brother’s death from Agent Orange.

Donal Mahoney