2017 Human Rights Conference focuses on learning from the past

Conference theme: ‘Let it not happen again’

BREMERTON — The writer and philospher George Santayana is credited with saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Clarence Moriwaki’s presentation seemed to back up Santayana’s message. Among the images of 1940s anti-Japanese propaganda alongside post-911 anti-Muslim propaganda that Moriwaki showed at the annual Human Rights Conference Dec. 15 at Olympic College: licenses given to U.S. Marines and others during World War II to “hunt” people of Japanese ancestry; and a 2016 “ISIS Hunting Permit” fundraiser hosted by Eric Greitens, who would later be elected governor of Missouri.

Moriwaki, president of the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community and founder of the Bainbridge Island Japanese Exclusion Memorial Association, spoke of the after-effects of the attack on Pearl Harbor; how 95 percent of the U.S. Japanese American population was targeted by Executive Order 9066; of how 122,000 men, women and children were confined in isolated, fenced and guarded internment camps in six states, despite lack of evidence that any of them were disloyal to the United States.

Fast forward 70 years. Moriwaki sees history repeating itself in the anti-Muslim sentiment in this country.

“We cannot allow manufactured fear to set public policy, to set a national discourse that pits one against another,” Moriwaki said. “We’re supposed to be the United States of America, not the Divided States of America. We should be a loving country, not a country that disperses hate and fear. That is why we [the memorial has] this motto, ‘Let it not happen again.’ ”

People of Japanese ancestry on Bainbridge Island, many of them U.S. citizens, were the first in the U.S. to be relocated to camps.

Many Japanese Americans joined the Army, eager to prove their loyalty. An estimated 33,000 served; approximately 800 were killed in action. The segregated 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team received 21 Medals of Honor, 9,486 Purple Hearts, 559 Silver Stars, 52 Distinguished Service Crosses, and eight Presidential Unit Citations.

And still, the post-war years were not easy.

Moriwaki spoke of the Bainbridge Island Japanese Exclusion Memorial includes the names of the 276 individuals were were removed from Bainbridge Island. The memorial honors those who suffered from the racial profiling, as is designed to help them move beyond the experience.

“We wanted to heal these wounds for these people who suffered through this indignity, to feel like their country honored them,” Moriwaki said.

One notable feature of the wall is a large gap in the middle, representing the three-and-a-half years in which there were no Japanese-Americans on Bainbridge Island.

Of the 276 people removed from the island, 150 came back, Moriwaki said. “More might have come back had they been able to buy property. You could not buy property if you weren’t an American citizen.”

The Kitsap County Human Rights Council presents the conference every year. Attendance ranges from 100-200.

“The idea of the conference and other activities of the council is to try and help educate the public on these kinds of issues, create avenues and forums for the public to talk about these kinds of issues, and how to smoothly live together in a diverse community,” said council chairman Data Logan.

”There’s lots of different organizations who work on human rights … or social justice issues [in Kitsap]. Certain people that walk in those circles, I think, attend the conference and work in different groups, working on different aspects of human rights they are passionate about.”

Logan said “the real fun of the conference” is the networking that takes place between workshops, where those interested in making positive social changes meet other like-minded people with the same focus. “When people realize there are other people interested in the same issue — the same thing I’m doing or my organization is doing — we can pair up to help more people.

“The idea of capturing a moment of change in life, where you look back. Where have we been? What’s happening now? Where is that going to take us in the future? What can we do to position ourselves to be better in the future than we have in the past?”

— Michelle Beahm is online editor for Kitsap News Group. Contact her at mbeahm@soundpublishing.com.

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