June 4, 2015

These are the things you are to do: speak the truth to each another, and render true and sound judgment in your courts. Zechariah 8:16

I just finished a book titled The Train to Crystal City: FDR’s Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America’s Only Family Internment Camp During World War II, by Jan Jarboe Russell. It’s the fascinating yet heartrending story of Japanese and German families who were interred in camps during the war. Many of the adults were not citizens, even though they may have legally resided in the U.S. for years, but most of the children were. Yet they all had to leave behind their homes and businesses to live behind barbed wire. Some were then exchanged for American prisoners of war.

Can you imagine the bewilderment and shock of being sent back to a country you hadn’t lived in for years, one devastated by war and where you were (again) viewed suspiciously as a possible enemy spy? For the kids, it was even worse—they barely spoke the language, and were suddenly thrust into a culture utterly foreign to them. The book follows the stories of a couple of households, including one German-American family that ended up in a concentration camp. It’s hard to wrap my mind around what those children must have gone through.

Now, I know that it was wartime, and the U.S. had been thrust into the conflict by the attack on Pearl Harbor. From everything I’ve read about that time and from what my mother’s said, fear was rampant—would there be another invasion? Were enemy aliens in the country working against us? Mom told me rocks were thrown at her parents’ house because their surname was German, that’s how crazy it got even in a little Illinois town. President Roosevelt had come into office in 1933 in the midst of the Depression, and in his inaugural address, he reassured the nation that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” He used that same philosophy to quell these new anxieties. And one of ways he did that was to issue Executive Orders rounding up those born in the countries of our foes, along with their innocent children. These internees never had their day in court.

The Civil Liberties Act of 1988, signed into law by President Reagan, granted $20,0000 each in reparations to interred Japanese-Americans and their heirs. In October 1990, a ceremony was held to present the first checks and a formal apology issued by President George H.W. Bush:

“A monetary sum and words alone cannot restore lost years or erase painful memories; neither can they fully convey our Nation’s resolve to rectify injustice and to uphold the rights of individuals. We can never fully right the wrongs of the past. But we can take a clear stand for justice and recognize that serious injustices were done to Japanese-Americans during World War II.

“In enacting a law calling for restitution and offering a sincere apology, your fellow Americans have, in a very real sense, renewed their traditional commitment to the ideals of freedom, equality, and justice. You and your family have our best wishes for the future.”

The Crystal City, Texas camp, which the book is about, and most of the other relocation/interment facilities aren’t part of the National Park Service, but several that housed nearly 120,000 Japanese-American are, including Minidoka National Historic Site on the Idaho/Washington State border; Alaska’s Aleutian World War II National Historic Area; California’s Tule Lake, part of the WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument; and perhaps the most accessible, Manzanar National Historic Site in California. You can find a link to all the centers here.

The administration of justice here on earth will always be imperfect. But Christians are called upon to stand for what is right and fair, by a God who loves and even delights in justice (Psalm 33:5, 37:28; Isaiah 61:8; Jeremiah 9:23, 24), and executes it flawlessly (Psalm 140:12, John 5:30). We are to actively address wrongs and seek help and wisdom through prayer as part of serving God: “And what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8; see also Isaiah 1:17; Psalm 37:30, 106:3; Proverbs 21:3; Zechariah 7:9). We won’t always get it right, and for sure we’ll be frustrated, saddened, unsatisfied and even horrified by injustice.

The Just One is also our personal Justifier (Romans 3:26). For those who are allied with Him, even though we are guilty of offenses against Him, God sent His Son to give us not what we deserve, but to take our punishment Himself and free us from our prison of sin (Romans 8:1, 2). And when Jesus returns, “justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24). That flood of final, absolute and perfect judgment will “bring joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers” (Proverbs 21:15; see also Psalm 37:12, 13; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10, Revelation 20:12-15). And all the world’s injustices will be righted once and for all.

That day can’t come soon enough.

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