Though long overdue, an official apology to Japanese-Americans interned behind barbed wire during World War II is an appropriate way to lay the issue to rest, say Utahns of Japanese heritage.
The U.S. House of Representatives approved a plan Thursday to award $20,000 in compensation to thousands of Japanese-Americans who were imprisoned at camps like the one at Topaz in Millard County. But more appreciated than the money is the apology that goes along with the plan, prominent members of the Utah Japanese-American community said."It's finally recognition of an injustice that was done 46 years ago," said Frank Nishiguchi, chairman of the Box Elder County Commission. "Hopefully, nothing like that will ever happen again to any group of people."
Joseph Arata, retired pastor of the Japanese United Church of Christ in Salt Lake City, spent time inside the barbed wire camp with his family during the war. The bitterness has been long since buried by Arata, but he hopes the memories will remain fresh enough to prevent similar situations in the future.
"I wouldn't want anyone to have to go through that," he said. "By having an official legislative act passed, it should serve to prevent this sort of thing in the future.
The tax-free payments would go to the estimated 62,000 current survivors who were interned. The measure, which passed by a vote of 257-157, was opposed by Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, because of the $1.2 billion it will cost the government.
"I believe strongly that if we, as a nation, begin to financially compensate everyone who has suffered from past policies of the federal government, we would be well on the way to bankrupting our government," Hansen said in a news release.
"I supported the provision . . . that offered a formal apology."
Utah's other congressmen, Wayne Owens, D-Utah, and Howard Nielson, R-Utah, voted for the bill.
Arata, as one of the recipients of the restitution, said the money isn't as important as the principle.
"It's kind of hard to evaluate the monetary worth; the apology is actually more meaningful," said Arata. "I'm just elated that the government has finally recognized the fact that an injustice has been done."
Nishiguchi believes it is also important to remember the true feelings of the internees towards the country that locked them away.
"This group of people showed their total loyalty to the United States," he said. "There was never a case of proven wrongdoing. This group volunteered young men from the camps to serve in the armed forces in the European theater, and also as intelligence gatherers and translators in the Pacific."