An excellent exhibit about Soviet labor camps is now touring the country. It includes grainy documentary short films which, though taken by the Soviet government itself for propaganda purposes, nonetheless manage to convey something of what went on. The ill-clad shivering prisoners breaking rocks are presented to us as from another world, and one can only imagine, if these are the films the Soviet authorities took presumably to show the magnificent efforts being made as this or that White-Sea Canal was built, what the real conditions were like. Imagine, or read Varlam Shalamov or many others.
Part of the exhibit, too, consists only of photographs of those in what is now called the Dissident Movement. Andrey Sakharov and Elena Bonner, Yuri Galanskov, Pyotr Yakir, Leonid Plyushch, Andrei Amalrik, the smiling face of that gifted teacher, the tormented Anatoliy Jakobson, handsome Valeriy Chalidze, and a hundred others — the Best People in the Soviet Union — are all on view.
A perfect exhibit.
Except for one thing.
It is being exhibited in different places. In Boston. Outside Washington. And in California. And in California, the site chosen to show this exhibit is in the desert — Manzanar. Why the desert? Why make it so hard to have it viewed by a large public?
Because, you see, someone thought it would be telling, someone thought it would be perfect, someone thought it would be wonderful, if an exhibit about Soviet concentration camps could be shown to the American public right at Manzanar. That was where some Japanese-Americans were moved. As we all know, they were relocated to camps where they could be guarded, and were not permitted to remain in their homes, having been deemed to be security risks after Pearl Harbor if they were Japanese-Americans on the Pacific Coast. If they lived elsewhere they were not moved. Those relocation camps had schools, stores, post-offices, churches, and so on. The largest camp was at Manzanar. The effort was supported by California’s then-governor, who would later become the celebrated liberal Supreme Court Justice, Earl Warren.
So the official or officials who, in some Federal bureaucracy, decided to show this exhibit about the vast archipelago of Soviet slave labor camps in which tens of millions of people were worked to death, or killed on the spot at Manzanar, were Making a Statement. And that Statement was: Americans are Guilty, in exactly the same way, or at least we who placed the exhibit in Manzanar wish you to think so, as the Soviet Union.
This Statement is false, and infuriates, but that some in the American government wanted to make it — who? — and others did nothing to stop it — who? — is telling.
The Sacramento Bee’s Ginger Rutland writes, her hand on her forehead in anguish, that if she stopped attending CAIR events, “I would fear for my country, for its cherished traditions of religious tolerance, open debate and fair play.”
Can she think of no other reason to “fear for her country”? What about those Nazi agents, especially of the Abwehr, who did such a good job infiltrating American business, or such propagandists as Putzi Hanfstaengl, or such local supporters of the Nazis as Fritz Kuhn? And if the war-generated fears about Japanese-Americans were false, that does not mean that they were irrational: there were some Japanese spies in this country. Nor does it mean that all those liberals such as Earl Warren were wrong in 1942, long before the 442nd Regiment of Japanese-Americans distinguished itself, were cruel madmen. (That Regiment was the first or second most-decorated American regiment in the war in the European Theatre.) There are things to regret, but not to pluck out of historical context, and relocation was limited in time and space and application.
There is no Muslim equivalent of the 442nd Regiment, proving its loyalty to the United States. And there never will be. Instead, at every step, CAIR has been trying to entangle everyone in and out of the government, and to urge Muslims in this country, whenever and wherever they can do so, to complain, to sue, to do whatever they can to bollix up the entirely rational and sensible measures being undertaken to protect us, on airplanes and otherwise.