Yesterday on Fox News Sunday, Surgeon General and Vice Admiral Jerome Adams compared our nation’s response to COVID-19 as equal to the responses to Pearl Harbor and 9/11. For many Japanese Americans and American Muslims, making such comparisons can have a severe emotional and traumatic impact.
In the immediate wake of Pearl Harbor, many people of Japanese Ancestry were swept up and imprisoned without trial or formal charges only on the basis of their ancestry, citizenship, or leadership in the Japanese American community. Within months, nearly 120,000 people of Japanese heritage would be forcibly removed from their homes on the West Coast and transferred to ten American concentration camps. For them, this is the memory of America’s response to Pearl Harbor.
Dr. Adams’ analogy was correct when he stated, “[This is] going to be the hardest moment for many Americans in their entire lives.” Mass incarceration for Japanese Americans was indeed the hardest event many of them faced in their lives. The trauma inflicted continues to be felt today in direct survivors as well as their children and even grandchildren.
Regardless, there is absolutely no comparison to be made between these two events.
Unfortunately, many within the United States have forgotten the history of World War II and continue to subject American Muslims to prejudice and discrimination based solely on appearance and country of origin. Hate crimes against Muslims have escalated and their places of worship are targeted for violence and vandalism. Even today, our government seeks to return to policies discriminating against many Muslim people, banning them from entry to our country.
We urge leaders such as Vice Admiral Adams to carefully consider their words before making historical comparisons to our current situation. While we are facing tragedy on a national and global scale, we must never forget that Pearl Harbor and 9/11 were war-time attacks. To compare these incidents to what we are experiencing now is not only traumatizing to those communities who were adversely impacted in the wake of these events but inappropriate.