Collective Punishment: Bad Idea Then and Now

Published on, by Julia A. Shearson, September 8, 2008.

German and Italian Americans are working with Congress to pass the Wartime Treatment Study Act, which would establish commissions to review injustices suffered by European Americans, European Latin Americans, and Jewish refugees during World War II.

During the war, our government branded as “enemy aliens” 600,000 German Americans and 300,000 Italian Americans. Thousands were interned, and hundreds of thousands were forced to carry special identification cards and had their travel restricted and property seized. Japanese Americans have received recognition for their suffering and wrongful internment, but the plight of German and Italian Americans is less well known.

The Wartime Treatment Study Act is overdue, and its swift passage is necessary before the living memories and first-hand evidence perish with age. Immigrants helped build our nation, and collective guilt and punishment should never be tolerated in a democracy …

… Thousands of innocent Muslim Americans have been hauled off planes, dragged out of vehicles, illegally searched, fired from jobs, denied citizenship, deported without due process, targeted by surveillance, and subjected to bank account closures. Some onlookers give the thumbs up. Some come to the rescue while others keep silent. Those who complain are labeled unpatriotic …

… Like the vast majority of German, Italian, and Japanese Americans during World War II, American Muslims remain loyal and should be treated as such, right here and now, not 50 years from now in hindsight and in the midst of overdue apologies. George Washington cautioned that “Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” His wish to keep government on a short leash reminds us that no matter how great the risk and fear of terrorism, we Americans must cling to our fundamental rights. In ceding certain powers and consenting to be governed, we must keep a watchful eye on our government, lest it wrongly punish the innocent and diminish the liberty of good citizens. (full text).

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