Lessons to be learned at internment sites
The House has OK'd $38 million in grants to preserve World War II detention sites.
PRESERVING sites where more than 120,000 Americans were unjustly imprisoned during World War II would turn a bitter mistake into an enduring lesson about the need to defend the rights of all citizens.
As landmarks, the internment camps would continue to enlighten new generations about the consequences of allowing hysteria and racial prejudice to take hold in times of conflict, a reminder deeply relevant today.
Legislation approved by the House this week would authorize up to $38 million for a grant program to restore 27 assembly sites and camps, including Honouliuli on Oahu, where hundreds of Hawaii citizens, mostly Japanese Americans, were wrongly incarcerated during the war.
Unfortunately, the bill tacks on another project that would draw funding from the National Park Service, a cash-strapped agency already billions of dollars in the hole for maintenance projects and other mandates.
Congress must find a way to pay for restorations without further burdening the park service's meager budget.
California Republican Rep. Bill Thomas was the bill's chief sponsor, and similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate by Hawaii's Daniel Inouye. However, because the program is strongly opposed by the Bush administration, its future remains in doubt.
Most of the sites are in disrepair. Some have all but disappeared, such as Heart Mountain in Wyoming where irrigation systems that internees helped build remain in use, but is marked only by a crumbling brick chimney and plaques on a concrete pillar.
The bill would provide federal grants to private or community groups to fund up to 75 percent of the cost of preserving what's left of camps and assembly areas and to build new educational or interpretive facilities. Groups would have to raise the balance.
As Congress battles for budget cuts, allocations for the program might seem excessive. Nonetheless, it is important for the nation that we remember the injustice in order to avoid its repetition.
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