California to formally apologise for WWII internment of Japanese

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A monument at the site of the Japanese-American concentration camp in Manzanar, California. AFP

Nearly 80 years after the US authorised the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, California plans to formally apologise this week for its role in one of the darkest chapters in US history.

State lawmakers are set to vote on Thursday on a resolution which states that the California legislature apologises for “the unjust exclusion, removal, and incarceration of Japanese-Americans during World War II, and for its failure to support and defend the civil rights and civil liberties of Japanese-Americans”.

More than 120,000 Japanese-Americans were sent to 10 concentration camps throughout western states and Arkansas during World War II after then-President Franklin D Roosevelt signed an executive order.

The February 19, 1942, order came just two months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

“The apology is especially pertinent now with President [Donald] Trump in office,” Democratic Assembly member Al Muratsuchi, who introduced the bill, said in a statement.

“What I hear over and over from the Japanese-American community is about how bothered they are about what is happening at our borders with children and families held in cages, being torn apart.

“For many survivors of the Japanese-American camps, it strikes a deep chord. They see in many ways history repeating itself,” he said.

The federal government apologised in 1988 for the forced removals that lasted up to 1945 and granted compensation to survivors.

Muratsuchi, who is Japanese-American, said it was essential for California to atone for its past mistakes given the role the state played.

“We like to talk a lot about how we lead the nation by example,” he said in a tweet.

“Unfortunately, in this case, California led the racist anti-Japanese-American movement.”