News this week of a freshman Republican legislator defending the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II didn’t move the needle much in Colorado media, but national outlets jumped on the story you read about here first–credit where due to the exception locally, Denverite’s Erica Meltzer:
The liberal site Colorado Pols (totally unrelated to Colorado Politics) first highlighted Covarrubias’ remarks and uploaded the YouTube video recorded from the state’s official legislative channel.
Then picked up in the Huffington Post:
Covarrubias compared the fears after the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack to the fears Americans have now after recent acts of terrorism, such as in Orlando, Florida, and San Bernardino, California.
“What happened prior to [the camps] that kicked all this off? I think we were attacked at Pearl Harbor,” he added. “I think we need to look at the Americans that are in fear from the terrorism and the things that we’ve seen over the last few years especially.”
Despite Covarrubias’ attempts to kill HB 1230, the bill passed the second reading and is headed to the House floor for a third and final reading before it goes to the Republican held Senate, where it’s chances of passage are slim, according to The Durango Herald.
And then the Washington Post:
“We keep hearing about how things went down with the Japanese people. For anybody that has never been in the heat of combat, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and all of that was going on, there’s no time to ask questions and find out who’s a citizen and who’s not,” Covarrubias said. “You don’t have that moment in time. You need to regroup. It’s easy to sit up here and say this stuff now. But if you’re in that moment, it looks a lot different than being able to be in a nice suit and tie.”
He continued: “I hear people saying that we need to respect other people’s rights, and I agree with that, but what about them respecting our rights and our country and our laws? Because I’m not hearing that up here.”
Later on in the hearing, Covarrubias once again seemed to defend the mass internment of Japanese American citizens by pointing out that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. That attack, he said, was “what happened prior … that kicked all this off.”
And then national NBC News:
CAPAC chair U.S. Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) called Covarrubias’ remarks unacceptable.
“It’s outrageous that we have to keep reiterating that the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II was wrong,” she said Thursday in a statement. “History doesn’t repeat itself because we forget. It repeats itself because apologists like Rep. Covarrubias attempt to convince us these atrocious actions were justified.
For whatever reason, local coverage of Covarrubias’ remarks has been slow in coming. Last night, 9NEWS ran a brief somewhat apologetic segment:
We can see how people listening to Covarrubias’ floor speeches Wednesday could have walked away with the impression he tried to justify America’s internment of Japanese people.
But Covarrubias swears that is not what he meant.
Today, finally, Denver7’s Lance Hernandez picks up the story thoughtfully:
Dr. JoAnn Ota Fujioka isn’t buying Covarrubias’ explanation.
“I was just infuriated,” she said, “because he has no knowledge of the of the whole milieu that was in play at the time.”
…Fujioka said there were Japanese-Americans in Colorado who couldn’t travel more than ten miles from home without permission.
She believes the restrictions and forced relocation were related more to bigotry and an attempt to suppress Japanese-American culture than concern about a security threat.
She said that’s why she found Covarrubias’ initial comment so offensive.
Rep. Covarrubias has tried since his comments went national to insist he wasn’t trying to justify internment of Japanese-Americans. It appears that Covarrubias is not really a very articulate guy, which makes his choice to run for the legislature a little questionable–but the idea that he was just trying to help people empathize with “the fear” Americans felt following the attack on Pearl Harbor doesn’t excuse what he said.
If anything, it helps reveal why it was offensive.