If you read Cory Doctorow’s book, “Little Brother,” you will find a hostile and dangerous San Francisco. In the book, a terrorist event causes the United States Department of Homeland Security to descend on the city and strip away the human rights of its citizens. It is a phenomenal book which will leave you asking yourself if this really could happen in the United States. Is it possible that the Constitution could be ignored and good people would then be treated as criminals?
The answer is YES. In fact, it has already happened. There are several examples, but none that parallel the book so much as how the Japanese Americans were treated during World War II.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which gave the military power to remove all persons they felt were a risk to national security. Given the anti-Japanese sentiment at the time, it was obvious what population was being targeted by this legislation. The military immediately set out to isolate anyone with 1/16 or more of Japanese blood, saying that they were a risk to national security. Many of those who fit into this category were given only a couple of weeks to close their stores and businesses, board up their homes, and report to an area where the military would then take them to internment camps. Many of these detainees were born and raised in America and even fought for the U.S. in World War I. Now they were placed in rows of small wooden shacks, behind high fences, with armed guards securing the parameter to prevent escape.
During this time, the San Francisco Chronicle published the following: “Last night, Japanese town was empty. Its stores were vacant, its windows plastered with “To Lease” signs. There were no guests in its hotels, no diners nibbling on sukiyaki or tempura. And last night, too, there were no Japanese with their ever-present cameras and sketch books, no Japanese with their newly acquired furtive, frightened looks.” San Francisco had let the United States government basically imprison a significant portion of its citizens just because they had 1/16 or more of Japanese blood.
The order was rescinded in 1944 allowing the occupants to return to their West Coast residences as of January 1945. Many found that when they returned, they had to start all over again. Some felt betrayed by their country and renounced their citizenship and settled in another part of the world.
Maybe Cory Doctorow’s book is meant as a warning lest history once again repeat itself, but this time in a much more high-tech fashion which would make it close to impossible to escape the scrutiny of the United States Department of Homeland Security. Maybe its a call to action for all of us to look for and be aware of instances where the government is treating people like second class citizens or denying them basic rights. You won’t have to look far for examples, just google Proposition 8, or DOMA, or closely read the U.S. Patriot Act that supposedly protects us by taking our freedoms away.
San Francisco: A Cultural History, by Mick Sinclair
Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow