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An apology long overdue

September 21, 1987



ADMITTING a mistake and apologizing for it does not diminish a great nation but enhances it. And so it is all to the good that the United States House passed last week legislation that would constitute an apology to the Japanese and Japanese-Americans interned during World War II.

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The 1942 decision to round up about 120,000 of Japanese background, ostensibly to prevent espionage or sabotage of the American war effort, opened one of the sorriest chapters in United States history. The internees, two-thirds of whom were US citizens, were forced from their homes and jobs and made to spend the war years in camps under armed guard.

The memories have rankled in the four decades since. Shortly after the war, some provision was made for restitution to individuals who had been interned, but only some $38 million was ever paid out.

The current House bill, which would provide $20,000 to each of the 66,000 surviving internees, has been championed by two California Democrats who themselves were interned as children, Norman Mineta and Robert Matsui.

The companion bill in the Senate is sponsored by Republican Alan Simpson. He remembers meeting the young Japanese, including the young Mineta, then a uniformed Cub Scout of 10, who were interned in a camp in his home state of Wyoming.

The House bill passed 243-141, and Senator Simpson's bill is likewise expected to pass easily. The administration has opposed the legislation on grounds of cost. But the amounts are so small, so long overdue, that a way should be found to sign the bill.