An American debacle usefully reconsidered

Topaz PBS, tomorrow, 10-11 p.m., check local listings. During World War II, more than 8,000 Japanese-Americans were stripped of possessions and herded into relocation camps in Topaz, an isolated camp on Utah's rangeland. There they were held in unheated barracks under armed guard - for their own protection, as well as military reasons, they were told.

In January 1945, the War Department announced that the threat had passed, and those who remained in the camps were permitted to leave. Most internees were not able to regain their farms, their homes, their businesses in California. In many cases, storage centers that held their possessions had been vandalized.

``Topaz'' mixes terrible tales of surviving internees and camp workers with archival footage.

While this documentary focuses on the ethnic Japanese in America, it concerns all Americans, because of its theme: the balance between national security and individual rights. Many people still feel that perhaps there was justification for the action, but the surviving victims of relocation feel that it was a ``holocaust of the mind.''

This is a part of recent American history of which nobody is proud. This documentary performs a major public service by reminding us of it.

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