BEFORE HARDLY anyone in Washington or the mass media realize it, a
protest may bloom on the West Coast that will remind people of the bad old
days of Vietnam.
On Jan. 11, tens of thousands participated in an anti-war protest in Los
Angeles, and a similar turnout is expected in San Francisco on Saturday. Anti-
war rallies are also to be held in Orange County, near the Richard Nixon
Presidential Library, and in Washington.
The demographics of these events are telling. Showing up these days: Not
just the usual kooky cadres of semi-professional protest junkies, anti-
globalization crusaders and whacked-out conspiracy theorists but protesters
from the solid middle class as well. It's time for Washington to start
So should the U.S. media. They have been slow to pick up on the story -- as
decades ago when the establishment media was late to comprehend the dimensions
of the tumult and divisiveness prompted by the Vietnam War.
In its just-out issue, CJR, the leading serious media journalism review
that's published at prestigious Columbia University in New York, gives failing
grades on this story to media outlets from the Washington Post and the New
York Times to the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the San Diego Union-Tribune.
The missing story is that a rapidly growing number of centrist Americans
oppose the Bush administration's unilateral threats against Iraq and its
bizarre approach to North Korea. They also oppose its domestic law-enforcement
and intelligence methods for combatting terrorism.
Perhaps reconstituted memory as much as hard analysis is involved here.
West Coasters, noting the recent arrests and clandestine imprisonments of
Iranians and Muslims, recall the awful internment of Japanese-Americans six
decades ago that still haunts our past. We recall that in 1942, the government
routed 120,000 Japanese out of their homes and stashed them in detention camps
-- even though the majority were solid American citizens or legal permanent
residents. The fear then was that some were working for Tokyo as spies, so
forget the procedural protections of the Fifth Amendment and due process.
Back to the future? Here in Southern California, with its huge Iranian
population, today's "Middle Eastern types" are starting to resemble
yesteryear's interned Japanese. In December, the government lured males 16 or
older here on visas from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria to Immigration and
Naturalization Service offices for visa checks. Thousands came voluntarily,
though it is presumed that no self-respecting terrorist with an IQ over 50
showed up. So the government got only the cooperative guys -- who were cuffed
on the spot, allegedly for technical visa violations; in reality, they face
further interrogations and many remain in jail, held in secret, closed to the
This is precisely the approach taken by regimes that have little in common
with the United States -- such as Iraq and North Korea. A regulation that
allows "confinement of the person, by secretly hurrying him to jail," wrote
Alexander Hamilton in Federalist Paper No. 84, is a "dangerous engine of
If the government believes constitutionally questionable measures are
necessary for national security, it should lay its reasons on the table.
Let's debate the issue. But the horror of 9/11 has allowed President Bush
to move in a direction that someday he, not to mention history, may well
The internment of the Japanese in World War II was so obviously un-American
that no one wants to see a repeat. So the protests will get larger and louder.
Perhaps it will turn out that the innocent Japanese who six decades ago lost
their freedom and dignity did not suffer in vain.
Tom Plate is a professor of communications at UCLA.
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle