As an American child during World War 2, George was fascinated by the way society had been turned upside down by the conflict. Children seem to have such capacity for seeing and seeking adventure in stressful moments, and George saw the war years as a time of amazing stories and daring escapades. Because of the war, George and his family moved to Arkansas as part of a government program, so the new environment there only added to his sense of adventure.
His heart would swell with pride as he and the other kids in school said the Pledge of Allegiance daily. He would later say that he thought of the brave American soldiers fighting in Europe and the Pacific for Truth, Justice, and the American Way.
Two years later, the family moved again because of the war. This time, the family moved to California. George was really happy about that part. His family was from there, and his dad had even owned a business there before the war. So, in some ways, it was a homecoming of sorts.
But something changed for George there. One night, the police came to the area where George and his family lived. They raided a building and took several young men away, and no one ever heard from them again. George couldn’t understand what was happening. The young men who were taken were said to be not supporting America’s war against fascism. Words, new words to George, words like “spies” and “saboteurs” were used to describe these young men—young men George knew and liked. He felt in his heart of hearts that these guys were guilty of nothing other than…what? Being un-American?
Suddenly, George’s view of America changed. He began to question, even at his young age, why things were the way they were. What were we fighting for? Do people in a free society have a right to not support a war that they may feel is unwarranted, unjustified, or that is being fought for reasons other than those stated by the government?
What actions could be justified in the name of national security?
What makes an American an American?
Other arrests followed in George’s neighborhood. Again, whispers and rumors abounded. Charges were never filed. No trials were ever held. No one was ever formally accused of being un-patriotic or behaving in a traitorous manner.
No, the only thing George could see that these arrestees had in common was their race. You see, all those arrested were of Japanese ancestry. They were arrested simply because they were not “like” other Americans physically during a time when America was fighting Japan.
George noticed this particularly because he, too, was of Japanese descent. Where he and his family lived in both Arkansas and California was in an internment camp, where tens of thousands of others like him were “kept” for the duration of the war. Where his family was sent to after the United States government took away his father’s business in California. Where the lives of all those Americans—most of them citizens—were destroyed forever by fear and racism.
You know him as George Takei.