A chance to examine our history

"Such were the times.At a public meeting in November 1944, as a group of Bainbridge residents debated the return of interned Japanese-Americans to this island, Lambert Schuyler of Winslow declared:The German is savage by command. (But) the Jap is a savage by instinct. They are criminal aborigines.It was not the only such comment uttered that day. Several folks - who, history would demonstrate, constituted a distinct minority - opposed the impending homecoming of islanders of Japanese ancestry as World War II wound down. Many couched their views by saying they were simply trying to prevent trouble, not start it - or by saying, I don't hate (Japanese-Americans), but I want them put by themselves.It was a dark time for an island torn by war, grief and in some quarters suspicion; many Japanese-Americans did return to Bainbridge from Manzanar and other concentration camps, and resumed their place in the community without incident. "

  • Wednesday, February 21, 2001 2:00pm
  • News

“Such were the times.At a public meeting in November 1944, as a group of Bainbridge residents debated the return of interned Japanese-Americans to this island, Lambert Schuyler of Winslow declared:The German is savage by command. (But) the Jap is a savage by instinct. They are criminal aborigines.It was not the only such comment uttered that day. Several folks – who, history would demonstrate, constituted a distinct minority – opposed the impending homecoming of islanders of Japanese ancestry as World War II wound down. Many couched their views by saying they were simply trying to prevent trouble, not start it – or by saying, I don’t hate (Japanese-Americans), but I want them put by themselves.It was a dark time for an island torn by war, grief and in some quarters suspicion; many Japanese-Americans did return to Bainbridge from Manzanar and other concentration camps, and resumed their place in the community without incident. Their removal shamed a nation; their homecoming elevated an island.Today, some wonder how to deal with the legacy of one Major M.J. Hopkins, who was in cahoots with Schuyler and his associates through their series of anti-Jap meetings.Shall we rename the park that bears’ Hopkins name? A few cries of political correctness will come ringing from the galleries, accusations of liberals trying to reshape history to their ends. But revisionism and the PC debate are relative. One of our favorite yarns involves the conservative congressman who, suspecting some of trying to promote alternative lifestyles through the Smithsonian Museum, wanted to cut funding for a display on the Enola Gay. In the news of late has been the dispute over Confederate iconography on the flags of South Carolina, Georgia and several other state flags. Even in the South – not exactly a bastion of progressive thought – community leaders are realizing that an inclusive society cannot sail beneath a banner of hatred, oppression and exclusion.Is there place in our island history for bigots? Yes. But it is not a place of honor. And that’s why we hope for a full airing of the Hopkins record. The newspaper accounts of those 1944 meetings are fascinating and instructive, and should be a part of the history curriculum of every student on Bainbridge. We’re sure there is more material out there for review and discussion; perhaps there are descendants of Hopkins who can cast their forebear’s actions in a better or more complete light. (In fairness, it should be noted that Schuyler’s son Ethan publicly apologized in 1985 for his father’s anti-Japanese campaign; his contrition was acknowledged and earned the thanks of the community.)We cannot change the past or erase the actions of a few. Nor is it a question of what is acceptable speech or thought. It is instead about what ideas, achievements and people we as a community choose to elevate. Our monuments, our markers, our building names reflect those that we hold honorable.Whatever Major Hopkins’ merits as a scout master, it seems that he sought to divide the community when it most needed healing. That’s not a legacy to be honored. “

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