George Takei: On this Remembrance Day, I hear terrible echoes of the past

Updated 10:50 PM EST, Sun February 19, 2017
japanese prison camp orig 1
CNN
japanese prison camp orig 1
Now playing
01:34
This document imprisoned 120,000 people
Richard Overton, 107 years old,  is acknowledged during a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on Monday.
Getty Images
Richard Overton, 107 years old, is acknowledged during a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on Monday.
Now playing
01:08
Oldest WWII vet shares secret for longevity
ac nat pkg d day veterans share experiences_00004025.jpg
ac nat pkg d day veterans share experiences_00004025.jpg
Now playing
02:49
2014: WWII vets who fought on D-Day share memories
NS Slug: WV: MARRIED WWII VETERANS TOGETHER SINCE 1946  Synopsis: A West Virginia couple who both served in WWII have been together since 1946.  Keywords: WEST VIRGINIA WWII VETERANS MARRIED
WDTV
NS Slug: WV: MARRIED WWII VETERANS TOGETHER SINCE 1946 Synopsis: A West Virginia couple who both served in WWII have been together since 1946. Keywords: WEST VIRGINIA WWII VETERANS MARRIED
Now playing
00:53
These WWII vets have been married for 72 years
Project recover
Now playing
01:59
See shipwreck found after 75 years
The USS Juneau In New York Harbor, 11 February 1942.
Courtesy the U.S. National Archives.
The USS Juneau In New York Harbor, 11 February 1942.
Now playing
00:58
Wreck of sunken US WWII warship discovered
USS LEXINGTON WRECKAGE FOUND OFF AUSTRALIA'S COAST -
YOUTBE/THE SEA LAD
USS LEXINGTON WRECKAGE FOUND OFF AUSTRALIA'S COAST -
Now playing
00:52
Expedition led by billionaire finds WWII ship
Machine gun on the USS Ward
Photo courtesy of Paul G. Allen
Machine gun on the USS Ward
Now playing
01:12
US ship that fired first WWII shots found
Dieter Schwetzler (R) and Rene Bennert (L) of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Division pose next to the World War II bomb they defused in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, on September 03, 2017. 
More than 60,000 people was evacuated from the center of Frankfurt on Sunday after a 1.4-ton World War II bomb (HC 4000 air mine) was discovered on a construction site close to the Goethe University Frankfurt compound last Tuesday.  / AFP PHOTO / Thomas Lohnes        (Photo credit should read THOMAS LOHNES/AFP/Getty Images)
THOMAS LOHNES/AFP/Getty Images
Dieter Schwetzler (R) and Rene Bennert (L) of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Division pose next to the World War II bomb they defused in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, on September 03, 2017. More than 60,000 people was evacuated from the center of Frankfurt on Sunday after a 1.4-ton World War II bomb (HC 4000 air mine) was discovered on a construction site close to the Goethe University Frankfurt compound last Tuesday. / AFP PHOTO / Thomas Lohnes (Photo credit should read THOMAS LOHNES/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
00:48
Massive WWII bomb successfully deactivated
uss indianapolis found cabrera segment nr_00002111.jpg
Naval History and Heritage Command
uss indianapolis found cabrera segment nr_00002111.jpg
Now playing
01:10
USS Indianapolis wreckage found after 72 years
Now playing
01:46
WWII anti-racism film goes viral after rally
Auschwitz Museum
Now playing
00:46
Treasures found in Auschwitz mug
The discovery of an unexploded World War II bomb has brought a bustling area of east London to a standstill and forced scores of people from their homes. The 250-kilogram (550-pound) device has lain undisturbed for the past 70 years but was uncovered Monday afternoon by contractors working at a construction site on Temple Street in Bethnal Green.
From British Ministry of Defence
The discovery of an unexploded World War II bomb has brought a bustling area of east London to a standstill and forced scores of people from their homes. The 250-kilogram (550-pound) device has lain undisturbed for the past 70 years but was uncovered Monday afternoon by contractors working at a construction site on Temple Street in Bethnal Green.
Now playing
01:31
Unexploded 500-pound WWII bomb found in London
ww2 shipwreck watson pkg_00024014.jpg
ww2 shipwreck watson pkg_00024014.jpg
Now playing
03:17
WWII shipwrecks go missing
drive WWII era tanks Texas lcrook nccorig_00000229.jpg
drive WWII era tanks Texas lcrook nccorig_00000229.jpg
Now playing
01:51
You, too, can drive a WWII-era tank in Texas
japan hiroshima survivor watson pkg_00024501.jpg
japan hiroshima survivor watson pkg_00024501.jpg
Now playing
02:58
Hiroshima atomic bomb survivor shares story of survival

Story highlights

George Takei recalls his family being taken by soldiers from their home in LA and forced to live in an internment camp in 1942

This week marks 75th anniversary of FDR executive order that allowed this discrimination against Japanese-Americans, he says

Takei: As Trump crafts orders to single out Muslims and immigrants, Americans must not stand for this echo from the past

Editor’s Note: George Takei is an actor and activist. His Broadway show “Allegiance” screens across cinemas in the United States on the Day of Remembrance, February 19. Follow him on Twitter @GeorgeTakei. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

CNN —  

I was just a child of 5 when soldiers marched up our driveway in a Los Angeles residential neighborhood, bayonets in hand, and pounded on our front door, ordering us out. We were permitted only what we could carry, no bedding, no pets.

I remember my mother’s tears as she and our father gathered us up, with our precious few belongings in hand. She was determined to bring a sewing machine, fearful that we would need to make or mend clothes where we were headed. She wasn’t sure the authorities would allow her to take that Singer machine, so she kept it a secret, even from us. She managed, however, to pack a few treats for us children for the long journey ahead.

George Takei
Courtesy of George Takei
George Takei

That was in 1942. Earlier that year, on February 19, 75 years ago yesterday, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an executive order, No. 9066, which set the internment into motion. On its face, the order was “neutral,” authorizing the military to designate whole swaths of land as military zones, and evacuate any persons from it as they saw fit.

But behind that facade lay a much darker purpose: to tear 120,000 innocent Japanese-Americans from their homes along the West Coast and relocate them to 10 prison camps scattered throughout the United States.

It didn’t matter, back then, that most of us were US citizens and had never even been to Japan. We were presumed guilty, and held without charge for four years, simply because we happened to look like the people who had bombed Pearl Harbor. For that crime, we lost our homes, our livelihoods and our freedoms.

Every year, on February 19, we Japanese-Americans honor this day as Remembrance Day, and we renew our pledge to make sure what happened to us never happens again in America. I am always amazed, and saddened, that despite our decadeslong efforts, so many young people today are not even aware that such a tragedy and miscarriage of justice took place here.

And I grow increasingly concerned that we are careening toward a future where such a thing would again be possible.

A few months into his campaign, Donald Trump refused to outright reject the policies and fears that underlay the internment. Instead, he suggested that it was a tough call, and that he “would have had to be there” in order to know whether it was the wrong one.

Trump ignored the inconvenient fact that not a single case of espionage or sabotage was ever proven against any internee, and that the military itself admitted that there was never any evidence to support their sweeping policy. A few months later, a top Trump surrogate went on television and suggested that the internment might actually serve as a “precedent” for another Trump policy – the registration of Muslim-Americans in a database.

I cannot help but hear in these words terrible echoes from the past. The internment happened because of three things: fear, prejudice and a failure of political leadership. When the administration targets groups today, whether for exclusion from travel here on the basis of religion and national origin, or for deportation based on their undocumented status, I know from personal experience that these are not done, as they claim, truly in the name of national security.

No, instead they are intended to strike fear into communities, to show the muscle and “toughness” of a new president, and to divide the citizenry against itself. These are the acts of a despot, not an elected leader.

I have dedicated my life to standing against our nation’s impulse toward demagoguery and tyranny by the whipped-up masses. The answer lies not just in education, but in empathy. The false narrative – that there are those who belong here and those who do not – is designed precisely to divorce us from the truth that we are all here and in this together.

We are an interdependent people, sharing a common bond of humanity. The most pernicious aspect of Trump’s policies is thus the denial of those basic bonds and that humanity. I will not stand for it, and no people of good conscience should.

The question before us, then, on Remembrance Day is a simple one: Will America remember? The internment is not a “precedent,” it is a stark and painful lesson. We will only learn from the past if we know, understand and remember it. For if we fail, we most assuredly are doomed to repeat it.