Allegiance is a strong word. It invokes a serious tone and serious loyalty often at times when as a country we are at our weakest. It is not altogether different than having faith. You are basing your opinion on what you perceive to be the truth. Unfortunately sometimes our faith betrays us when our country decides war is an excuse for incomparable treatment of its citizens. Sadly there are way too many examples of this. For tonight though we are focused on a specific incident during World War II (WWII), the Japanese-Americans forced into internment camps after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
This intense period of history is the subject of a new play on Broadway, Allegiance. It is a musical inspired by the life of George Takei (of Star Trek fame), one of the show’s leading men. As a fan of “Real Time with Bill Maher” I have seen George on the program a few times. Bill is always quick to point on a movie or book we should know about. It is how I found out about “To Be Takei”.
During that documentary I first learned about this play, which tells the story of a Japanese-American family living during WWII. It was a fascinating movie and that’s where I learned Takei’s family had lived in and through the internment camps. He was five when they were forced at gunpoint to leave their home and belongings. Infamously called “All They Could Carry”, there is book and movie with the same title.
But before we delve further into the details of the play, I have a confession to make.
I have never seen Star Trek. I may as well also tell you that I have never seen Star Wars either. Not so much as a credit or scene on YouTube (a site I despise because I think it is the ruination of the world). I will not be viewing either of these shows in the future, as I have no interest what so ever. For those thrilled about the latest movie who have seen it three times already and are planning to go again this weekend (you know who you are) I say God bless. I will be writing and sleeping this weekend.
I know that so called Trekkie fans will probably flock to Broadway just to get a glimpse of this legendary actor. It is much the same way those who loved Harry Potter movies flocked to see “Equus” and “How to Succeed in Business Without Trying” (http://thequeenoff-ckingeverything.blogspot.com/2011/04/for-how-to-succeed-in-business-without.html) staring Daniel Radcliffe. I knew this would be the case at the stage door as well so I avoided it. I walked away with more than I bargained for anyways.
Allegiance has a cast more talented than most I have seen. As previously mentioned George Takei played Sam Kimura, Telly Leung portrayed Sammy Kimura, and Lea Salonga was Kei Kimura.
Charles Isherwood of the New York Times said:
“If anything, the authors, feeling the responsibility of illuminating this shameful chapter in American history, pack the show with so much incident and information that “Allegiance” often feels more like a history lesson than a musical. A singing history lesson, yes, but a history lesson nonetheless.”
Talk about reducing something to within an inch of its life. I wouldn’t even categorize the synopsis that way.
For starters that music was unbelievable. I had been worried about that because I couldn’t picture what kind of songs would be appropriate for the situation and the intensity. They blew me away. I want the soundtrack for sure.
If the first fifteen minutes of this play doesn’t take your breath away then you don’t deserve to be sitting in this auditorium. I had tears slowly streaming down my face for the first quarter and the last. It wasn’t so much sadness as it was the rawness of the situation. It didn’t feel like a play. I felt like I was watching the real thing with all of the real frightening, shocking, and appalling things that no one knew would happen there. Making it worse was that they were all American citizens so they didn’t expect to be treated that way. Of course they are right. It never should have happened. But it did.
Worse yet was that history was not quick to right its wrong. It took over forty years. Then in 1988, President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act which would give the nearly one hundred thousand people who had survived the internment camps $20,000 and an apology as retribution.
I wonder if the President, then or now, would consider that an appropriate response to the years of lives lost and traumatized. I suppose it was a gesture as there probably hardly a thing that can remove that pain. I wonder what the victims of the Holocaust would feel about this. While the situations were different I cannot seem to think of one without the other. The U.S. might not have had any death chambers but it certainly wasn’t intent on securing the health of their prisoners, and they were prisoners’ no longer citizens while they remained in the camps.
Now that I am all engrossed in this topic I can’t stop researching it. I feel like I am seeing something relevant everyday all day. But isn’t that the way it works when you suddenly pay extra close attention to a topic?
An incredible talented ensemble cast accompanied the three leading actors. Certainly one of the best I have ever seen. They were all magnificent and worked together so well. I really believed they were who they were portraying and that they had formed these bonds. They appear unshakable both during the sad times and the lighter, funnier moments.
It occurred to me this week that I have been in this theater before. That was the time I was with Kelsey Grammar and Douglas Hodge. Oh and like two hundred plus adoring fans. So I began frantically searching my blog for this post. I looked for over a half an hour. I could remember vividly see La Cage Aux Follies twice and had a great time. I remembered the outline of the theater and everything yet my blog appeared nowhere. I couldn’t imagine why I couldn’t find it. Then I searched online to find the date of this production. It was in 2010. I did not begin writing my blog until 2011. That explained why I could not find it, it did not exist anywhere besides in my mind. Wow a time where I did things and then didn’t write about them? It seems so bizarre. I guess now I know why I continue to write.
In yet another coincidence I learned even more about the Japanese- American internment camps recently by watching TV. CSPAN had a new program called “Landmark Cases”. It was on for twelve weeks (I still have the last one Roe v. Wade on my DVR) and each week they featured one of the most influential Supreme Court decisions. It was fascinating. There were guests, experts in the field, and even someone involved in the case. Whenever possible there were photos, audio files, and even video of the historic decisions. That is where I learned about Korematsu v. United States, the case in which the Court upheld the relocation orders. Fred Korematsu’s daughter Karen was featured in a video and on the program talking about her family’s experience. That first case was decided on December 18, 1944.
During the television show they also mentioned a book to read for those interested in the topic. It is called “Justice at War” (http://www.amazon.com/Justice-War-Story-Japanese-American-Internment/dp/0520083121). I have added it to my list and will be reading it soon.
For those in or going to California you can take this one step further and visit the Japanese-American National Museum. Whenever I am ever in the area I would love to check it out.
A new bill introduced in the Senate this month would establish Tule Lake as a National Historic Site, making it the third internment camp that held Japanese Americans during World War II an official historic site. It was the largest of all of the internment camps. Currently the camp is under repair and preservation and it should be open July 2016.
It is ironic that we will be talking about FDR this week, as this was his greatest mistake. It pains my heart to think about it. He did SO much good but sadly his greatest mistake is just as large. I can overlook the packing of the Supreme Court and serving four terms as President (the only President to do so) but this left an imprint on our society I fear we are only now realizing as a whole.
In our current times of terrorist acts and increasing number of shootings I pray we don’t regress to prior actions. Fear is a powerful motivator yet it leads us blindly into an unanticipated future. But it is up to us as a nation to learn from our mistakes before they get to the level of discrimination against our own people.
For More Information on Allegiance:
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For More Information on Internment Camps: