May 25, 2020

Honorary decree

On Feb. 19, 1942, Japanese-Americans living on the Pacific coast were cruelly forced from their homes and thrown into internment camps across the country, violating their basic human rights out of paranoid fear of a foreign enemy.

Last Wednesday, the California State University system tried to make amends.

During World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an executive order that forcibly put hundreds of thousands of Japanese-Americans in internment camps. Some, in fact hundreds, were students in the CSU system and were not able to finish their education.

Thus, as reported in Monday’s edition of The Collegian, the CSU system voted to bestow an honorary degree upon those unable to complete a conventional one.

This type of action could elicit several reactions.

On one side, one might think that Japanese-Americans suffered through unimaginable atrocity during the war and those who our federal government did not allow to finish college should get the chance to. It’s only fair. We must rectify our wrongs.

Another thought might be, why? Why after all these years are we conferring honorary degrees upon these people? Of course what they went through was awful and no one in their right mind could condone such an act, but is this really necessary?

The second argument raises a compelling point. Should America be in the business of apologizing for past wrongs, committed not by the current generation but by our forefathers? What point, exactly, does this get across?

For the sake of argument, let’s try to pin down some sins America has committed. The Trail of Tears — definitely. Slavery — of course. Racism, sexism, and all the other -‘isms — certainly.

But after that? Let’s give this some thought. Some may think the invasion of Iraq a sin, but another would argue vehemently against the point. Some contend that it’s a sin to stop people from crossing our border, but others maintain that it’s necessary to keep our customs. Some reason that homosexuals should have the right to marry like any other couple in love. Others make a religious case against it.

Granted, with the issue at hand these may be apples-to-oranges comparisons. But the point remains — must we apologize for every transgression performed by those who came before us? We’d be arguing the point from now until the day we graduated ourselves, and then continue the debate at grad parties.

No doubt this was a political move by the CSU Board of Trustees. In case you haven’t noticed, California state schools haven’t been getting the best publicity lately (all publicity is not good publicity). I’m sure they figured that this would be an excellent way to build good will.

This is not meant to be a screed against those receiving honorary degrees. These families will certainly be pleased to have finally received reparations for the horrors they went through, and those being rewarded in all likelihood would have gotten a degree the old-fashioned way, if not for a tyrannical, despotic government.

But doing it more than 60 years after the fact smacks of nothing more than an effort for CSU Board of Trustees members to earn political capital.

This argument could be meaningless, however. If the current honorary degree system can justify giving one to a fake news journalist like Stephen Colbert, the internees more than likely deserve them as well.

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