How I came to Donald Trump. Today, I was in the mood to write about photography and started checking out the web for someone’s work which might inspire me. Within moments, I found an article and recording from NPR which compared the work of three photographers, Dorothea Lange, Ansel Adams and Toyo Miyatake, who had taken pictures at a Japanese Internment camp, Manzanar, in the 1940’s in the States.
The article pointed out that each photographer’s view was different most notably that of Toyo Miyatake because he was actually imprisoned in the camp. One’s perspective would obviously be different!
This poster [to the left] about the Japanese looks very much “of its own time,” evoking a period in which near paranoia prevailed. Even the colours, which are used, inflame the attitude we are expected to hold. From the vantage point of some seventy five years, it looks dated and even foolish or laughable.
But let’s look at the work of the three photographer’s I mentiouned. Most of Dorothea Lange’s photographs were seized by the government censors. They did not depict the image they had hoped for–decent conditions and humanitarian treatment. This Lange photograph shows the horse stables Japanese Americans lived in until they were sent to a camp. Immediately, I think of the Syrian refugee camps of today. Ansel Adams managed to make the internment camp at Manzanar quite decent if not attractive. The photograph by Toyo Miyatake is below of his family gathered in their living quarters in the camp.
Immediately, I was off on another tangent reflecting upon the notion of imprisoning people [American citizens] who had done no wrong whatsoever but were nonetheless deemed dangerous simply because of their race, religion or culture.
The poster at the beginning of this article reminds us of times when fear of the “other” runs rampant.
The internment camps were established after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour on December 7th 1941 during the Second World War. The next three photographs are by neither of the photographers I’ve mentioned. But they capture the times eloquently. This photo [on the left] shows Japanese Americans being marched off while crowds up on the bridge watched.
But my purpose in writing this post is not to admire or comment upon ART or photography. I’m thinking of the photos more as valuable documentary. They raise important broader questions in my mind.
Here’s the question. Does any of this look familiar and say anything about our behaviour as human beings?
First, the pictures immediately reminded me of the images we see daily on television of migrants from Syria and elsewhere trekking across Europe hunting for a safe haven from a war no one seems able or willing to stop.
That thought led me to Donald Trump, who intends to round up and deport Muslims and bar those, hoping to flee to safety, from entering the country. In the 1940’s North American governments played upon our fears of the Japanese [and the Germans] with flaming posters and heated rhetoric to instill fear and hatred in the people until the only conclusion was obvious. Listen to Trump long enough and it will seem only rational to round them up and incarcerate them. It wasn’t just the United States which did this. So did Canada.
The United States came to its senses when President Ronald Reagan gave an official apology to those Japanese American citizens and paid some reparations. In 1988, Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney delivered an official apology and announced a compensation package. And so– the visceral trigger is pulled in the face of supposed danger. People who have done nothing are incarcerated. Human rights are denied and many years later an apology follows. But surely all that is in the past. We in the west are proud of our humanitarian record.
But it’s happening again. In face of perceived danger, Donald Trump is capitalizing on the fear and anger of the people for political gain. This time it’s the Muslims.
My purpose is to point out that, while we may think we can learn from history, maybe we can’t or we don’t. If so, why would this pattern keep repeating itself? Why don’t we recognize this ugly fear every time it raises its head?
Perhaps Jung would answer that this is instinctual and driven by our unconconsious selves. Such response would be very powerful–as if we were being chased by a bear. But what bear is chasing us?
What would Joseph Campbell, the writer and teacher of mythology have to say? Perhaps he would argue that it is a bed-rock part of human nature to fear the “other” “the outsider”
From my point of view, I wonder if the fear of the foreigner, embedded in us, is a protective instinctual emotion more useful when we were roaming the dangerous forests and plains. With the world getting smaller and more crowded with communications technology, perhaps we can learn to control such unbridled fear. I am in no way attempting to explain or condone such responses. They have to be checked because they are irrational.
What do you think? I’d love to hear what you have to say.
Mary E. Martin is the author of two trilogies: The Osgoode Trilogy, inspired by her many years of law practice; and The Trilogy of Remembrance, set in the glitter and shadows of the art world. Both Trilogies will elevate the reader from the rush and hectic world of today and spin them into realms of yet unimagined intrigue. Be inspired by the newly released and final installment of The Trilogy of Remembrance, Night Crossing.
You might also be interested in having a look at the novels in The Osgoode Trilogy and The Trilogy of Remembrance on the carousel below.