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‘They Called Us Enemy’ (review)

Written by George Takei,
Justin Eisinger & Steven Scott

Art by Harmony Becker
Published by Top Shelf/IDW Publishing

 

It has been said that we learn from our mistakes.

It has also been said that those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.

When our social media news feeds are dominated by stories about the detention centers along the border that separates Mexico and the United States, both of those age-old quotes suddenly take on a new meaning.

The first becomes a lie – we have most certainly NOT learned from our mistakes – and the second becomes a political declaration against our current administration.

Regardless of which side of the ‘fence’ you are on, what is happening at the border brings back memories of one of the darkest events in American history: the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

Here’s a brief run-down on the situation: two months after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the U.S. government forced Japanese-American citizens to leave their homes/businesses behind and horded them into internment camps. Referring to them as ‘enemy aliens,’ these American citizens were forced to live in hastily built barracks and/or former horse stalls.

A total of 110,000 to 120,000 Japanese Americans lived under atrocious conditions for four years.

On American soil.

Yes, take that in for a few moments…

Sadly, this period in history was practically swept under the rug in school text books over the next few decades. Thankfully, this period in history is now widely-known and studied, both in schools around the world and the internet. The truth is finally out there for all to read

However, there is a new graphic novel that tells the story from the inside looking out. Written by activist and entertainment icon George Takei with Justing Eisinger and Steven Scott, They Called Us Enemy is a riveting tale that combines the wisdom of an elderly survivor with the innocence of the child that still lives within him.

For young George and his brother, the move to the first internment camp was an adventure. To his parents, it was humiliating and painful. However, George’s parents never let their kids witness their anguish, often making the best of every situation in order to give the two boys and their little sister a happy, comforting home…

While the story is told mainly through the young George’s eyes, the real hero of They Called Us Enemy is his father, Takekuma Norman Takei. A successful businessman and devoted family man, he lost nearly everything in February, 1942 when the government forced his family into the first of two internment camps. However, they could not take away his inner strength and silent courage.

The trials and tribulations that the family suffered through during those four years can be shocking but hidden in this wonderful story are many inspiring lessons that we can all learn from.

The story occasionally flashes forward in time to landmark moments in George’s life that relate to the main story but mostly spans the years 1942 to ’46. The B&W art in this graphic novel cleverly combines Japanese-American styles such as Manga, Ben Day Dots, modern hand-drawn art, and so much more. The decision to keep the art B&W adds to the story-telling and makes perfect sense – our mind’s ‘vision’ of the WWII-era is predominately B&W thanks to newsreels and movies from the era.

While the text may appear like a simple story, the honesty and emotion adds a lot of depth. They Called Us Enemy is geared to readers of all ages. This graphic novel is both a book that a grown up can cherish and proudly display in their collection. More importantly, it can actually serve a greater purpose in public schools and libraries.

They Called Us Enemy is a revealing look at American history and should be seen as such. It is also about courage and family and without those two important elements, our history would be very different.

This is a must-read. We must learn history AND learn from our mistakes. It seems as if nothing else has worked in 75+ years so maybe this will.

 

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