Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Angus Macbeth Interview
Narrator: Angus Macbeth
Interviewers: Tetsuden Kashima (primary), Becky Fukuda (secondary)
Location: University of California, Los Angeles
Date: September 11, 1997
Densho ID: denshovh-mangus-01-0016

<Begin Segment 16>

BF: You said earlier that lots of government commissions end up at a dead end, accomplishing nothing. What factors do you think contributed to this commission ending up with final recommendations that eventually passed and became law?

AM: I think there are a lot of different things. One, I think ultimately clearly the most important, is the justice of the cause. It is a situation when people know about it -- and I say that because education here is an important part of what we were trying to do and we recognize it had to be done because there really was a great deal of ignorance as to what had happened. But the justice of the cause is enormously powerful. And there is not a history of wrongdoing among the people who were sent to the camps. And they were taken from their homes and put in the camps, some obviously could leave and go east and so on, but they couldn't go back to the West Coast 'til beginning, really, of 1945. And that's a big thing in this country. So that I'm sure it is very, very important.

Secondly, obviously was the determination in large part of the Japanese American community to see something done about this, because that meant there (was) a group of dedicated people who were going to do their best to keep this on the agenda. And then I think very important in the end was that there was a champion of the issue, particularly in the House committee. It went through, I forget, two, three Chairmen of the House Subcommittee before we got to Barney Frank. And you know, Dan Glickman, he'd have a hearing, and Sam Hall, he'd have a hearing. But you realize pretty quickly that these were hearings that really weren't aimed at going anywhere. They'd give everybody a chance to say what they had to say, but neither Hall nor Glickman was going to take the time and energy to actually do anything about this. And Frank made it clear very early on that for him, this was a matter of priority and he intended to see this through and introduce the bill. And when that's clear, it changes the situation quite a lot. Because at that point, when it gets clear, through the House, other congressmen start to pay attention to it. Because now it's no longer simply something that, you know, "I'm from someplace in Kentucky or Missouri, I never heard about this, my constituents have never heard about it. And it's nice of you to drop by, but really I've got to see somebody from the home district now." It begins to switch because you're going to have to vote and you at least want to do it with a minimum degree of intelligence. And once people knew that a vote would come, they started, I think, to pay more attention.

And then you come back to what I said to begin with, the justice of the cause becomes very powerful. But if there hadn't been someone like Frank who at some point said, "I'm going to put it on the agenda, we're going to have a vote," it could have gone on a long time without anything happening. Congress works very much through the committee system and especially something like this, which doesn't have a wide impact geographically, it's very important that there be an appropriate subcommittee or committee chairman who says, "I may lose, but I'm going to have it out there and we're gonna, we're gonna see what you all think about this."


BF: -- whether it was vote trading or some sort of strategy that kept down opposition or something? Because I guess I'm just really cynical. [Laughs]

AM: Well the hard part was -- and this is really what Frank did, was sort of the opposite, was getting up interest. (...) I'm not thinking of anyone in particular in Kentucky or Missouri, but the real problem is that in so much of the country, basically (the question is), "What's it to me?"

BF: Right.

AM: You know, "It's nice of you to come by and I don't object to your trying to tell me about this, but you know..." And, if anything, they had heard from some group of people who went on about Pearl Harbor. Now that tended to die down. Another thing, those congressmen, it didn't take them too long to say, "Look, this really (...) isn't the same as Pearl Harbor." They kinda got past that, but it's very hard to get congressman to care about something that a) isn't really a national problem in the sense that, we're going to be attacked by Russia in the morning, or the economy is coming apart, and doesn't affect their district. (...) The California delegation, Oregon, Washington, you know, places where Japanese Americans are, and Alaska because of the Aleuts, they were all interested, but down state Illinois? "What's it got to do with farm policies?" is sort of what you get.

BF: Well, the political realities, yeah, were completely stacked against it.

AM: And I think oddly, I think one thing in the Senate was that, and I wish I could remember this in better detail, but Jesse Helms got up and made some speech against it, which, was so frequently with him, totally intemperate. I think he probably speeded up the deliberation and probably delivered a serious number of votes to the pro-bill side. This was just so Neanderthal what Helms was saying, that people sprung into action to demonstrate they weren't any part of that stuff. [Laughs]

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.