Two weeks ago, I scratched something off my bucket list and visited the Manzanar Internment Camp near Lone Pine, Calif. I’d been there once before, many years ago, but did not spend the time I needed in the visitor’s center to fully understand what had happened and why.

While visiting, I was stunned while watching a video of a ceremony awarding reparations to the Americans imprisoned in ten camps during WWII.

It was August 10, 1988. President Ronald Reagan gave a short speech before signing the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.

That day, Reagan said:

“The Members of Congress and distinguished guests, my fellow Americans, we gather here today to right a grave wrong. More than 40 years ago, shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry living in the United States were forcibly removed from their homes and placed in makeshift internment camps. This action was taken without trial, without jury. It was based solely on race, for these 120,000 were Americans of Japanese descent.

“Yes, the Nation was then at war, struggling for its survival and it’s not for us today to pass judgment upon those who may have made mistakes while engaged in that great struggle. Yet we must recognize that the internment of Japanese-Americans was just that: a mistake. For throughout the war, Japanese-Americans in the tens of thousands remained utterly loyal to the United States. Indeed, scores of Japanese-Americans volunteered for our Armed Forces, many stepping forward in the internment camps themselves. The 442nd Regimental Combat Team, made up entirely of Japanese-Americans, served with immense distinction to defend this nation, their nation. Yet back at home, the soldier’s families were being denied the very freedom for which so many of the soldiers themselves were laying down their lives.”

“The legislation that I am about to sign provides for a restitution payment to each of the 60,000 surviving Japanese-Americans of the 120,000 who were relocated or detained. Yet no payment can make up for those lost years. So, what is most important in this bill has less to do with property than with honor. For here we admit a wrong; here we reaffirm our commitment as a nation to equal justice under the law.”

This post is not about Ronald Reagan or Democrats or Republicans or anything political. It is about doing the honorable thing; about having the strength to admit a mistake, apologize for it, and move on.

It’s about remembering that discrimination is not always an overt act of denial of due process. Discrimination takes many forms and we must always be vigilant against those who abuse their power through favoritism and its cousin, neglect.

Steve Smith