Fear Shows Us Who We Are

Fear can bring out the best or the worst in us. Which you choose can profoundly affect others.

by Steve
3 min read
Fear Shows Us Who We Are

Do it to Julia! Do it to Julia! Not me! Julia! I don’t care what you do to her. Tear her face off, strip her to the bones. Not me! Julia! Not me!

George Orwell

The scene is from George Orwell’s novel “1984.” In the book, Winston Smith, the protagonist, is tortured in the Ministry of Love. O’Brien, one of the enforcers of the Party, uses Winston’s fear of rats to coerce him into betraying his beliefs. Winston ultimately pleads with O’Brien to transfer the punishment to his lover, Julia, to spare himself from the torment involving the rats.

What would you do if you were scared, and how scared would you have to be to do it?

In 1942, Americans were scared of the Japanese. After the horrific attack at Pearl Harbor, there were concerns that the West Coast might be targeted next. A reasonable concern that provoked an inhumane response.

In a tragic conflation of race with affinity, the government and many fearful citizens thought it reasonable to round up every person of Japanese descent who lived within 200 miles of the Pacific coast and ship them to concentration camps. Whether the person was an American citizen or not. Whether they had lived here for decades or not.

We’re scared. Do it to them. Do it to them.

The memorial wall is 276 feet long, the same as the number of people forced to leave their Bainbridge Island homes, abandon their property and possessions, and relocate to camps. All are named on the wall.
The yellow cedar wood that makes up much of the wall comes from a single old-growth tree that had fallen and been buried for centuries. A local man retrieved it and cut it into the flawless panels you see today. He accepted no payment for his work.
The wall follows the path that Bainbridge Island’s Japanese walked before boarding the boat that carried them away. Where are we going? Why are we going? For how long? They knew no more of their destination or fate than prisoners loaded into railway cars by the Nazis.
The final three panels depict homecoming. Some returned to find that trusted friends had guarded their property and possessions. Others found that everything they owned had been stolen or destroyed during their absence.
This is a shortened version of the pier where internees boarded the boat that took them away. Soldiers with bayonets herded their fellow Americans like animals.

Winston Smith, in Orwell’s telling, was broken by brutal torture and faced with the thing he most feared. He is to be pitied.

What is inexcusable is to allow oneself to be scared by lies. Maybe someone on television told you that penniless, starving, victimized migrants are criminals, rapists, cannibals. Maybe these liars have scared you. Maybe now you believe that a mother and her children deserve to drown trying to cross the Rio Grande. Or that we should have mass deportations. Or round them all up and put them in concentration camps.

I’m scared.

Do it to her. Do it to them.

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