California lawmakers ask Coble to resign over internment remarks

DON THOMPSON, Associated Press Writer, Monday, May 19, 2003

Without opposition, the California Assembly called Monday for Rep. Howard Coble, R-N.C., to resign as chairman of a House Judiciary subcommittee on terrorism because of his comments about the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

A bipartisan group of Asian legislators questioned why Coble has kept his post since February, while it took just days for Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., to resign as the Senate's Republican leader last December after appearing to praise Strom Thurmond's 1948 segregationist presidential campaign.

"Our voices have gone unheard. Even worse, they've gone ignored," said John Tateishi, executive director of the Japanese American Citizens League, who with others suggested it's because Coble's comments were about Asians instead of blacks or Jews.

Assemblyman Ray Haynes, R-Murrieta, suggested Monday's vote amounted to "partisan sniping" over remarks he called "stupid" but unworthy of an Assembly resolution. However, Haynes joined the 70-0 approval of the resolution.

Japanese American leaders hope the vote by representatives of the state with the largest concentration of Asians and Japanese will add pressure on Coble.

Coble's chief of staff, Missy Branson, said the congressman would have no comment beyond his written statement of Feb. 10 in which he said, "I regret that many Japanese and Arab Americans found my choice of words offensive because that was certainly not my intent."

During a Feb. 4 radio show, Coble disagreed with a caller who said Arab-Americans should be confined, but appeared to defend the internment of Japanese-Americans during the World War II.

"We were at war. They were an endangered species," Coble said. "For many of these Japanese-Americans, it wasn't safe for them to be on the street."

Coble said most Japanese-Americans during World War II, like most Arab-Americans today, were not America's enemies, but President Franklin D. Roosevelt had to consider the nation's security.

"Some probably were intent on doing harm to us," he said, "just as some of these Arab-Americans are probably intent on doing harm to us."

The California legislators were particularly upset at what they called Coble's rewriting of history, by suggesting the internments were for Japanese Americans' own protection.

"I still remember guards' rifles pointing inward to the camp ... not to protect us, but to keep us in," recalled Assemblyman George Nakano, D-Torrance, a third-generation American who was interned at age 6 and released when he was 10. "It is very dangerous for someone who chairs the Judiciary subcommittee on homeland security to distort historical facts."

Assemblyman Alan Nakanishi, R-Lodi, also was interned as a child.

"We were allowed to take only what we could carry," Nakanishi said. "But the most valuable thing we lost was our freedom. We must never allow this to happen again to Americans of any race."