God of Comics – They Called Us Enemy
We often try to do something a little different here. It’s never been flatly stated, but when we talk comics we talk about why they matter, the environment they come from, who created them and our theories as to the context of their necessity. Few people get into comics for the glamor (of which there is little) or the money (of which there is less); people get into comics because they have passion for stories, for art, hell, even for lettering. It’s a powerful medium for conveying very complex information in a way that’s easy to digest, and it can tackle difficult subjects in a way that other mediums can’t.
The Plot, Persepolis, Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Hacktivist, US… these are comics that act as documentaries, as fiction, as auto-biographies. Even simpler comics can have large and wide-ranging outcomes, like the time Superman the comic book character defeated the real-life Klu Klux Clan, the real-life guilting of America into World War II while two Jews turned the Nazi ideal against itself using a comic book character, and the reaction to the power of comics that resulted in the Comics Code Authority. We’ll get to all of that because it’s a part of the larger tale that is this story, the tale of a time when They Called Us Enemy.
Everyone knows Star Trek. It’s become a part of our cultural zeitgeist, with a half-dozen television series and more than twice as many movies, but when it started it was a huge risk. The idea was to portray a future utopian society of highly competent people from a variety of nationalities, all of them working together to create the best of all worlds. The crew of the starship Enterprise was an exploratory-research mission and the crew themselves were scientists with no dedicated soldiers among them.
George Takei played Officer Sulu, a Japanese scientist who served as an officer on the bridge of the ship. In an era where racist caricatures were still the order of the day, Sulu was calm, professional, skilled, and intelligent. The rest the crew relied on his intelligence, respected him, and listened to what he had to say. This was a direct argument to the reality of America both at that time and especially twenty years prior.
When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1942, Conservative politicians and pundits pressured then-President Roosevelt into acting out of fear. The result is that an entire subsection of the American populace was stripped of their rights and property, forcibly relocated and given barely enough to survive on. It’s become on the more shameful parts of American history, and one that modern America is happy to gloss over so that they can repeat the same mistake again.
Except George Takei is entirely unwilling to let that happen without doing something.
He has a history of activism and progressive thought, living by ideals that Star Trek may embody but which were instilled in him long before Gene Roddenberry approached him with his idea for a sci-fi series. They Called Us Enemy is an autobiographical account of that before, the story of his childhood and how racism, paranoia, and lies allowed Conservatives to live out their wet-dream of bullying anyone else for any reason they can.
It’s a direct criticism not only of a past that America likes to pretend never happened, but of what is happening again right now because America refuses to look at the mistakes they’ve made and accept responsibility for them. They imprisoned the Japanese sixty years ago and now those that did it are ashamed of it, but they’re doing the same thing to Muslims and those of Latin descent for much the same reasons – racism, paranoia, and lies.
George talks candidly and openly about the lasting trauma of his childhood internment, the arguments that happened with his father as he grew into adulthood and the realization that there was nothing he or his family could have done and nothing that they did to deserve what was done to them. It’s a realization that the Muslims and Mexicans of the modern world are having to contend with as once again America continues to follow the British tradition of making problems for themselves.
The Pearl Harbor attack happened in World War II, and the Japanese that did it were allied with the Germans who were, in turn, inspired by the racist American South. America’s racism informed much of what the Nazis are but it doesn’t stop there – America’s racism also caused the September 11 attacks and the Iraqi War, both of which led to the creation of ISIS. America’s racism and conservative movements inspired prohibitions against alcohol and drugs, allowing the Mafia to rise to power in America’s borders and the Mexican Cartels to come to power south of the border. Hell, American guns give much of those same cartels their firepower, the same way that American racism, paranoia, and lies keep getting their own civilians killed because America refuses to learn from its past and continues to let the American South and conservative movements get away with the very worst behaviors in the name of taking the high moral ground.
Why does this keep happening?
I’ve been giving this a lot of thought. Historically, movement in human society happens because progressive people identify a problem and decide to do something about it. They do the thing (whatever that might be) and celebrate the thing, and the thing is based around that Utopian idea of improving all lives for everyone. Let us take, for example, the idea of “we need to be tolerant of other people, and being intolerant is bad.”
Progressives listen and let other people come to the table and give their opinions, and this is where we get centrists from. Centrists assume that the system progressives built is the natural order of things and don’t think about what went into creating that system, so they turn the idea we’re using as an example into “we need to be tolerant of other people.” It’s a difference that doesn’t sound too important, at least at first.
But then, inevitably, the people that still subscribe to whatever philosophy made the idea of “we need to be tolerant of other people, and being intolerant is bad” important come to the table. We’ll call them conservatives, though the only thing they ever really want to conserve is their racism, paranoia, and lies. They come to the table and say something horrible, like, say, “all American Japanese are more Japanese than American and will betray us the first chance they get.”
And the progressives of the world say “No, that’s wrong, we need to be tolerant of other people, and being intolerant is bad – so being intolerant of Japanese-Americans is bad.” Then the conservatives say “you need to be tolerant of our intolerance or you’re just as bad as we are~!” and centrists chime in with “but we need to be tolerant of other people~!” and that’s how we wind up with people in Concentration Camps as centrists say “who could have foreseen this outcome?”
We need to break this cycle. We need to stop this train.
This comic is an attempt to do this: a progressive reminding centrists and conservatives alike that what happened before was not okay and that it is happening again and it does not have to.
We can and should be better than this.
George is joined by a handful of supremely talented people in the creation of They Called Us Enemy. The first is Justin Eisinger, converting popular stories from other mediums to comics before turning his talent to translating non-fiction to the graphic page. Steven Scott works mostly as a publicist, but his writing can be found in everything from Archie Comics to Heavy Metal Magazine; he’s one of those people that produces quality work at any level that he chooses to engage with. Lastly, the artist for this project is Harmony Becker, whose clean lines and seemingly simple illustrations speak volumes in terms of facial expression and body language. Their combined efforts have produced a work of horrific beauty, something that is important, hard to put down, and quick to read.