Picture soldiers with bayonets rounding up families — adults and children — from their homes. With no due process, the families are taken by rail to prison camps surrounded by barbed wire fences.
Now picture it taking place in the United States.
Actor and activist George Takei remembers very clearly when his family was taken from their home in Los Angeles to camps in Arkansas and California during the internment of Japanese Americans in the 1940s.
"Japanese Americans looked like the people that bombed Pearl Harbor," Takei told A Plus. "And without charges, we were put in these prison camps."
The Star Trek star is worried that some of the rhetoric from today's leading Republican presidential candidates towards immigrants sounds very similar to what his family experienced in the 1940s.
"This is something that all Americans need to learn from," he said. "We are repeating it again in this presidential campaign when the Republicans use the internment of Japanese Americans to justify sweeping, reckless statements being made by people like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz banning people of the Muslim faith from entering the United States simply because a small minority fraction of Muslims are terrorists. It's the same thing."
The internment occurred when Takei, a second-generation Japanese American, was only 5 years old. While he experienced internment from a child's perspective, he does remember the "loyalty questionnaire" that adults had to fill out. He also recalls two specific questions that stood out.
One question asked everyone over the age of 17, including the elderly, if they would "bear arms to defend the United States." The second question, he said, asked if adults would swear their "loyalty to the United States of America and forswear your loyalty to the Emperor of Japan."
"For the Government to assume that there is a genetic, racial loyalty to the emperor that we are born with is insulting and outrageous," he said.
Takei said that some of those who answered "yes" to the questions were told to fight in the military, and that those Japanese-American soldiers "served with incredible courage and amazing valor" and they "sustained the highest combat casualty rate."
He viewed those who answered "no," including his parents, as heroes, and helped dramatize their heroism in the recent Broadway musical Allegiance. Inspired by his personal stories, the musical featured Takei in a starring role.
After presidential candidate Donald Trump seemed uncertain whether he would have supported or opposed the internment camps in the 1940s, Takei invited him to see Allegiance and saved a seat for him every night. Trump had 79 opportunities to see the musical. He did not attend a single performance.
Had Trump attended, Takei said that he would have been educated about this chapter in American history.
"What we have now are people who don't know American history and are running for president," he said. "It's really shocking that we have this phenomenon here in the year 2016."
Takei is also worried that there seem to be people who support Trump's proposals.
"It is chilling that there are that many people that are supporting that kind of ignorance in people who are running for the President of the United States," he said.
But, with the annual commemoration of Japanese American internment approaching on February 19, Takei remains hopeful that Americans will learn from the mistakes of the past so that we can make a better future for everyone.
"Those ideals of our democracy were articulated by the founding fathers that kept other human beings as slaves," he said. "The struggle for the democratic ideals has been around for as long as the United States has been in existence. It is ongoing. And it takes citizens who cherish the ideals of this country to keep pushing and pushing and pushing. That's how progress is made. It is hope that is essential to having a vibrant, dynamic democracy."
Cover image via Neilson Barnard/Getty Images.