Allegiance. Noun. Devotion or loyalty to a person, group, or cause.
What a complicated word. Thanks to the allegations of sexual misconduct committed by George Takei, the word has taken on an added level of complexity. And as the musical Allegiance looks ahead to a one-day theatrical release on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, it’s hard to know whether to go.
Allegiance, of course, is the name of Takei’s musical about the Japanese internment camps. I haven’t seen it, but conceptually, I applaud the moral questions that it raises. We who believe in America, stand up for what it stands for, must also know that on our shoulders we then choose to bear the burden of what has been done in the name of the flag.
America is not perfect, and it is not as simple a matter as kneeling for the national anthem versus standing, calling out individuals who broke the rules versus honoring those that were law-abiding. We cannot simply delineate right from wrong, nor can we assume that we have in our corner sufficient stock in rightness to condemn others to stand firmly in the realm of wrong.
This is by no means an excuse to forgive wrongdoing. This does not excise demons or let egregious acts be canceled out by decisions that benefited many. There is no simple equation to calculate moral turpitude.
George Takei has spearheaded a musical that helps bring to light a dark truth in America’s history, the gathering and imprisoning of Japanese and Japanese Americans during the Second World War. It is based on the time he himself had spent in one of these camps, something that must have shaped his view of the world, of justice, of America. But having been a victim does not earn one credit toward victimizing another. Being wronged does not excuse wronging another. So the accusations against him do weigh into my decision about whether to see the musical.
How does this differ from Johnny Depp starring in The Crimes of Grindelwald? Does the historically significant lesson in Allegiance cancel out the allegations against Takei? If I watch a movie and later learn that someone involved in it did something deplorable, am I condoning his misdeeds? I already don’t read popular magazines; am I guilty of willful ignorance in order to preserve my guilt-free access to entertainment? Where do we draw the line? When am I going too far? When does this moral soapbox I stand on turn into a cage?
I don’t know the answer to this. I don’t claim to be flawless. But that doesn’t obviate my responsibility for trying to make decent choices. Surfing this cultural tide, this new era of accountability, will be choppy. Even those who ride the surf smoothly back to shore are bound to get wet along the way. But either way, blind allegiance isn’t particularly seaworthy.
Of course, there are other ways to educate the kids about the internment camps:
- If you live nearby or are taking a trip nearby, take them to one of the Relocation Centers.
- For younger kids, consider reading children’s books about the Internment Camps.
- Slightly older kids (and adults) should read Julie Otsuka’s When the Emperor Was Divine.
These seem to be reasonable alternatives to the movie–if you’re struggling with the decision of whether to go.