George Takei was 5 years old when armed U.S. soldiers came to his house and escorted him and his family to an internment camp for Japanese Americans in the swamps of Arkansas, he told Jon Stewart on Wednesday night's Daily Show. The actor/gay-rights activist/social media star is promoting a new documentary about his life, To Be Takei — and Stewart, instead of asking him about Star Trek or his push for same-sex marriage, brought up Takei's World War II experience.
That experience, as Takei tells it, has shades of the Roberto Benigni film Life Is Beautiful — "My parents told us that we were going on a long vacation, to a place called Arkansas," he told Stewart. "And that sounded exotic." There were armed guards on the train, but "I thought everyone took vacations with guards like that."
Takei's retelling of his first-hand experience with this dark period in U.S. history is full of interesting details (watch the video below). But he also talked about how, years later, when he was a teenager, he asked his father about the internment camp. What he remembers about those conversations, Takei said, is this bit of wisdom from his father:
Our democracy is a people's democracy. And it can be as great as the people can be, but it's also as fallible as people are. [Takei, Daily Show]
Takei's father, and on Wednesday night Takei himself, illustrated this point with the story of an ambitious California politician who became a three-term governor on the then-wildly-popular platform of locking up Japanese Americans, then went on change the country for the better as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. "A great man, but a fallible human being," Takei said. That describes a lot of people in the U.S., not just Earl Warren. When our better angels are in ascendency, that's a real strength of American democracy. --Peter Weber