During World War II, 15 students of Japanese ancestry were attending Seattle University, then known as Seattle College. They were young men and women, full of hopes and dreams, and they treasured their educations as pathways to achieving those hopes and dreams. However, during the spring of 1942, they were ordered to leave their West Coast homes and this university community because the country was at war with Japan. Some were able to leave for the interior of the country before internment orders were issued, but most were among the 110,000 persons of Japanese ancestry sent to desolate camps surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards. 2/3rds of those who were incarcerated were second-generation Japanese Americans, or Nisei―American citizens by birth.
We now know the removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans to be one of the worst deprivations of civil liberties in this country’s history. In the words of the Congressional commission that investigated the WWII incarceration, the wartime orders issued against Japanese Americans “[were] not justified by military necessity.” Instead, these decisions were based on “race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership.”
Seattle University recognizes their courage and perseverance in surviving the injustice of their forced removal. Many were able to leave the confines of the camps to finish their degrees elsewhere. Two went into the armed services. Many went on to accomplished careers and made enduring contributions to their communities and industry. They became treasured and beloved spouses, parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. In moving forward to build rich, productive lives, they show us the strength of the human spirit to survive and thrive, even in the wake of great adversity.
In awarding these honorary degrees, we also affirm Seattle University’s commitment to justice. We remember the lives and experiences of these Nisei students and, in so doing, learn the danger of prejudice and fear and the importance of moral leadership during times of national stress. They teach us, in real, human terms, the need for the kinds of leaders we strive to educate at Seattle University—leaders for a more just and humane world.
When Tun Channareth stepped on a landmine as a resistance soldier near the Thai-Cambodian border in 1982, the explosion took his legs yet ultimately connected him to humanitarian work that transformed his life and helped others.
Channareth went on to become an internationally renowned advocate for a ban on landmines and co-recipient of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize. In March of this year, the ambassador for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines was selected to receive the 2011 honorary graduate degree from Seattle University. He comes to campus from Cambodia for the graduate commencement ceremony.
"I am excited about this honorary degree," Channareth said. "The real winners are people around the world who are threatened daily by landmines and cluster bombs. The congratulations should go to Seattle University students, faculty and staff, because they see these global issues and take leadership action."
Seattle University President Stephen Sundborg, S.J., described Channareth as an inspiring example to students of SU's mission as a university to empower leaders for a just and humane world.
"Mr. Channareth has reached out with compassion in service to other landmine victims while working tirelessly to rid the world of these insidious weapons," President Sundborg said.
In 2006, the United Nations declared April 4 International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action. That year alone, between 15,000 and 20,000 people were killed or maimed by landmines, according to a United Nations report. An estimated 20 percent of landmine victims are children.
After both his legs were amputated, Channareth spent 13 years at a Thai refugee camp, where he received vocational training. He then returned to his Cambodian homeland and began to make affordable wheelchairs for landmine survivors.
Channareth and other disabled veterans collected more than one million signatures from Cambodian supporters to push for a ban on landmines. The Cambodia Campaign to Ban Landmines, a leading member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, followed.
In her 1997 Nobel Peace Prize lecture, Rae McGrath of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, said Channareth exemplified the experience, commitment and activism that are the roots of this campaign.
Channareth was nominated for the honorary degree by SU professors whose students worked with him during a recent service-learning tour in Siem Reap, Cambodia. To assist Channareth's efforts, the students helped raise $2,000 for landmine, rural education and health projects.
Some students who took the Cambodia trip have launched an advocacy project on campus and in the community to collect signatures on a petition to ban cluster bombs, Channareth's latest campaign.
Watch a video interview with Tun Channareth.
Learn more about the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.