The line was out the door and down the street to see George Takei in the Broadway musical “Allegiance.” George Takei is a Humanist Pride Award winner, and the show “Allegiance” provides moving support for many Humanist principles. “Allegiance” dramatizes the stories of Japanese American families put into internment camps in the United States during World War II and highlights their experiences with beautiful songs.
Many conflicts in the show involve questions of how Japanese Americans could respond to their oppression, to the demands for allegiance to the U.S. government, and to their incarceration in a camp at Heart Mountain. Some characters see nothing that can be done but to “keep head down until the storm passes through.” Wondering “who will speak for us,” they trust the fairness of the American way, put up, shut up, and resolve to practice “gaman”which is Japanese for enduring the unbearable with dignity. Others fight over whether to enlist or resist. Those enlisting in the military want to prove themselves as loyal Americans and to win their freedom. Those resisting feel no interest in supporting a government that arrests them without charges. They go to prison for refusing to promise allegiance and serve.
Along with the reactions of the Japanese Americans are extremes of treatment by European Americans. One soldier barks orders at the Japanese Americans, threatens them with guns, and puts down their traditions saying “no Oriental crap.” In contrast, a nurse who cares for the inmates struggles between regulations depriving the Japanese Americans of care and her sense of compassion that grows into love for one of the men.
Since “the world won’t set things right,” the question becomes not what to get or take but what to give and to leave behind. Characters insist on the opportunity to make their own choices, and the show concludes with support for the many different choices of the Japanese Americans who courageously do what they think is best. After many painful conflicts and losses, the final song offers hope that there is “still a chance…hold head up high and go on.”
Humanists can find in “Allegiance” a powerful reminder of the risks of sacrificing freedom for safety and in judging people and groups rather than individual actions. We can find inspiration to allow personal freedom, investigate carefully, see our common humanity, show compassion, respect human rights, and make a difference. “Allegiance” reminds Humanists that our future can be better if we make it so.
Featured Image via Billie Grace Ward / Flickr.com