The Internment of Japanese-Americans During World War II

by J.J. and P.P.

According to Japanese-American Internment (1997, April 13), the earliest Japanese-Americans began immigrating to the United States in the 1890's. The majority of these immigrants were greeted with Anti-Asian prejudice. Even so, by the turn of the century, 25,000 Japanese were living in the United States. These were mostloy lower middle-class citizens from Japan, searching for a better life in the United States. However, an Asian immigrant could not become a citizen; and after 1900, when many Japanese began to enter the labor force, they were met with resentment from white workers. As early as 1905, efforts were underway to include the Japanese in the Chinese Exclusion Acts. In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt negotiated the Gentleman's Agreement with the Japanese, preventing the Japanese government from issuing passports to Japanese laborers.

By 1912, in spite of these limitations, Japanese farmers in California owned 12,726 acers of farmland. In 1914, the California Alien Land Law was signed, prohibiting "aliens ineligible of citizenship" (i.e. all Asian Immigrants) from owning land or property, and permitting leases for only three years or less. in 1920, it became illegal for alien immigrants to even lease land. In the Supreme Court case, Ozawa v. U.S. , the high court reaffirmed that Asian immigrantsd were still not eligable for immigration, although in 1935 a small number of Japanese were allowed to be naturalized if thwey had fought for the U.S. in World War I, had been honorably discharged, and were permanent residents of the United States. Even before World War II, the Japanese-Americans were obvious victims of prejudice.

As early as 1939, when Europe began fighting World War II, lists of "dangerous" enemy aliens were being compiled by such government agencies as the FBI, special intelligence agencies in the Justice Department, and the army's Military Inteligence Division. According to Yu (1997, April 6), the 1940 Census showed that 126,947 Japanese-Americans were living in the United States. Of these, 62,770 were citizens by birth. In Addition, 157,905 Japanese-Americans were living in the Territory of Hawaii ans 236 were living in the Territory of Alaska. As the country began preparing for war, The Hawaiian National Guard, which was made up of many second-generation Japanese-Americans, was federalized and became the 100th Infantry Battilion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team. (No Japanese-Americans were interned. Because Hawaii's population was made up mostly of minorities, they were considered much less of a threat than the Japanese-Americans living on the mainland.)

However, political insiders began to worry about Japanese-Americans. First of all, Japan was a member of the Axis Powers while France, Britain, and Russia made up the Allied Powers. If the U.S. were to go to war, which in 1941 was only a matter of time, they would be fighting against Japan. Secondly, many Japanese-Americans were not American citizens. The question of their loyalty was unsure. Thirdly, with anti-Japanese feelings running rapid in the West, officials in Washington were being pressured to investigate the concearns of local authorities.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt asked Curtis Munson, a special representative of the State Department, to carry out an investigation on the loyalty of Japanese-Americans. On November 7, 1941, he issued his report. He categorized the Japanese- Americans by age. According to Yu (1997, April 6), the Munson report stated, "The Issei, or first generation, is considerably weakened in their loyalty to Japan by the fact that they have chosen to make this thier home and to bring up their children here." The report section in the Issei also ,said that the older people were afraid of being put into a concentration camp, and that most would apply for American citizenship if allowed. The Nisei were the second-generation Japanese who had recieved their entire education in the United States. "They are universally estimated to be 90 to 98 percent loyal if the Japanese-educated element of the Kibei is excluded. The Nisei are pathetically eager to show their loyalty. They are not Japanese in culture. They are foreigners to Japan," the report summed up about the Nisei. The Kibei was an important division of the Nisei. These were American- born Japanese who had been partially or completely educated in Japan. This group was considered the most dangerous of the Japanese- Americans.

Toward the end of the report, Munson said there was "far more danger from communists... on the coast then there is from Japanese." However, he suggested that all Japanese National's and property owned by them be placed under Federal control.

Even though the investigation came up with little evidence of treason acts, Roosevelt's secretary GraceTully told Roosevelt aide Henry Field that the President was ordering him to produce the names and addresses of Japanese-Americans whether they were citizens or aliens. Suspicions grew even more after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941, one month after Munson had first issued his report. The next day, the U.S. declared war on the Axis Powers and entered World War II. Out West, Many Japanese were finding life hard. Banks would not cash their checks, milkmen would not deliver to their houses, and grocers would not sell to them. According to Yu (1997, March 6), on December 11, 1941, the FBI detained 1370 Japanese-Americans classified as "dangerous enemy aliens." Before the war, the Intelligence Service had 200 to 300 Japanese under serveillance in each Naval District. Privately, though, they felt only 50 to 60 of these people, actually posed a possible threat. On December 29, all enemy aliens in seven western states were ordered to surrender contraband, which consisted of short wave radios, cameras, binoculars, and various weapons. After January 1, 1942, many Japanese soldiers were discharged, or reassigned to menial work, such as Kitchen Patrol, even though in his report, Munson states that the Army praised many of the Japanese-American recruits. On January 28, 1942, the California State Personel Board voted to bar all descendents of countries with whom the United States was at war with from all civil service positions. Although this would have meant all Itallian, German, and Japanese-Americans would loose their jobs, the ban only acted upon the latter. According to Wright (1994), "Clearly as evidenced by military communications, government policies and public attitudes, the anti-alien mood spreading across the nation was based on hysteria and a racist distrust of a group that did not 'look like' other Americans." (p.34) A curfew was put upon enemy aliens by then. Major Karl Bendetsen, chief of the Aliens Division. The aliens couldn't be out from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. unless they were working, and they were forbidden to travel more than five miles from their home. Bendetsen played a major part in the relocation of Japanese-Americans. According to Yu (1997, April 5), Father Hugh T. Laveny of the Maryknoll Mission stated that, "Colonel Bendetsen showed himself to be a little Hitler. I mentioned that we had an orphanage with children of Japanese ancestry, and that some of these children were half Japanese, others one-fourth or less. I asked which children should we send...Bendetsen said 'I am determined that if they have one drop of Japanese blood in them, they must go to the camp.'" (pp.1-2)

For two months, many restrictions were put on the Japanese-Americans, but on February 19, 1942 a tremendous blow to their freedom occured. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the Secretary of War to define military areas from which any person could be excluded if they were deemed dangerous or undesireable. The Society of Friends, or Quakers, and the American Civil Liberties Unions were both against the signing of Executive Order 9066, as was Francis Biddle, the Attourney General under Roosevelt Administration. According to Yu (1997, April 6), in a memo to Roosevelt, Biddle wrote, "My last advice from the War Department is that there is no evidence of palnned sabotage." (p.2) However, according to Yu (1997, March 5), J.M. Burns wrote, "Only a great outchy of protest on the highest moral grounds would have stopped would have stopped the drift toward evacuation, and Biddle was neither temperamentally nor politically capable of it." (p.3) Biddle eventually gave up controll of enemy maliens to the War Department. On February 17, two days before it was issued, a draft of 9066 was given to Biddle at his home. Biddle's aides were surprised when he accepted it without a fight.

According to Yu (1997, April 6), Roosevelt appointed Lt. General John DeWitt to carry out Executive Order 9066. On March 2, 1942, DeWitt issued Public Proclomation No.1, which created military areas in four Western states and declared the right to remove German, Italian, and Japanese aliens or people with Japanese ancestry living in the military areas if necessary. Soon after this, the Secretary of Treasury assigned the Federal Rescrue Bank of San Fransisco to handel control of Japanese farms and farm equiptment. Later in March, DeWitt issued Public Proclomation No.2, creating four more military areas in four more Western States. Each of these proclomations stated where each family was to go to wait to be transported and what each family should bring. Toiltries, clothes, bedding, and silverware were allowed to be brought; pets and household products werenot.

On March 18, Roosevelt created the War Relocation Authority (WRA). He placed Milton Eisenhower in charge of it. On March 21, 1942, Manzanar was the first of ten relocation camps to open. Located in California, Manzanar was one of the largest camps, it's peak population being 10,046
Acording to Myers (1997, April 6), the most typical design of a relocation camp was a block design, which contained 14 barracks, one mess hall, and one recreation hall on the outer edges and ironing, laundry, and lavatories on the interior. other camp structures may have included warehouses, car and equiptment care and storage, administration, schools, canteens, libraries, religious chapels, hospitals, and a post office. Most family srtuctures were made of paper and tar. Average-sized families recieved a living quarter that was 100 by 29 feet in size. According to Yu (1997, May 8), Milton Eisenhower reportedly stated to a Senate Approations Committee about the buildings in the camps, "[The construction] is so very cheap that, frankly, if it is stands up for the duration, we are going to be lucky." (p.1)

The Japanese-Americans all reacted differently to their new lives as refugees. Some tried to escape. The first victim of the internment camps was Ichiro Shimoda, who was shot trying to escape the Fort Sill camp on May 13, 1942. Others tried to show the officials running to camps that they were true Americans. Some said the Pledge of Allegiance every morning, and took part in American activities.

By June of 1942, ove 100,000 Japanese-Americans had been evacuated from the first military zone. Also in June of 1942, Milton Eisenhower stepped down as director of the WRA. According to Yu (1997, April 11), Eisenhower told his successor Dillon Myer, "I can't sleep and do this job. I had to get out of it. (p.5)
According to Life at Manzanar (1997, April 11), there were only two ways for someone to leave Manzanar on another internment camp. If a man joined the armed forces, he could leave. Later on, if a person chose to work in their profession as a contribution to the war effort, they could leave as well. However, many of these people had to move East because of the exclusionary laws in the West.

Things became harder for the Japanese-Americans the longer they were in the camps. According to Japanese Nmerican Internment (1997, April 13), conditions in the camp were poor. many of the camps were located in uninhabitable areas, where daytime temperatures reached 100 degrees Farenheight. There were shortages of food and medicine in the camps; therefore, many sick people were left untreated and even died. At least five other internees were shot and killed because of illness or because they tried to escape.

On December 17, 1944, the evacuees were allowed to return home. For almost two years, they had been detained by their country because the government questioned their loyalty. During the war, ten Americans were convicted of spying for Japan. All of them were Caucasian.

After their releases, many Japanese-Americans felt lost. They had nothing from before the war. Many of the older Japanese-Americans felt helpless, feeling too old to start over again. In 1948, the Japanese American Evacuation Claims Act, and it's revision in 1951, paid back 10 percent of property lost during the war to the owners. A bill signed by President Regan on August 10, 1988, provided restitution and apology for the Nisei still living.

Many Japanese-Americans didn't want to remember the time they had spent in internment camps. According to Turkol (1954), Peter Ota recalls, "My mother and father sent me to a Japanese school, teaching the culture. my wife and I did nothing with our children in that respect. We moved into a white community near Los Angeles. It was typical suburb living. my children were denied a lot of history of what happened." He was asked the question, "How does the Sansei feel about it... your daughter's generation?" He replied, "Very angry. They keep saying 'Why did you go? Why didn't you fight back?' They couldn't understand it. They weren't raised in our culture. Today I definitely would resist... Today if this happened, I think a majority of the Japanese would resist." (pp.28-33)

After the war, many of the people involved with the creation of the internment camps felt remorse over what they had done. According to Yu (1997, March 5), Harrold L. Ickes, Roosevelt's secretary of the Interior remembers, "As a member of President Roosevelt's administration, I saw the United States Army give was to mass hysteria over the Japanese... it lost its self-control, and egged on by public clamor, some of it from greedy Americans who sought an opprotunity to process themselves of Japanese rights and property, it began to round up indiscriminately the Japanese who had been born in Japan, as well as those born here. Crowded into cars like cattle, these helpless people were hurried away to hastily constructed and throughly inadequate concentration camps, with soldiers with nervous muskets on guard, in the Great American desert. We gave the fancy names of 'relocation centers' to these dust bowls, but they were concentration camps nonetheless....."


This page was created by J.J. and P.P., 5/22/97, for History & Thought of Western Man, Rich East High School.

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