Monday, March 17, 2014

Loyalty of the Golden West

Loyalty of the Golden West:
The Internment of Japanese Americans

During World War II, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, nearly 120,000 Japanese-Americans were forcibly relocated to internment camps. Those who lived along the West Coast, whose loyalty to the United States was previously unquestioned, instantaneously faced prejudice and discrimination as public opinion viciously turned against citizens of Japanese descent. As the media circulated the devastating horrors experienced at the Hawaiian naval base, Americans grew nervous, apprehensive that another such bombing could occur closer to home. Fear prompted accusations to arise as those who supported the internment program desired to associate Japanese living along the Pacific with potential threats of espionage.
Notice of the Order posted in 1942
On February 19, 1942, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, approving the government-enforced evacuation of supposed enemies to the state, gathering those of Japanese, German and Italian heritage in order to relocate these American citizens to relocation centers set in desolate portions of California, Idaho, Wyoming and other remote Western states. Although a portion of Europeans were evacuated, Japan alone faced massive removal. Roosevelt, prompted by the administration, enacted this ordinance primarily due to perceiving Japanese citizens as a threat to national security.
Traveling to internment camps

Realizing that the public had been swayed to segregate the Japanese, most burned or buried any possessions considered un-American such as records, books and even family heirlooms. Despite attempts to mask their identity and prove that they were assimilated into American culture; the Japanese were easily identified and resented by their neighbors, especially farmers who despised agrarian competition and the overwhelming presence Japanese farmers enjoyed in California’s central valley where they experienced economic success. Assuming that cultural and ethnic links to Imperial Japan would encourage reconnaissance, the United States government rapidly secured the majority of the U.S. Japanese population which resided within close proximity to the warring empire due to their position on the Golden Coast.
An example of Japanese segregation in Idaho

Within a forty-eight hour period, thousands of Americans claiming Japanese nationality found themselves within the custody of the Immigration and Naturalization Service which shuffled these exiles living in vulnerable zones into makeshift facilities. Although the bulk of these individuals were U.S. citizens by birth, two-thirds were forced to leave their homes, sell their businesses and pack only two suitcases per person within a two week period.

Japanese occupying the Fresno fairgrounds
Before being transferred to official camps, most Japanese loitered in racetracks and fairgrounds for months, only sheltered by meager tents and rations. Upon arrival to camps such as Manzanar, the occupants were instructed to build their own lodging. Overcrowded and ill-prepared, Japanese deportees survived in poor living conditions without plumbing or cooking facilities and inadequate supplies. Rationing cost forty-eight cents per internee and was served by camp members in halls housing roughly three hundred occupants. The camps housed pitiable barracks surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards.

Japanese families being escorted by military personnel
Some families were disrupted as members were separated and placed in one of the ten major internment centers while a few died from the lack of medical care and emotional distress.
A crowded mess hall
Those in desert regions endured harsh terrain and elements while every camp suffered bouts of food poisoning, extreme temperatures and unsanitary, communal lavatories and bathrooms. However, inmates were most concerned about their future for they were left uninformed regarding the duration that their internment would last. Though grieving economic loss and humiliation, Japanese unity emerged. Camps constructed civic councils, operated hospitals and newspaper services while churches offered education, choral and spiritual enlightenment.

Nurse Aiko Hamaguchi assisting Toyoko Ioki at the Manzanar Center
Civilians provided entertainment, enjoying movie screenings, sumo wrestling tournaments, recitals and the fruits of their gardens. In 1943 all internees over the age of seventeen were given a loyalty test, asking them to swear allegiance to their nation and defend her from any foreign or domestic attack. Detainees were allowed to leave the concentration camps if they were willing to join the U.S. Army, an offer that most refused.
Returning to barracks after a church service
Harrowingly, no American placed in the internment camps were officially charged with espionage nor were they provided with a trial. Two important legal cases eventually clamored against Japanese internment. Despite arguing that Japanese’ Fifth Amendment rights were violated by the U.S. government based on discriminatory claims, Hirabayashi v. United States (1943), and Korematsu v. United States (1944) both lost as the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the government. These cases occurred before Brown v. Board which would establish the doctrine of equal citizenship in 1954.
Families returning from internment camps with assistance
Two years after signing the Executive Order, President Roosevelt repealed the decision, allowed internees to return home and closed the final internment camp in 1945. However, this blatant override of constitutional power and racism alienated Japanese citizens who saw their citizenship tarnished by the very nation claiming equality for all. Although many faced hostility after their release, most decided to rebuild their lives while 5,766 natural born Japanese renounced their American citizenship and returned to Japan. Eventually, America issued government apologies and reparations to Japanese Americans for the property and years they had lost.

Manzanar Relocation Center in Central California
Japanese-American internment serves as one of the most sweeping deprivations of constitutional rights in American history. The Executive Order and forced relocation of hundreds of thousands of citizens deprived equal protection under the law which guarantees the Fifth Amendment, due process of law and the individual right to work, own property and live freely. Despite suffering injustice, this period of detainment serves as a warning, urging America to not stumble from her core values in order to ensure that such a denial of justice will not have the opportunity to occur again in the proceeding decades.

Suggest Reading:

American Council on Public Affairs . "Issei, Nisei, and Kibei." Displaced Japanese-Americans. Fortune Magazine, April 1944.

Without a Country. Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, 1947.

Outcasts! The Story of America's Treatment of Her Japanese-American Minority. Fellowship of Reconciliation, 1944.

Yoosun, Park. "Facilitating Injustice: Tracing the Role of Social Workers in the World War II Internment of Japanese Americans." Social Service Review 82.3 : 447-483.

Wozniacka, Gosia. "Memorial site to mark Japanese American detention during WWII." Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. (accessed March 17, 2014).

"Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214(1944): The U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Internment." History Matters. (accessed March 17, 2014).

"Ansel Adams's Photographs of Japanese-American Internment at Manzanar." Library of Congress. (accessed March 17, 2014).

RLBARNES. "FEBRUARY 19, 1942: Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 and Japanese Internment During World War II.” U.S. History Scene. (accessed March 17, 2014).

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