Internment of Japanese Americans 1942
Japanese American internment was the forcible displacement of thousands of Japanese Americans to internment camps by the United States government during World War II. That action marked the end of the federal government’s lengthy history of racist and discriminatory treatment of Asian immigrants and their descendants, which began in the late 1800s with restrictive immigration laws.
Despite a lack of strong evidence, the US War Department suspected Japanese Americans of acting as saboteurs or espionage operatives when the Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Some politicians advocated gathering up Japanese Americans, particularly those living along the West Coast, and incarcerating them inland. The US Department of Justice, which opposed transporting innocent citizens, and the War Department, which favored imprisonment, engaged in a power struggle.
When it came to a choice between national security and the guarantee of civil freedoms enshrined in the Constitution, Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy said the Constitution was “only a scrap of paper.” More than 1,200 Japanese community leaders were detained in the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor assault, and all assets in Japanese bank accounts in the United States were frozen.
On the mainland of the United States, around 125,000 Japanese Americans lived at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack. Around 200,000 people moved to Hawaii, which was then a US territory. Some were Issei, or first-generation Japanese Americans, who had emigrated from Japan and were not eligible for citizenship in the United States. About 80,000 of them were citizens of the United States and were second-generation Americans (Nisei). While many Issei kept their Japanese culture and identity, Nisei acted and thought of themselves as wholly American.
The War Department designated 12 restricted zones around the Pacific coast in early February 1942, with nightly curfews for Japanese Americans living within them. Individuals who violated the curfew were arrested immediately. The topic of relocation was still contested by the nation’s political authorities, but the decision was made quickly. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, giving the US military the ability to bar anyone from certain places. Despite the fact that the executive order did not mention the word “Japanese,” it was evident that only Japanese Americans were targeted, while other immigrants, such as Germans, Italians, and Aleuts, were also detained during the war. The federal War Relocation Authority (WRA) was created on March 18, 1942. “Take all people of Japanese heritage into custody, surround them with troops, prevent them from buying land, and return them to their previous homes at the end of the war,” the organization’s goal stated.
Japanese Americans on the West Coast were instructed to report to control posts on March 31, 1942, and register the names of all family members. They were subsequently informed of the date and location of their deportation to an internment camp. (Some survivors of the camps and others concerned about the portrayal of their history have objected to the use of the term internment, which they argue is proper when referring to the wartime detention of enemy aliens but not of U.S. citizens, who made up roughly two-thirds of those of Japanese ancestry detained during the war.) Many critics of internment argue that the labels incarceration and confinement are more appropriate phrases.) Japanese Americans were given anywhere from four days to two weeks to settle their affairs and collect as much property as they could carry. Individuals and families were compelled to sell some or all of their property, including companies, in many cases within that time frame.
Some Euro-Americans took advantage of the situation, giving absurdly low prices for people forced to relocate their belongings. Many residences and companies worth tens of thousands of dollars were sold for much less. Nearly 2,000 Japanese Americans were told that their automobiles would be safe until they returned. However, the US Army quickly offered to acquire the vehicles at low prices, and those who refused to sell were told that the vehicles were being requisitioned for the war.
Japanese Americans were first transferred to temporary assembly centers after being forcibly removed from their houses. They were taken inland to detention camps from there (critics of the term internment argue that these facilities should be called prison camps). Manzanar, in southern California, was the first internment camp to open. Between 1942 and 1945, ten camps in California, Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and Arkansas were established, housing about 120,000 Japanese Americans for varied periods of time.
Life in the camps
The camps were in poor condition. Internees were housed in uninsulated barracks with only cots and coal fires. Residents shared bathrooms and laundry rooms, but hot water was often scarce. The camps were encircled by barbed-wire fences guarded by armed guards who were ordered to shoot anyone who attempted to flee. Despite a few isolated cases of internees being shot and killed, as well as innumerable examples of avoidable suffering, the camps were largely managed humanely.
People in the camps strove to create a sense of belonging. Internees were allowed to live in family groups, and schools, churches, farms, and newspapers were established. Children participated in sports and other activities. Nonetheless, the internment had a negative impact on Japanese Americans, who were forced to live in a state of tension, distrust, and depression for up to three years.
The internment and roundup of Japanese Americans sparked a few nonviolent protests as well as court battles. In 1944, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Korematsu v. United States that the evacuation and incarceration of Nisei was constitutional. Meanwhile, the government had launched a more thorough investigation into Japanese Americans, concluding that some were loyal Americans. Individuals who had been verified as loyal were allowed to leave the camps and work in the Midwest or East. Others were permitted to work as migrant laborers in the West, while others enlisted in the United States Army.
Ex parte Endo, the Supreme Court’s decision on the same day as the Korematsu decision, skirted the legitimacy of internment as a policy, but found that the government could not hold a U.S. citizen whose loyalty was recognized by the US government.
The government declared on December 18, 1944, that all relocation centers will be closed by the end of 1945. The high-security camp at Tule Lake, California, was the last of the camps to close in March 1946. Japanese Americans began regaining or rebuilding their lives when the internment ended, and those who still had homes to return to did so.
An American promise
Executive Order 9066 was officially revoked by President Gerald R. Ford in 1976. He took use of the chance to express his remorse for the policy:
The 19th of February marks the 50th anniversary of a tragic day in American history. On this date in 1942, Executive Order 9066 was signed… As a result, loyal Americans have been uprooted…. We now know what we should have known back then: not only was the evacuation incorrect, but Japanese Americans were and continue to be devoted American citizens…. I ask the American people to join me in affirming this American Promise: that we have learned to treasure liberty and justice for each individual American forever as a result of that tragic experience, and that this kind of conduct will never be repeated.
Race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership were recognized as the fundamental causes of the government’s internment program by a presidential panel in 1982. The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 was approved by the United States Congress, awarding more than 80,000 Japanese Americans $20,000 each as compensation for their hardship. In addition, Congress made a formal apology for the government’s treatment of Japanese Americans.
The Law Book: From Hammurabi to the International Criminal Court, 250 Milestones in the History of Law (Sterling Milestones) Hardcover – Illustrated, 22 Oct. 2015, English edition by Michael H. Roffer (Autor)