Japanese Internment Essay, Research Paper
The Japanese-American Internment in Topaz, Utah
For as long as mankind can remember, prejudice in one form or another has always been apparent in the world. For some, it is religion, color, or race. But, during the second world war, prejudices were directed at people whose nationalities weren t of native American blood. The Japanese-Americans were exploited and forced into relocation camps during World War II all because the American government thought of them as a threat to American society, for fear that they were conspiring with the Japanese government to try and overthrow the United States government.
In 1941, the number of Japanese Americans living in the continental Unites States totaled 127,000. Over 112,000 of them lived in the three Pacific Coast states of Oregon, Washington, and California. Of this group, nearly 80% of the total resided in the state of California alone (Uchida 47). In the over imaginative minds of the residents of California, where the antipathy towards the Asians was the most intense, the very nature of the Pearl Harbor attack provided ample-and prophetic-proof of inherent Japanese treachery (Uchida 68). As the Imperial Army chalked up success after success on the Pacific front, and also as rumors of prowling enemy subs ran rampant throughout, the West Coast atmosphere became charged with the fear that there was an impending invasion. They had an unbelievable suspicion that Japanese Americans in their midst were organized for a coordinated undermining activity (Uchida 90). For the myriad of anti-Oriental forces and the influential agriculturists who had long been casting their eyes on the coastal area of the richly cultivated Japanese land, a superb opportunity had just become theirs for the long sought after expulsion of a very unwanted minority (Uchida 91).
Since there was little known about the minority which had long kept itself
withdrawn from the larger community in fear of disapproval, it was very possible to make the American public believe anything (Christgau 13). The stereotype of the Oriental of sly intent was rekindled and exploited in such a manner that Chinese Americans began wearing I am a Chinese buttons in fear of being assaulted (Nakano 42). The tactics used in manipulating public fears were hardly different from those used to achieve the cutoff in Chinese immigration in 1882 and in bringing a halt to all Japanese immigration in 1924 (Weglyn 36).
Like the Chinese before them, the immigrant Japanese were denied the right to become American citizens. Because they lacked this right of naturalization, they could not own land (Weglyn 37). Even the leasing of land was limited by a 1913 land law to three years. But the Issei (first generation Japanese) found ways to get around such laws devised to drive the Orientals away from the California area. It was a popular practice by the Issei to purchase property in the names of their citizen offspring (Weglyn 38).
The Japanese Americans consisted of three different groups. The Issei, who were first generation Japanese, were for the most part very simple people whose age group was largely 55 to 65 years of age. The Nisei, or the second generation Japanese, in spite of the discrimination against them still showed an eagerness to become Americans.
They were in a constant conflict with the older Issei s lifestyles. They aged from 1 to 30 years old. The Sansei was the third group of Japanese. They were the Japanese babies born in America (Uchida 21).
Because of the racist naturalization laws, the Issei and other first-generation Asian Americans were not allowed to become citizens until the 1950 s (Christgau 87). Most second-generation Japanese Americans, being the Nisei, did not become old enough to vote until the 1940 s, and the World War II imprisonment was a huge setback in their struggles to participate in American politics (Christgau 88).
On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked and devastated Pearl Harbor.
Authorized by a blanket presidential warrant, the United States Attorney General Francis Biddle directed the FBI to arrest a predetermined number of enemy aliens classified as dangerous . Among the list of foreigners to be arrested, the Japanese held a place (Daniels 35). By the end of that day, 737 Japanese are in federal custody (Daniels 37).
December 8th, the United States declared war on Japan. On December 11th, 1941, there are now 1,370 Japanese classified as dangerous are detained by the FBI (Daniels 41).
By February 4, 1942, The US Army defined twelve restricted areas. These enemies must observe a curfew (9 p.m.- 6 a.m.), and are allowed only to travel to and from their workplace. Also, they are forbidden to travel any further than 5 miles from their place of residence (Daniels 44). On February 16 that same year, the California Immigration Committee urges that all Japanese be removed from the Pacific Coast and any other areas designated vital by the US government. There are more arrests of Japanese and they total 2,192 (Daniels 44). On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signs Executive Order 9066. This order gives the Secretary of War the authorization to establish military areas from which all or any persons may be excluded as deemed necessary or desirable. (Daniels 46). Then on March 18, 1942, President Roosevelt again issues another Executive Order, number 9102, creating the War Relocation Authority (WRA). Milton S. Eisenhower is named the first director and charged with the task of implementing a program of orderly evacuation of the designated persons from the restricted military areas (Daniels 47-48). On February 3, 1943, the WRA begins administering a loyalty questionnaire to all the evacuees over the age of 17 (Daniels 50).
There were ten WRA camps during WWII. Most were in remote areas in the states of Arizona, Wyoming, Utah, Arkansas, and California. The most infamous was the camp in Topaz, Utah where 8,130 Japanese were detained (Taylor 19).
The move to these internment camps was a difficult journey for many of the
Japanese Americans. Many of them were taken directly from their homes and allowed only to bring what they could carry. Mine Okubo, then a young girl moving to the internment camps gave her testimony of the trek. Daily life was described in her journal. Meals consisted mainly of potatoes and bread, horse stables used to house the evacuees were described as skeletons smelling of manure and bathrooms where endless lines violated privacy due to the lack of doors or partitions (Okubo 11). For each person in that camp she wrote in her diary, it seemed like a prisoner s hell, each day passing slower than the last (Okubo 25). Okubo s descriptions of the camp life in Topaz gave the whole internment an insight and a voice.
The camps represented a prison: no freedom, no privacy, no America .
Many families were separated and they did not know when they would see each other again. (Brimner 4). Internment was not a choice; it was considered a patriotic duty to prove Japanese-American s loyalty through submission to their new country. They had to believe in the government s reasoning and put their trust in their new country (Brimner 5). The years following the orders for the Japanese to be relocated would be frustrating and depressing for many (Brimner 10). The Japanese expression shi kata ganai was adopted for these troublesome times (Brimner 16).
War crimes were abundant during the internment. Many shooting and beatings occurred and most court cases were either dismissed or the defendants were found to be not guilty. One such incident occurred April 11, 1943, at Topaz, by sentry Gerald B. Philpott. James Hatsuki Wakasa was shot and killed on April 11. Wakasa was a graduate of Keio College in Tokyo, and he came to the US in 1903 and studied for two years at the University of Wisconsin. During WWI, he was a civilian cooking instructor at Camp Dodge in Iowa. According to the Army report, Wakasa (who was then in his 60 s) was shot for trying to escape and also for ignoring warnings from two soldiers at the guard towers while attempting to crawl through the fence . It was a half an hour before sunset when he was shot in an isolated corner of the camp. It was not until 45 minutes later, after informing a WRA staff member, and after his body was removed, that the shooting became public. The WRA later determined that Wakasa was inside the camp during the shooting, where a large bloodstain marked the spot five feet inside the fence. A postmortem examination of the entry and exit wounds found that Wakasa was facing the soldier who shot him. On April 28, at Fort Douglas, Utah, court-martial proceedings were held for the soldier who had killed Wakasa. He was found not guilty . (Taylor 95-97)
For many of the elder Japanese Americans, the WWII internment camps
were a defining experience. Grace Oshita began talking about Topaz in 1961. It started when one of her son s high school teachers assigned him to do a report on the internment camps. Part of the project included Grace recounting to the class stories from her three years in camp in Topaz, Utah. Since then, Oshita has collected filing cabinets full of letters from her father, photos and books about President Roosevelt and his Executive Order 9066 that sent Japanese-Americans to the internment camps. Oshita , a daughter of Issei parents, now often speaks to the schoolchildren and others about the era. (Weglyn 126).
In 1988, after a decade long campaign, the government apologized and offered $1.25 billion in redress payments to the internees. (Brimner 105).
As a woman and a Japanese-American, Cheryl Atkinson is worried about
more subtle forms of discrimination. Atkinson, a second year law student at the University of Utah, wonders how far her career will advance. As a member of the minority and women s law on the campus, Atkinson has campaigned for a more diverse faculty and student body. Atkinson states, It s only in the past few years that I have come to understand about discrimination. Being in law school, I am interested in seeing more minorities, especially Japanese-Americans, in professional fields. And that glass ceiling you re always hearing about I would like to see that gone. (Salt Lake 4A)
Most of the evacuees were held on the relocation camps for more than 2 years until after the War Department revoked the West Coast exclusion orders in 1944. About half returned to the West Coast during 1945 and 1946 (Uchida 109).
After the end of World War II, the post- war economy was in need of labor, and many white employers hired Japanese American workers. Yet racial discrimination continued to affect the second generation; certain occupations were still off limits (Hohri 156). Self -employment continued to be important. By 1960 there were seven thousand Japanese-owned businesses in the Los Angeles area, most of them gardening businesses. Hotels, groceries, and laundries made up the next largest categories. The second and later generation has gradually moved away from the niche economy of small businesses to professional and white-collar jobs (Hohri 157).
The most recent survey concluded that Japanese Americans were concentrated
in white-collar jobs. However, one study concluded that there was significant occupation segregation for the Japanese American compared with the white workers. The occupational niches occupied by many Japanese American workers still reflect the past and present exclusion from other job categories. One of the clearest indicators of the continuing discrimination is the fact that the Japanese -American incomes are lower than they should be, given this group s high level of education. A survey and calculation done by the US Commission on Civil Rights concluded that Japanese workers make only 88% of what they would be earning if they were white (Hohri 173). Discrimination is the likely reason.
The Japanese-American internment during World War II in Topaz, Utah was a sobering experience for many of the Japanese who had moved to America in hopes of a better start. Although they had done nothing wrong, they were still thought of as conspiring with the enemies just because they were of a different race. Extreme senses of nationalism and keeping America for Americans was what fueled the hatred and the expulsion of the Japanese. The Japanese-Americans were exploited and forced into relocation camps during World War II all because the American government thought of them as a threat to American society, when really all they wanted was a piece of that American apple pie.