Racism The Question Of Japanese Internment During

Racism: The Question Of Japanese Internment During World War Two Essay, Research Paper

Britton Calvert

Ethnic Am.

2 pm

Racism: The Question of Japanese Internment During World War Two

During World War Two approximately one hundred and ten thousand Japanese,

citizens and aliens, were evacuated, interned and either relocated or imprisoned in

desolate camps on the basis of their loyalty to the United States. This was justified as a

military necessity because the Japanese were thought to be a threat to the security of the

west coast of the United States. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, age-old stereotypes

that had their origin in the pioneer age of the old west were reactivated and turned against

the Japanese as they had been used against the Chinese in years previous. These

exclusionist attitudes have their origin back when the white prospectors had to compete

with American Indians, Mexicans and later the Chinese in order to find good land to

mine. All people, especially non-whites, were considered a threat to a miner who was

trying to stake a claim in the west. Then later on, when industry and the railroads made

their way out west; many minorities, mostly Chinese, were discriminated against by

white workers as a threat to white employment. Later on, we will see what this had to do

with the Japanese exclusion during World War II.

The stereotypes that labeled the Japanese as ?enemies? and ?saboteurs? were

vastly blown out of proportion by the media at the time. The media is directly responsible

for creating the ?yellow peril? and engendering war hysteria by way of so many biased

articles. Publications that were owned by William Hearst such as the San Francisco

Examiner and other Newspapers all over the west coast like The Los Angeles times and

many others painted pictures of the Japanese as disloyal enemies still faithful to the

Japanese emperor, who were just waiting for the chance to take out important military

installations and blow up key areas of the west coast infrastructure. People who had never

even set foot in Japan and may or may not have even known the Japanese language were

considered to be traitors! In addition to almost all west coast newspapers, many television

and film companies, especially Hearst?s film companies, made films depicting the

Japanese army sweeping through the west coast of the U.S. and devastating the military.

Many of these films were produced before W.W.II even started. This is because the

Japanese were considered a threat back when they badly defeated Russia in 1905. We can

see evidence of Japan?s seeming military threat as far back as the late 1800?s but this is

no excuse to demonize Japanese Americans.

Not long after the Pearl Harbor incident, the F.B I. started doing spot raids on

Japanese homes and businesses looking for ?contraband?. This could be anything from

high-tech cameras used for photography to shotgun shells found in a Japanese owned

sporting goods store. Anyone found with items seen as a threat to military safety, or just

items connecting them with Japan, such as Japanese katanas, the typical Japanese sword,

or some Japanese scrolls, flags, anything; was immediately detained and taken to the

camps. This was justified at the time as a ?military necessity?, a euphemism for racist

prejudice, and was carried out in the name of national security. The unfortunate thing

about these raids were that they increased the prejudice and war hysteria that was going

on at the time and elicited a reaction by the white majority that was even more hostile to

the Japanese. Not long after the spot raids started, legislation was put in to effect that

would gradually restrict the rights of the west coast Japanese until they were finally

forced to leave the coast and be interned in the deserted wastelands of the western desert.

Many people consider the internment of the Japanese as a disheartening and

undemocratic thing for the U.S. government to do, but they don?t consider what

implications this action has for our democratic system. Martial law was never declared on

the west coast yet the military had control over anyone they chose if that person was

within a certain zone along the coast called the Western Defense Command. Also, The

interned Japanese who were citizens of America were deprived of their rights without due

process of law. Both of these acts are violations of the constitution yet were upheld as a

?military necessity? by the supreme court as well as supported by most west coast whites

at the time. There were other ?minor? actions that deprived the Japanese of their rights

such as: the mandatory registration of all Japanese, curfews, frozen bank accounts, and

the denial of U.S. entry by anyone of Japanese ancestry. In this essay, we will see that the

Japanese were interned not because of their threat to the United States but because of

their skin color and that the Constitution was circumvented in order to do this. Because of

this blatant disregard for the Constitution, a precedent has been set which could render it

useless to protect our civil rights in the future. We will also come to understand why

thousands of American citizens of Japanese descent were put in to prison camps yet the

other two groups of possible enemies, Germans and Italians, were practically left alone.

During the early decades of the twentieth century, Japan was the most powerful

country in all of Asia. They had won a war with Russia, had never been invaded by a

foreign power, and during W.W.II, had invaded China, India and numerous smaller

countries as well as the U.S. controlled Philippines. This gave them the idea that they

were unstoppable. It also worried many Americans as well as the U.S. military. This fear

came to a head during and after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Many Americans were

outraged at the bombing and called for some kind of action against the Japanese. The

media, and groups such as the American Legion, some politicians, and numerous labor

groups who wanted the Japanese out of the work force echoed this call to action.

The idea of public outcry for Japanese internment is kind of misleading.

Doubtless, many, many people could have cared less if the west coast Japanese were

interned, but the idea of the ?yellow peril? was pushed by the media, and some politicians

to such an extreme that most average whites were completely misled as to what the actual

Japanese threat might be. ?Yellow peril? is the term given by the media to demonize East

Asians and cause them to be prejudiced against by the public. They were said to be dirty,

disloyal traitors who were made sexually inappropriate advances toward white women.

The term was also used to refer to the military threat of the Japanese for invasion of the

west coast. Numerous F.B.I. and military reports state how insignificant the Japanese

threat of invasion was to the west coast (a hit and run attack at best) and that there was no

proof of ?fifth column?, Japanese or other foreign Americans that would sabotage west

coast military installations, activities going on. In one report, Naval Intelligence officer

Kenneth D. Ringle reported in 1941 ?that better than 90% of the Nisei and 75% of the

original immigrants were completely loyal to the United States?(Daniels 25) But the

proof that there was no sabotage going on was turned in to a double bind for the

Japanese. Some people proposed that because there was no sabotage going on, the

Japanese were waiting for the perfect chance to strike at the very last moment in order to

devastate the west coast before the Japanese invasion came rolling in. On February 6,

1942, the mayor of Los Angeles had this to say:

Right here in our own city are those who may spring to action at an appointed

time in accordance with a prearranged plan wherein each of our little Japanese

friends will know his part in the event of any possible attempt invasion or air raid? We cannot run the risk of another Pearl Harbor (Daniels 45).

The mayor, Fletcher Bowron was in accordance with Governor Olson of

California who said ?It is known that there are Japanese residents of California who?

?. have shown indications of preparations for fifth column activities? (Daniels 42).

These remarks by people in positions of authority and respect along with the media

worried the already nervous populations of California as well as other western states in to

what we can call a ?state of war hysteria? that was detrimental to the safety of the

Japanese because of the rising instances of vigilantism. The violence that was now being

enacted on random Japanese and Japanese looking Asians actually created a need for

their internment as a precaution taken to ensure their personal safety from white attacks.

But this was not a reason for their internment. They were interned because of the white

population?s fears of them not because of their fears of the white population.

To understand why the Japanese were interned and not the Germans or Italians,

we have to look at the history of the west coast. Back in the mid 1800?s, Mexicans

governed California, as it was a part of Mexico. But with the influx of miners and other

settlers, the white population grew and became powerful until the Mexicans were

eventually driven out of California in a war called the Bear Flag Rebellion. In 1846, a

republic was set under the Bear Flag. Driving this rebellion was the anti-foreign

sentiment that had its origins in the genocide and/or ghettoization i.e. Reservations, of

most Native American groups that the white settlers encountered as they moved west.

The Chinese, who came as migrant laborers, were populating California soon after the

rebellion and most of the xenophobic sentiment that was reserved for Mexicans and

Native Americans was later applied to them. This prejudice, vehemently held by white

labor organizations, culminated in the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, various anti-Oriental

land laws, the 1908 Gentleman?s Agreement, the 1924 Oriental Exclusion Act, and

various other local and state exclusion practices. As we can see, ?The Japanese

immigrants were handicapped because the white settlers in California were notoriously

hostile to Orientals? (Myer 10). Racism against Asian Americans plays a significant role

in the internment of the Japanese during World War Two.

As we all know, mass media is a controlling force in the thought of Americans.

We look to it for our news and usually don?t even question the truth or validity of the

issues that are presented. The internment of the Japanese is a prime example of how the

media wrongly controls and shapes public opinion whether it?s because someone behind

the scenes wanted the Japanese out or most of the publications were run by ignorant

racists. It?s probably a mixture of the two but that is not the problem. The problem is that

through manipulation of public thought by propagandist articles, books, speeches and

films, a whole nation of immigrants were deprived of their civil rights. The propaganda

being talked about here is not just the propaganda of W.W.II, but of fifty years before.

Ever since the Japanese badly defeated Russia at the turn of the twentieth century, the

American public was:

Conditioned not only to the probability of a Pacific war with Japan-that was after all a geopolitical fact of twentieth-century civilization-but also to the proposition that this war would involve an invasion of the continental United States in which Japanese residents and secret agents would provide the spearhead of the attack (Daniels 2, 31).

The idea of west coast invasion was absorbed by Americans en masse through the

medium of popular movies and books. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor a symbolic

bomb was dropped on the American people. The press got involved in the propaganda

campaign and started running headlines such as ?JAP BOAT FLASHES MESSAGES





WARNS CHIEF OF KOREAN SPY BAND? (Daniels 2, 33-34). Another headline

describing a poll given to Californians reads ?By a 14 to 1 ratio, southern Californians?

?favored deportation of all Japanese from the United Sates??(Conrat 90) Headlines

like these are obviously completely false and only served the purpose of creating a ?state

of war hysteria? This is where the media comes in on directly controlling the population.

By creating a ?state of war hysteria? the media metaphorically created a nervous herd of

cattle that was easily stampeded. In this case, the stampede was the internment of the

Japanese and their subsequent relocation to areas outside the Western Defense Command.

?War hysteria? has a detrimental effect on populations because it renders them confused

and easily influenced. That is why the Japanese could be interned without an immediate

back lash by the normal rational population. This can be seen in the Supreme Court

statements about the internment issue being a necessity ?at the time? but this will be

addressed later. The media issue is one that is vastly important because of its detrimental

effect on civilian populations.

The internment of the Japanese was started soon after the bombing of Pearl

Harbor. On February 19, 1942, president Theodore Roosevelt signed executive order

9066, which is usually viewed as the official order causing the internment of the

Japanese, but in actually is only responsible for giving military commanders the right to

establish military areas that they had the right to exclude or evacuate from anyone they

wished. This is when the Western Defense Command was actually set up. To get an idea

of the size of the W.D.C. imagine a line splitting California, Oregon and Washington in

half; the western half of those states would be the W.D.C. and would eventually be

devoid of anyone of Japanese descent. Southern Arizona was also included in the W.D.C.

Now the internment didn?t happen all at once. It happened in a series of proclamations,

each taking more rights of the Japanese away once it was put in to action. ?Proclamation

three was the first which directly violated the rights of most Japanese Americans?

(Daniels 53). It called for an 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. curfew for every person of Japanese descent

in the W.D.C. During the day they were restricted to their place of employment or not

more than five miles of their residence.

It was Civilian Exclusion Order no.5 that forced all Japanese people in most parts

of the Western Defense Command to leave their homes and go to government buildings

where they were transported to relocation centers. An issue must be cleared up here

though. Not all Japanese people were interned for the duration of the war. Most of them

were relocated to places in the interior of the country although they did spend a long time

in the relocation camps. The Japanese who were considered subversives those who did

not answer yes to the loyalty questions and those who were illegal aliens were all kept for

the duration of the war. The loyalty questions were administered to all people with the

potential for relocation and were: 1.?Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the

United States on combat duty wherever ordered?? 2.?Will you swear unqualified

allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from

any and all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance or

obedience to the Japanese Emperor, or any other foreign government, power, or

organization?? (Spicer 143) Those who answered no to either question were interned for

the duration of the war and after their forced evacuation to relocation camps, many

Japanese Americans did answer ?no?.

Why did all Japanese Americans inside the W.D.C. get interned and not the

Italians or Germans? Only a few of these two groups who were considered subversive or

enemy aliens were interned. Most of them however were not interned. There was a lot of

controversy over this in the military but the reason is fairly simple. If the military was to

intern all alien Italians and Germans they would have had to intern Joe DiMaggio?s

father. Now Joe DiMaggio was one of the biggest most popular sports figures at the tine

and to intern his father would have created a back lash that was not felt after the

internment of the Japanese. Quite simply, the military could ?get away? with interning

the Japanese in America, not the Italians. As for the Germans, the military thought that

with Germans you can tell who is bad or disloyal just by observing them; something that

seems ambiguous since there are no black and white differences between loyal and

disloyal. Also, ?The evil deeds of Hitler?s Germany were the deeds of bad men; the evil

deeds of Tojo and Hirohito?s Japan were the deeds of bad race? (Daniels 2, 34)

Because Germans are white, there are some good ones, but because the Japanese are not

white there are no good ones. Isn?t this what the above passage is saying. There was no

difference between the imperial strength of Germany and the imperial strength of Japan

at the time except the color of the people.

Why were the Japanese interned? Was it because of military necessity, the public

outcry for their internment, the lobbying of various politicians and pressure groups, or

was it prejudice? This paper contends that racism caused the Japanese in America to be

interned. The other more popular theories are the ?Military Necessity? theory, the

?Pressure Group? theory and the ?Politician? theory. We will see that none of these

theories hold true under scrutiny. The ?military necessity? theory is probably the most

widely know and most often preferred to be true. This theory is self-explanatory. It?s the

theory that the Japanese were interned because they were a threat to national security.

This just isn?t true. Numerous reports made by military and F.B.I. officials state that the

Japanese did not have the military capability to invade the west coast and there was

absolutely no proof of sabotage going on anywhere. On the very day the president signed

order 9066 a report made by a general staff officer stated that ?mass evacuation? was

unnecessary?(Daniels 47). Numerous other reports were submitted before the day order

9066 was signed but none of them were heeded. Why? Because the people that made the

decision to intern the Japanese let their racist fears control them.

The second most widely held theory is the ?Pressure Group? theory. This theory

holds that influential civilian groups such as the American Legion and many labor

organizations lobbied for the Japanese internment because of economic motives. It is true

that pressure groups lobbied for the internment because of economic motives but in

actuality, it was ?too little too late?. The groups were not large enough and did not have

consensus with their other chapters to be big and widespread enough to influence the

military. Also, many groups didn?t start to lobby for internment until after the decision to

intern the Japanese had already been made. This theory puts forth that there was an

organized effort to lobby for internment but, there was no organized effort. It was

splotchy and spread out at best. Although the pressure groups did ??provide a barometer

for prejudiced Army officials, confirming the receptivity of the public to anti-Japanese

measures (tenBroek 188).

The ?Politician? theory is the most easily discredited of them all. It is the theory

that some politicians, in order to look like leaders, picked up the cause to intern the

Japanese. Many politicians did pick up the cause to intern the Japanese but just like the

previous theory it was ?too little too late?. As the lines below will show, the activities of

public officials on the west coast before Feb. 14, 1942,

?were relatively, if not absolutely, insignificant. State, county, and city officials were not uniformly or even prominently outspoken for evacuation at a time when their views might have swayed the commanding general (tenBroek 200).

The commanding general, General DeWitt, had made the order to recommend

internment before most politicians had made any public statements concerning their

support for the internment. The recommendation for internment came from General

DeWitt and his staff. Not from pressure groups, or politicians or anyone else for that

matter. It comes down to the fact that:

The racism exhibited by the general and his staff was blatant and unmistakable, and clearly corresponded to (if it did not surpass) that of articulate public opinion along the Pacific Coast in the early months of the war (tenBroek 208)

It was not a military necessity to intern the Japanese so why did the Army see fit

to go through with it? It?s clearly because of a racist staff of officers. The people of the

west coast, and maybe even the Army, were nervous and scared of the ?yellow peril?.

They ended up striking out at the shadow of the problem, the Japanese, instead of the real

problem, their own fears and stereotypes, and by this blow they damaged not the enemy,

but their own Constitution and free way of life.

The Constitutional questions raised by the internment of the Japanese were many.

But the most important question isthis. Was the evacuation of persons of Japanese

ancestry from the west coast constitutional? In Korematsu vs.U.S., we hear from the

Supreme Court on whether the evacuation is Constitutional. The ruling was that although

prejudice based on race is unconstitutional, in the specific case of the Japanese

evacuation its was ruled as Constitutional because it was ??relevant to measures for our

national defense and for the successful prosecution of the war??(Myer 260). We see

here that the racism of the Army is justified by ?military necessity?, which is used over

and over again to describe the need for Japanese internment. But there was no military

necessity at the time of internment or any time during the war. Throughout the different

Supreme Court cases, the court supported the military?s decision of ?necessity? while

saying at the same time that the internment was unconstitutional ?at any other time?

because of its racism. It must be stated that although the U.S. won the Korematsu case,

some of the justices decided explicitly in favor of Korematsu because the evacuation was

in fact unconstitutional.

The case that addressed the actual internment of the Japanese in relocation centers

was the Endo case. Although Miss. Endo won the case because the authorization for

detention was not expressly given under the order that established the War Relocation

Authority, the Supreme Court never actually made a decision on the Constitutionality of

the internment of the Japanese. This seems to say that the highest court in the land was

afraid to rebuff the military. What does this say about the Supreme Court who is

supposed to be protectors of the people. Will the court lie down in front of the military in

the future when even more constitutional rights are at stake? Through its decisions, the

Supreme Court clearly circumvented the constitution in order to protect the military, as

an institution that would not directly violate the rights of its people under any

circumstances. Why would the military deprive the people who pay its wages, of their

Constitutional rights? The answer is military racism. This would not happen to white

people in America. The internment is just another example of the dominant portion of

society making decisions that are only based on maintaining their rule. The military was

afraid of what the Japanese people might do to sabotage strategic areas in the U.S. even

though there was no proof that anything like that would or could happen.

The Japanese internment during World War II was hailed by the A.C.L.U. as ?the

greatest deprivation of civil rights by government in this country since slavery?(James 3)

and that?s precisely what it was. The xenophobia shown by whites of the west coast dates

back to the establishment of California as the Bear Flag Republic and continued to show

itself through various anti-Oriental exclusion laws until the mid 1900?s. These

exclusionist policies culminated in the forced exile of almost a whole nation of Japanese

immigrants (most of them living on the west coast at the time) during W.W.II. The

internment was unconstitutional but defended by the Supreme Court as a ?military

necessity? although it was obviously a deprivation of civil rights. After the bombing of

Pearl Harbor, the west coast public was driven in to a ?state of war hysteria? through

pre-war conditioning by means of movies and books and later on through the use of

yellow journalism depicting Japanese Americans as a ?yellow peril?. This functioned to

demonize the Japanese, and make the public feel that they were disloyal as a race and not

on an individual level.

The general in charge of the Western Defense Command was General DeWitt,

who, even though there was no need to intern the Japanese, made the recommendation to

president Roosevelt to do so anyway. This is because of the military?s, and most of the

public?s prejudice against non-white foreigners at the time; which can be seen in the fact

that almost no persons of Italian or German descent were interned yet almost all

Japanese, American citizens or not, were interned. The public outcry for the internment

was practically only caused by the extensive amount of propaganda used against the

Japanese in the media, which shaped the anti-Japanese stereotypes that so many people

had at the time. The only theory that does not cave in on serious inquiry is that military

racism, which mirrored the public?s racism, was the cause of the internment. There was

no military necessity for the internment and the pressure groups and politicians at the

time were not organized and acted after the decision for internment had already been

made by the military. Because of the racism exhibited by the military, and the Supreme

Court?s defense of the internment, although unconstitutional, we see a precedent

developing which could render the Constitution only a formality to be side stepped in the

future in order for the military to get what it wants. This will be a serious issue to be

addressed during later internal conflicts.

Conrat, Maisie and Richard, Executive Order 9066. Anderson, Ritchie and Simon,

Los Angeles, California, 1972.

Daniels, Roger, Prisoners Without Trial. Hill and Wang, New York, 1993.

Daniels, Roger, Concentration Camps USA: Japanese Americans and World War II.

Holt, Rhinehart, and Winston, INC. 1971

James, Thomas, Exile Within. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts,


Meyer, Dillon S., Uprooted Americans. The University of Arizona Press, Tucson, Arizona1971.

Spicer, Edward H., Hansen, Asael T., Luomala, Katherine, Opler, Marvin K., Impounded People. The University of Arizona Press, Tucson, Arizona, 1969.

tenBroek, Jacobus, Barnhart, Edward N., Matson, Floyd W., Prejudice, War, and the Constitution: Causes and Consequences of the Evacuation of the Japanese Americans in World War II. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1954.


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