Racism: The Question Of Japanese Internment During World War Two Essay, Research Paper
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
ASHORE, ENEMY PLANES SIGHTED OVER CALIFORNIA COAST, TWO
JAPANESE WITH MAPS AND ALIEN LITERATURE SIEZED, JAP AND CAMERA
HELD IN BAY CITY, JAPANESE HERE SENT VITAL DATA TO TOKYO,
CHINESE ARE ABLE TO SPOT JAP, and JAPS PLAN COAST ATTACK IN APRIL
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.
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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.