Japanese Concentration Camps In America Essay, Research Paper
The American Shame
The internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II is a shameful era in the history of the United States. They were banished to detention centers not for their protection, but due to prejudices. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, thousands of American citizens were sent away for the sole reason of their Japanese inheritance. Although some people protested this, it still occurred on the basis of wild speculation amongst high-ranking officials. The government called the Japanese-Americans “evacuees,” but in reality they were prisoners in concentration camps. Over 110,000 Americans were forced to live in the horrible conditions at these camps. Even so, many remained loyal to the United States throughout this period. The United States did not maintain a perfect reputation during World War II is apparent when looking at the concentration camps in America.
First of all, the camps were not for the protection of the Japanese-Americans, rather because of prejudices. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, citing the relocation of Japanese-Americans to protect against espionage and sabotage (Brimner 42). However, many government officials had different reasons. Army officer John D. DeWitt was one of the most outspoken advocates for the removal of the Japanese:
DeWitt’s statements indicated an irrational fear and hatred of all Japanese. He claimed, “The Japanese are an enemy race. We must worry about the Japanese all the time until [they are] wiped off the map,” he commented. “A Jap’s a Jap. They’re a dangerous element whether loyal or not.” (Fremon 29)
There are numerous documented prejudice comments said by DeWitt against the Japanese. His insistence played a large factor in influencing the deportment of the Japanese-Americans. Also, his ramblings had no basis on reality. They simply added to the hysteria and building prejudices.
Many other officials expressed their discriminatory views. Nels Smith insisted that all Japanese should be kept in ‘concentration camps,’ not the reception centers Eisenhower had suggested (Daniels 94). This shows that many Americans were not looking out for the good of the Japanese. It was simply an excuse to rid the country of foreigners that were not deemed acceptable. Additionally, Frank Knox, secretary of the Navy, urged the government to rid the island of Hawaii from all persons with even a drop of Japanese blood in them (Fremon 28). This irrational suggestion was taken very seriously in the decision to evacuate.
Unfortunately, the discrimination against the Japanese was nothing new as it had once been common in American society. In the early 1900 s, thousands of Japanese immigrated to the U.S. Soon afterwards, organizations such as the Anti-Jap Laundry League and the Asiatic Exclusion League were formed (Armor 26). They were publicly humiliated and threatened, sometimes attacked. Even though they demonstrated above average skills at farming, they were prevented from becoming successful. As Armor said, The skill and industry of the Japanese as farmers led to the passage in California in 1919 of Alien Land Laws, which banned further purchase of land by Japanese aliens and limited their leases on farmland to three years” (28). As times progressed, they eventually gained more rights and were generally accepted as true Americans, although their Oriental looks proved their heredity. The Japanese-Americans were horrified when once again they were being discriminated against in the United States.
Although officials claimed the relocation was for their protection, the Japanese weren t given any respect or proper evacuation procedures. Some families only had a 48-hour notice; others had up to two weeks (Fremon 23). The men in each family were summoned to wait in a long line to receive a number and instructions. Moreover, this was not only humiliating, but very degrading to human life. There they were told that they could only bring with them what each individual could carry:
The suddenness of the removal edict, and bureaucratic inertia in making provisions for the sale or safeguarding of property, precipitated a condition of utter chaos as evacuees sought frantically to dispose of their life accumulations in any way they knew how in hopes of salvaging what cash they could. (Weglyn 77)
The businesses and possessions of the Japanese-Americans were pilfered and vandalized by people who knew they could be taken advantage of. The Japanese-Americans were treated like cattle with absolutely no respect for their thoughts or feelings.
Once they were shipped away, the Japanese realized the extent of the shabby conditions of the camps. They were located in extreme weather regions. Gesensway writes that The ten relocation camps were located in deserts and swamps, the most desolate, hostile areas of the country (44). Those in the desert mostly recall the hideous sand and dust storms that frequently arose. As one evacuee, Monica Sone said, Sand filled our mouths and nostrils and stung our faces and hands like a thousand darting needles (Brimner 50). Furthermore, during summertime temperatures often peaked at 110 F. At the other end of the spectrum, nighttime could reach 20 below zero (Fremon, 27). The Japanese-Americans got a great shock to their bodies when relocated.
Plus, the camps themselves were slapped together barracks with shabby workmanship. Every edifice measured 24 by 96 feet and was sectioned into compartments for each family. A four-person family would occupy a space measuring 24 by 20 feet (Brimner 49). Many of the roofs had huge cracks which allowed for horrendous weather to seep through, along with insects and parasites. Finally, each camp was surrounded by a large barbed-wire fence surrounded by guards (Gesensway 43). The Japanese-Americans were forced from their comfortable homes into a world of broken down and shambled buildings.
Additionally, many conditions in the camps were unhealthy and not sterile. There was no running water. Bathroom facilities were communal and without compartments (Armor 7). Many of the families were at first put into filthy horse stables. These unsanitary conditions were deemed unbearable by many (Brimner 42). Much of their medical equipment was outdated or did not work properly. The doctors and staff were overworked, which diminished their ability to provide proper care. The food was another common complaint. Some camps were able to enjoy a breakfast of eggs or bacon. However, many consisted of tasteless meals with the consistency of a dead fish. Japanese American James Goto recalls the Huge brown liver. Brown and bluish in color [that] would bounce if dropped (Brimner 43). Due to the lack of nutrition and medical facilities, the evacuees were forced to survive in the unsanitary conditions of the concentration camps.
After the release of all Japanese Americans in 1945 many American officials realized and admitted that they were wrong. Heads shook across the nation as society began to come out of its hysteria and realize what it had allowed to occur. Francis Biddle remained one of the most conscience-stricken figures. He said, We should never have moved the Japanese from their home and their work. It was un-American, un-Constitutional, and un-Christian (Weglyn 114). This shows that the interment was a definite low point for America. The admission by officials further reinforced this. However, it is a shame that the entire ordeal couldn t have been avoided. At the time, some people did speak out in defense of the Japanese.
The officials who defended the Japanese gave a worthy effort, yet in the end it did not make a difference. Early on in the evacuation process, Biddle offered his findings to the investigation. He could not find a valid reason to banish these loyal American citizens. A power struggle ensued between the Justice Department and the War Department, which wanted to detain the Japanese Americans (Fremon 30). Even though people realized that the internment of the Japanese-Americans was wrong, it was allowed to occur nonetheless. James M. Omura compared what was happening in the U.S. to what was happening to the Jews by Hitler at the time (Weglyn 67). This shows that what some of America was doing during World War II was along the same lines as the atrocities being committed across the seas. Milton S. Eisenhower took a stand against the removal of the Japanese-Americans. On April 1 he wrote, “I feel most deeply that when the war is over and we consider calmly this unprecedented migration of 120,000 people, we as Americans are going to regret the avoidable injustices that may have been done” (Daniels 91). All of these men made an attempt to allow America to keep its dignity during World War II by not taking the Japanese into camps.
The internment of the Japanese-Americans during World War II will always be a shameful spot on the United States’ history. The concentration camps were erected on the un-Constitutional beliefs that all men are not created equal. The harsh locations of the camps showed that America was not looking in the best interest of the Japanese. Furthermore, the despicable conditions and lack of respect added to the prejudices already inflicted upon them. By realizing past mistakes, countries can learn from them for the future.
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Gesensway, Deborah, and Mindy Roseman. Beyond Words. Ithaca and London: Cornell
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Weglyn, Michi. Years of Infamy. New York: Morcow Quill Paperbacks, 1976.