Japanese Internment Essay Research Paper Japanese Internment

Japanese Internment Essay, Research Paper Japanese Internment: Will We Ever Know The Truth? Would The Truth Make It Moral? In 1942, 120,000 Japanese-Americans were “relocated” to areas far from their

Japanese Internment Essay, Research Paper

Japanese Internment: Will We Ever Know The Truth? Would The Truth Make It Moral?

In 1942, 120,000 Japanese-Americans were “relocated” to areas far from their

homes, out of the fear the United States Government held inside their hearts. Japan had

just bombed Pearl Harbor. Many of the U.S. seaport areas on the West coast were

inhabited by Japanese-Americans. General DeWitt provided a “security plan” for both

United States citizens (Caucasian) and the Japanese-Americans…or so it was stated.

However, when seeking the fine details of this incident, will we ever know the absolute

truth? The Official Government documents drastically contrast the first-hand accounts of

what it was like in those “Pioneer Communities.” Each source changes the story behind

the Japanese-American Internment slightly. Can truth truly exist once it becomes a part

of the past? By looking at both governmental and personal accounts of the Internment,

only small similarities carry throughout.

In the “Instructions to All Persons of Japanese Ancestry,” John L. DeWitt,

lieutenant general of the Western Defense Command, posted on April 30th, 1942,

instructed all Japanese descendants, whether born inside or outside of the United States

that they were not to change residences after 12:00 PM on this very day, and that all

would be evacuated from their homes no later than May 7th, 1942 – only one week later.

There were no reasons behind this “evacuation,” and there were no explanations as to

what was going to happen after such an evacuation. Thorough plans for preparation were

provided, such as the offering of assistance from the Civil Control Station to help sell or

dispose of all personal or business property, and to provide temporary residence for all

Japanese in family groups. The instructions on this evacuation were very precise, and did

not allow for any compromise:


…2. Evacuees must carry with them on departure for the Assembly Center, the following


(a) Bedding and linens (no mattress) for each member of the family;

(b) Toilet articles for each member of the family;

(c) Extra clothing for each member of the family;

(d) Sufficient knives, forks, spoons, plates, bowls, and cups for each member of

the family…

As is obvious, it seemed the government had a very specific plan in mind for these

thousands of Japanese-Americans. But no reasoning was offered to the victims of this

plan. Each citizen and “alien” (Non-American born Japanese were not allowed to

become citizens – evidence of previous racism against those of Asian background) were

expected to fully accept and obey what the government had expected of them. Most of

them did. It was a trust of the government – it was the center of everything, and the

President and his men held a great deal of respect – and the government officials must

have had sufficient reason for doing such a thing to it’s people. We know now that this

“relocation and evacuation” was immoral, deceitful, and practically criminal. But in the

1940’s, it was somehow accepted.

The instructions also included, not just what they were to bring, but also what

NOT to bring. “No pets of an kind…no personal items and no household goods….” The

government only allowed for the Japanese-Americans to bring necessities. Nothing that

would provide them with any of the comforts of home. Perhaps some thought the

government would provide them these sorts of amenities once they arrived wherever it

was that they were going. But they left it all behind.

It is easy to look into this occurrence now, with hate and wagging fingers,

knowing that even the government which initiated such a situation has taken blame and

admittance for such a wrongdoing. In the eyes, minds, and hearts of those involved in the

situation and around it, it must have been a very different situation.

In a news reel from 1942, reported by Milton Eisenhower, these camps of

“untamed” lands and “pioneer communities” seemed like ample opportunities for the

Japanese-Americans which were being moved there. The government was depicted as

working quickly to provide safety for Japanese descendants from the war-affected

Americans that may become violent towards them, and that they were busy ensuring that

the Japanese had everything that they would need for as long as they were there. The

Japanese were depicted as “curious” about their new surroundings, though the film

showed rather frightened-looking humans with slumped shoulders and withdrawn souls.

Nothing about them looked curious, however I’m sure some were – regarding when they

could go home again.

The government, particularly Milton Eisenhower in this film, portrayed the role of

the ‘good guy,” the protector, the provider, the safe-haven, for both its native citizens and

those of Japanese descent. They explained the “relocation” as a method of eliminating

the opportunity for sabotage, because the Japanese had settled around many navy bases

and seaports, allowing ample opportunities to spy upon the U.S. plans, and, if desired, to

report them back to Japan. This solution provided protection for the entire West Coast, if

not the entire country, from secret attacks from Japan due to secret information relayed to

them from a Japanese person in the United States. This also provided protection to the

Japanese from the Caucasian citizens in the U.S.. In case of hostility and violence, they

would be safe from any racial attacks due to the war at hand.

But was the “relocation” not a racial attack? What exactly was the basis for

“imprisoning” only the Japanese descendants when we were also at war with Italy and

Germany? DeWitt did address the concept of all “enemy-race” internment, or rather

imprisonment, but 10,000 Italians and Germans were arrested, placed through hearings,

and about 6,000 were immediately released. The government, indeed, played the severe

role of a hypocrite, and has admitted to such today.

After the situation had long been past, in 1982, the U.S Commission on Wartime

Relocation and Internment of Civilians was produced. It addresses a movement which

arose in the 1970’s to “provide redress for victims of the internment.” Apparently, the

government did realize that their actions in 1942 were morally wrong and detrimental to

the Japanese involved. This committee, the U.S.C.W.R.I.C. for short, interviewed

hundreds of internees, and published the report, Personal Justice Denied. “The report

concludes in no uncertain terms that the Nikkei internment was a grave injustice.” The

Congress was suggested to issue a formal apology and to authorize a $20,000 payment to

all surviving internees. These suggestions were, indeed, enacted by the Civil Liberties

Act of 1988, and the payments began in 1990.

Personal Justice Denied referred to the internment as a “policy [that] inevitably

failed,” and noted the fact that the “camps” were “surrounded by barbed wire and

military police.” This was something that, in 1942, the government would not admit to

the rest of the country. It was portrayed as a rather decent establishment, with quiet safety

and nurture. Now the government authorities were admitting otherwise. This document

even discusses the mistakes of “exclusion…continued without regard for their

demonstrated loyalty to the United States.”

One line, out of the entire documentation, summarizes the situations flaws at


“All this was done despite the fact that not a single documented act of espionage,

sabotage, or fifth column activity was committed by an American citizen of Japanese

ancestry or by a resident Japanese alien on the West Coast.”

It also addresses the fact that no “mass exclusion or detention, in any part of the

country, was ordered against American citizens of German or Italian decent,” and further

refers to the internment as a “personal injustice of excluding, removing, and detaining

loyal American citizens.” Finally, it refers to General DeWitt’s reasoning behind the

internment as “unfounded justifications.”

The government has, indeed, admitted their wrongdoings and injustices, and has

offered methods of repair and forgiveness, but the scars left upon those who were on the

inside of these camps cannot be repaired with a simple apology and the offering of

financial reimbursement. Imagine how damaging the inside, first-person view of the

dreaded internment camps were.

Min? Okubo, author of Citizen 13660, gives her first-person account of the way

the Japanese-Americans in the “communities” were treated, how they felt, and how they

lived. In her book, she says that “it was a real blow when everyone, regardless of

citizenship, was ordered to evacuate.” Imagine the audacity: no matter how long you had

been in the United States, whether from birth or soon after, you could look at your skin

color and know that you, too, had to go to this mysterious “relocation,” this “evacuation.”

You would lose everything you had lived for – your home, business, cars,

memories…everything that belonged to you, besides a few unimportant accessories

(bedding, clothes, etc.). Imagine losing even your identity, and having it replaced by a

number, having to tag “the baggage with the family number,” and pin “the personal tags”

on yourself. You would be filed onto a bus with hundreds of other Japanese descendants,

escorted by military police, and driven to a possibly familiar sounding place, such as a

racetrack or fairground, yet not knowing what to expect once you had arrived. Even once

you arrived, you would be searched. All “straight-edged razors, knives longer than four

inches long, and liquor were considered contraband” and confiscated. Okubo even talked

about how the government attempted to separate her brother and herself, but she argued

the point with the “receptionists,” and finally got to remain with him.

While in the camp, it was much different from Milton Eisenhower’s interpretation

of “plenty of healthful, nourishing food.” Min? describes her first meal as “canned

hash…potato and two slices of bread.” They had a single pitcher of tea on each table, and

when finished with their “meal,” the dishes were not very sanitarily cleaned in a “soapy


At the end of the day, like while at home, or anywhere else for that matter, it was

time to attempt a good night’s sleep. However, “the mattress department was a stable

filled with straw.” “Bags of ticking” were given to be stuffed with the straw. Only the

old and sick were allowed the few cotton mattresses that were available.

The “rooms” that the Japanese were housed in were depicted in Citizen 13660 as

having many holes in the boards and very cold in these stable-like dwellings. All of the

possessions they had brought with them were used as warmth for the night, because their

single blanket was not enough to keep them from shivering.

Numerous unhappy, uneasy experiences are depicted in reference to any aspect of

the interment camps for the Japanese-Americans placed there. Min? explains that

because of the poor conditions, she had a cold most of the time she spend in internment.

Serious conflicts in the descriptions of these such camps between the government

and the internees occur. Governmental views of these camps depict decently designed,

safe shelters with many opportunities and healthy surroundings. Min?’s views are

completely oppositional. What exactly is the truth behind the matter?

The government did admit to the camps being extremely less glamorous than

envisioned and defined in 1942. Many aspects were not addressed by the government

regarding the camps, however, leaving many unanswered questions. Can one aspect

necessarily be believed as the truth?

One thing is for sure; The internment of the Japanese-American citizens and

‘aliens’ was morally, judgmentally, ethically, and governmentally wrong. That aspect, at

least, has been agreed upon.

Can truth, once it has become an aspect of the past, truly exist? Again, I feel, we

have failed to prove that it truly can, at least in entirety. On the concept of the

Japanese-American internment, most aspects have been settled, but yet, as in all historical

situations, many have not. The world may never know exactly to what extent the horrors

occurred, or to what depths the scars left had been cut. It is in the past, but it will affect

many lives from here far into the future.