|JAPANESE INTERNMENT CAMPS
The surprise attack and bombing of Pearl Harbor by Japan in 1941, set into motion far-reaching measures to prevent the reoccurrence of such treachery. Impelled by military necessity, and for the security of the Pacific West Coast, people of Japanese descent in the tens of thousands were forcibly relocated from the region.
As the United States entered World War II, there were approximately 5,000 Japanese Americans in the U.S. armed forces. They were immediately classified as 4-C, or enemy aliens — despite their U.S. citizenship. Based on secret army intelligence reports indicating an "espionage network containing Japanese aliens, first- and second- generation Japanese working together underground..." a military decision was made to summarily discharge many of those 5,000 servicemen. Those who remained played a vital role in the war as the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team, winning numerous citations for conspicuous bravery.
Considering it to be of utmost importance to the national security, the government began the registration of enemy aliens on February 2, 1942. At the same time, the FBI began secret, random search-and-seizure raids at the homes and businesses of Japanese residents, rounding up dangerous members of the Japanese Black Dragon Society. The Secretary of War met with President Franklin D. Roosevelt to ask for authorization to remove alien and citizen Japanese to detention camps. General John L. DeWitt, commander of the Fourth Army headquarters at the Presidio of San Francisco, expressed his concern about an "expected violent outburst of coordinated and controlled sabotage" among the Japanese population.
A Civil Control Station was set up, to which a responsible member from each Japanese family was to report for registration and further instructions. Fearing more Japanese attacks on their cities, homes, and businesses, government leaders in California, Oregon, and Washington, insisted that the Japanese residents be removed and placed in isolation farther inland. Facing the uncertainty of war and mounting pressure from the people, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, which resulted in the forcible internment of people of Japanese ancestry.
The military moved in on what they thought to be the enemy in a timely and dignified manner. With time of the essence, the Justice Department announced that strategic locations must be cleared of any such aliens by February 24th.
It was without serious incident that one of the largest migrations in history took place in early spring of 1942. Under military supervision, the U.S. Government evacuated more than 110,000 people of Japanese descent and placed them into 10 wartime enclaves. More than two thirds of those interned under the executive order were U.S. citizens, and none had ever demonstrated any disloyalty.
Forced to carry on their lives under harsh weather conditions and unfamiliar surroundings, the exiles took up residence in the internment camps. Leaving behind their homes and businesses, they were scattered all over the interior West in isolated desert areas.
The 10 camps (relocation centers) were located at:
Gila River, Arkansas;
Heart Mountain, Wyoming;
Topaz, Utah; and
Tula Lake, California.
The last 274 internees were removed from San Francisco, California, on May 20th, 1942. Only six seriously ill people remained in local hospitals.
The 10 internment camps resembled prisons with poor food, cramped quarters, and communal facilities. The housing provided was tarpaper covered barracks without plumbing or cooking facilities. A family of five or six occupied a single room of 25 by 20 feet. A bath, laundry and toilet building was shared by more than 250 people. Older immigrants, known as Issei, were deprived of traditional status and respect when their American-born children, Nisei, were permitted positions of authority within the camps. When internees were given an opportunity to leave the camps by joining the U.S. Army, approximately 1,200 did so.
Each camp had government-owned or -leased farmland that was utilized by the internees to produce poultry, eggs and pork. A few of the centers also produced beef and dairy products. The cost of food per day averaged about 45 cents per resident. At each sitting, 250 to 300 people were fed cafeteria style in crowded conditions. Workers earned an average of $16 per month for a 44-hour week with little possibility of economic gain.
Medical care was provided without charge at the centers with hospitals built on site. Education was provided through high school with many of the internees recruited as teachers, and vocational training was available in connection with employment programs. Essential to the community, work opportunities were offered to make the fullest possible use of each internee’s skills and manpower. Also located at the camps were stores, canteens, barber shops and shoe-repair establishments managed by the residents.
The War Relocation Authority (WRA) was created as a civilian agency responsible for assisting the internees to become acclimated to their new way of life. It was hoped as well that a considerable number of residents would eventually move out of restricted areas and resettle inland of their own initiative. About 8,000 were allowed to move; however, mounting resistance and hostility in surrounding communities, plus the general uncertainty of the war, caused all further voluntary relocation to be halted by the Western Defense Command.
The WRA was designed to maintain the relocation centers for as long as necessary. Not intended to be merely places of confinement, they were to provide communities for the evacuees to live, work and contribute and eventually mainstream back into society. Despite the fact that most residents were U.S. citizens, many of them buying war bonds and making significant donations to the American Red Cross, they were now denied the right to become U.S. citizens.
WRA relocation officers and supervisors worked closely with employment agencies to match up jobs with the most suitable internees, working toward a steady depopulation of the camps, encouraging able-bodied residents with good records of behavior to reenter employment in agriculture or industry.
Internal security was maintained at each center with a resident "special police force" headed by a non-internee chief, while the exterior boundaries were guarded by military police. One of the most infamous camps was located in Tule Lake, California. There the detainees held frequent demonstrations and strikes demanding their rights under the U.S. Constitution. As a result, it became a “segregation camp,” where other camp internees were sent for refusing to take the loyalty oath, or had been known to cause disturbances within their original camps. At its peak, the Tule Lake camp held 18,789 non-compliant detainees.
Most residents of the relocation centers, never being found guilty of any such wrongful acts or intentions, were merely a group of American citizens of Japanese ancestry who happened to be living in a potential combat zone. Executive Order 9066 was rescinded by President Roosevelt in 1944, and the last of the camps was closed in March 1946.
The Japanese-descent evacuees left behind an estimated $200,000,000 worth of real, commercial, and personal property. While the WRA was a mediator for the evacuees in that regard, their properties and personal items were sold for much lesser value, and they suffered great financial losses.
Forty-six years after the harsh conditions, dislocated lives, and pain, the U.S. government formally acknowledged, apologized, and provided token financial restitution of $20,000 to each of the affected families. The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 was signed by President Ronald Reagan.
Japanese Relocation Centers
During World War II, nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans were under lock and key
by Ricco Villanueva Siasoco and Shmuel Ross
On February 19, 1942, soon after the beginning of World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. The evacuation order commenced the round-up of 120,000 Americans of Japanese heritage to one of 10 internment camps—officially called "relocation centers"—in California, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado, and Arkansas.
Why Were the Camps Established?
Roosevelt's executive order was fueled by anti-Japanese sentiment among farmers who competed against Japanese labor, politicians who sided with anti-Japanese constituencies, and the general public, whose frenzy was heightened by the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor. More than two-thirds of the Japanese who were interned in the spring of 1942 were citizens of the United States.
Similar Orders in Canada
In Canada, similar evacuation orders were established. Nearly 23,000 Nikkei, or Canadians of Japanese descent, were sent to camps in British Columbia. It was the greatest mass movement in the history of Canada.
Though families were generally kept together in the United States, Canada sent male evacuees to work in road camps or on sugar beet projects. Women and children Nikkei were forced to move to six inner British Columbia towns.
Conditions in the U.S. Camps
The U.S. internment camps were overcrowded and provided poor living conditions. According to a 1943 report published by the War Relocation Authority (the administering agency), Japanese Americans were housed in "tarpaper-covered barracks of simple frame construction without plumbing or cooking facilities of any kind." Coal was hard to come by, and internees slept under as many blankets as they were alloted. Food was rationed out at an expense of 48 cents per internee, and served by fellow internees in a mess hall of 250-300 people.
Leadership positions within the camps were only offered to the Nisei, or American-born, Japanese. The older generation, or the Issei, were forced to watch as the government promoted their children and ignored them.
Eventually the government allowed internees to leave the concentration camps if they enlisted in the U.S. Army. This offer was not well received. Only 1,200 internees chose to do so.
Legal Challenges to Internment
Two important legal cases were brought against the United States concerning the internment. The landmark cases were Hirabayashi v. United States (1943), and Korematsu v. United States (1944). The defendants argued their fifth amendment rights were violated by the U.S. government because of their ancestry. In both cases, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the U.S. government.
Closure of the Camps
In 1944, two and a half years after signing Executive Order 9066, fourth-term President Franklin D. Roosevelt rescinded the order. The last internment camp was closed by the end of 1945.
Government Apologies and Reparations
Forced into confinement by the United States, 5,766 Nisei ultimately renounced their American citizenship. In 1968, nearly two dozen years after the camps were closed, the government began reparations to Japanese Americans for property they had lost.
In 1988, the U.S. Congress passed legislation which awarded formal payments of $20,000 each to the surviving internees—60,000 in all. This same year, formal apologies were also issued by the government of Canada to Japanese Canadian survivors, who were each repaid the sum of $21,000 Canadian dollars.
Other Groups in the Camps
While Japanese-Americans comprised the overwhelming majority of those in the camps, thousands of Americans of German, Italian, and other European descent were also forced to relocate there. Many more were classified as "enemy aliens" and subject to increased restrictions.