Lecture Notes: Japanese Internment

During World War II
· Executive Order 9066 singed by Roosevelt on 19 February 1942 forced 120,000 Japanese-ancestry persons into 10 internment camps [26,000 Japanese-Canadians were interned]
·  they represented more than the population of the Five Civilized Indian Tribes who were moved to OK in the 19th century
· only Japanese-Americans on the West coast were interned -- NOT in HI, where they still represent 50% of the population of Honolulu.
· 66% were U.S. citizens (Nisei)
· 33% were Japanese-born (Issei), who were not U.S. citizens because U.S. law prohibited them
· U.S. justification: "military necessity" -- unsupported allegations of disloyalty

Many Germans and Italians were also interned, including US-born citizens and "aliens" (legal immigrants) of these two nationalities. Read a newspaper article -- thanks to Paul Knauer for this article and his insistence on pointing out the extent that Germans were also persecuted during the World War II by the US government. New York Times articles in 1943-1945 document this persecution.
Optional reading: Eric L. Muller, Free to Die for Their Country, University of Chicago Press, 2001.

· 1880s US wanted cheap labor: Asian were imported
· by 1908, 135,000 Japanese had arrived
· Oriental Exclusion Proclamation (1907) limited Japanese immigration
· 1924, US prohibited Japanese immigration and barred those that had entered from becoming US citizens
· US lifted ban in 1952 Organization of Camps
· BIA officials ran camps; many camps built on Indian reservation lands
· US Supreme Court argued (7 to 2 vote) that camps were justified for military/security reasons
· guards called them "Japs"
· "interns" built, maintained all buildings, and produced their own food
· surrounding towns were hostile: Parker, AZ, barber shop sign: "Jap, keep out, you rat."

Witch hunt organized by the California Joint Immigration Committee:
1) American Legion -- veterans group, patriotism
2) California State Federation of Labor -- labor, competition for jobs (fishing)
3) California Grange -- farmers, competition in fruits & vegetables
4) Native Sons of the Golden West -- WASP, patriotism

Chief of Police of Los Angeles, where 33% of Japanese-Americans lived, said:
"You have racial characteristics, that of being a Mongolian, which cannot be obliterated from these persons, regardless of how many generations are born in the US."

A biological and cultural melting pot theory was being imposed which was impossible to achieve for the Japanese-Americans, rather than a salad bowl metaphor

· by 1944, 1,500 Japanese-American men from the camps volunteered for military service
· fighting in Italy for freedom that their parents and relatives did not have in USA
- in Hawaii: two military units of Japanese-Americans represented 60% of all Hawaii forces in WWII and 80% of the casualties! 
· very high casualty rates compared with other ethnic/racial groups
· one of the most heavily decorated units in US military history


  • Japanese-American themselves:
    · 6,000 young people renounced their US citizenship
    · 5,000-8,000 returned to Japan after the war

  • Groups Supported Japanese-American Rights:
    · Socialist Party, especially its leader, Norman Thomas
    · American Friends Service Committee
    · Workers Defense League
    · Post War World Council
    · Northern California Branch of the ACLU only -- the national ACLU actually tried to prevent the local chapter from legally representing Fred Korematsu, a Japanese-American who insisted on his constitutional rights to not be interned because of his race. Check-out the Public Television show, OF CIVIL WRONGS AND RIGHTS.

Restitution and Remembrance
2 January 1945 US Supreme Court: ruled that detention camps were unconstitutional -- yet in Hood River, OR, the American Legion erased the names of Nisei in the armed forces from the town's Honor Roll

2) 1948 Truman signed "Japanese Evacuation Claims Act"-- claims were made: $131 million; only $38 million was paid (used 1942 value of the dollar)

3) 1981 US Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians
· in 1988, US officially apologized in the Civil Liberties Act -- first time in US history
· compensation: $20,000 (not taxed) for each living survivor of the camps (if dead, then their spouses or children)
· 80,000 former internees were entitled to payment when Ronald Reagan signed the law which created the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund -- $1.6 billion was paid out. In 1942 prices, the estimated total lost in property and incomes was however $2 billion without annual interest.

Notice, how few countries have "officially" apologized for past "wrongs" and even fewer have compensated victims for past "wrongs." Although the U.S. government apologized and paid Japanese-Americans who were interned, it has never done the same for other Asians, Indians, African slaves, and Mexicans on the U.S. side of the Mexican border.

4) National Park Service Historic Site (established in 1992): Manzanar -- this camp held 10,000 internees; 80% from southern CA -- in the desert of the Owen Valley, CA. Manzanar site today: small cemetery with a monument; two stone guard houses built by internees; an auditorium -- everything else is gone of this one-square mile camp and 36 blocks of barracks. The Park Service's justification for park: ". . . reflection of America as a nation made up of diverse ethnic and racial groups. All of these groups, not just a chosen few, should be included in the story of our."  View an interactive photo tour of Manzanar.

5) annual pilgrimage, especially large at the 50th anniversary of Manzanar in 1992, by Japanese-American and others to remember this injustice.

6) war memorial in Washington, DC (established in 2001) for the Japanese-American soldiers who served in World War II while their parents were interned.

U.S. constitutional issues involved in the internment of Japanese-Americans:
honoring due process
-- must be accused of a crime and have broken a law, before being charged.
* maintaining innocence until proven guilty -- not jump to conclusions about criminal behavior before due process has been completed.
* upholding the bill of rights -- regardless of circumstances and the kinds of people involved.
* upholding the equal protection clause of the U.S. constitution -- fighting discrimination & racism individually; and in private & public institutions.