Justice for All
(Except Persons of Japanese Descent)
America… Land of the free and home of the brave. Land of the free… Land of the free… Funny that the land of the free would steal away the lives of 119,000 individuals simply because they looked different. Nothing like good old irony to bring a country together.
During the late 1800’s, there was a large rise in the immigration of Japanese to the U.S, much to the dismay of many American citizens. The Japanese have long been discriminated against in the U.S. People have thought they are sly, treacherous, cruel… In other words, they were strangers. People, as a whole, fear the unknown. Individuals of Asiatic descent have been so singled out for so long for one reason: they look different. Almost 200,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans were evacuated and relocated during World War II. Reasoning behind this? Although there was no proof of any of this, it was said that the farmers, for example, were charged with poisoning their vegetables and with planting their tomatoes in such a pattern that they pointed to U.S. military objects from overhead. At the time, the government claimed that the threat was real and that this action was pure “military necessity.” Now we all know better.
On December 7, 1941, the Empire of the Rising Sun, more commonly known as Japan, launched an air attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbor. Many people feel that this is what provoked President Roosevelt and our government to evacuate. Not so. Did you ever stop and think things through? I mean, really think things through? Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which allowed for the evacuation of all West Coast individuals of Japanese ancestry, on February 19, 1942 – a mere ten weeks after the bombing on Pearl Harbor. Could this nation really assemble enough living space for 119 thousand people in ten weeks? That seems a little far-fetched. Now that I’ve got your attention, let’s take this from the beginning.
Japan enters the war. Almost immediately, the U.S. government’s Federal Bureau of Investigations gets to work, looking for any suspicious individuals of Japanese heritage who could possibly mean sabotage. Thought to be a threat because they were so close to the enemy and they could communicate, Japanese on the West Coast were already seen as suspicious.
7 and 8 December, 1941 – Presidential proclamations were sent out, dealing with the control of and subsequent action against any aliens suspected of hostile intent or of action against national security. These proclamations were sent out the day of the bombing – the same day. 10 December, 1941 – A report was made by a Treasury Agent to the Army authorities that, “an estimated 20,000 Japanese in the San Francisco metropolitan area were ready for organized action.” How could the bombing of Pearl Harbor possibly have had any effect on Executive Order 9066 when there were already orders out to discriminate?
26 December, 1941 – In a phone conversation between Major General Allen Gullion, the War Department’s Provost Marshall General, and General John L. DeWitt, Commander of Western Defense Command, DeWitt says:
“If we go ahead and arrest the 93,000 Japanese native born and foreign born, we are going to have an awful job on our hands and we are liable to alienate the loyal Japanese from disloyal… I’m very doubtful that it would be common sense procedure to try and intern or intern 117,000 Japanese in this theater…”
30 December, 1941 – Attorney General authorized the issuance of warrants for search and arrest in any house where an alien lived upon representation of an FBI agent. There had to be “reasonable cause to believe that there was contraband on the premises.
5 January, 1942 – The San Francisco conference takes place. General DeWitt announces that he can have the boundaries of the restricted areas fixed by the 9th. It is not until the 21st that he sends out his first list of names to Washington to be reviewed. Arizona followed on the 24th, with Oregon and Washington on the 31st.
4 February, 1942 – The federal government’s Office of Facts and Figures conducts a survey on the public opinion of the internment of the Japanese. Outlook for the Japanese was not good. In another, similar survey, the National Opinion Research Center found that 93% “approved of the relocation of Japanese aliens, and 60% favored the evacuation of U.S. citizens as well.” Additional polls showed that 50% of those surveyed wished “to send all Japanese Americans back to Japan after the war.”
19 February, 1942 – President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signs Executive Order 9066, which allowed the U.S. Military to remove all individuals of Japanese ancestry from the west coast and move them into concentration camps in desolate areas in the interior of the country. Here, it was said, there would be no chance of communication between Japanese in America and those in Japan.
The days that followed were horrendous – proclamations were posted everywhere, ordering the people to move out of their homes and bring only what they could carry. They were herded onto trains at gunpoint and taken to temporary detention compounds – usually old fairgrounds and racetracks – until they were taken to their new homes. These lush new homes were furnished (with a cot) and the people were even fed three (meager) meals a day. The internees had to work, building materials to help the soldiers defend a country that put them into prisons without just cause. The country that told them that they could get out of the camps if they were willing to die for their country.
Which brings me to an amazing story. 85 young men at the camp at Heart Mountain, Wyoming, were drafted out of the camp. They refused to go. Organized under the name of the Fair Play Committee, the boys stated that they were willing to go and fight for their country, but not until that country restored their rights as citizens and released their families from camp. This was the largest organized draft resistance in history, leading to the largest trial for draft resistance. The men were charged as criminals, and were sent to prison for two to three years. They were seen as traitors to other Japanese Americans.
After the Japanese were released from the camps, many were drafted immediately (this was the case of my grandfather, who had been too young prior to his release). Men that weren’t drafted, women, children, and the elderly returned to their lives as before the war, only with nothing left. They had been persecuted for their heritage. Their belongings were gone; their homes, their land, their farms, their lives, were no longer as they had once been. Many of these people now had nothing, and the government wasn’t about to return it to them. That is, until almost 50 years later.
46 years after the signing of Executive Order 9066, the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, “Restitution for World War II Internment of Japanese Americans and Aleuts” was passed. This provided for acknowledgement of and apologies for wrongdoing and restitution for injustices suffered, hardships endured, personal and community property taken or destroyed by U.S, and for the discouragement of similar injustices in the future. Each surviving internee was given $20,000 and an apology from the government. But does that fix things?
The rights of these people had been diminished – the Japanese were no longer people in this country. They were treated like animals, herded along at gunpoint, made to stay in stalls inside large buildings, no privacy, no belongings, and no freedom. They were cattle. And the sad thing is, nobody knows. In schools, a very small section of the year is devoted to the study of the internment camps in the U.S. Some curriculums don’t even provide for it. There is never anything on T.V, although there are specials and documentaries and movies about the Holocaust that took place in Europe. Although we didn’t bring these people into the camps to kill them, that’s what we did. Maybe not physically, but emotionally. We took away their everything; all they had was each other and barbed wire. You would think that we, as a country, would do everything in our power to educate the public about the events of the evacuation, so as to prevent it from happening again. But it seems as though we are too ashamed, or maybe we just don’t want to admit that we fought a war to stop the Nazis, only to be pulling the same stunts back home. Whatever the reason we don’t talk about it, we need to get over it. The evacuation must be discussed, or someday, we won’t have to discuss it – because it will be happening all over again.