Review Of The Issue Of Japanese Internment Camps

Since the beginning of time fear has been a powerful tool that has been used to manipulate and control people. This tactic has been used many times throughout history for example when the Nazis used fear tactics to persuade German soldiers to force the Jewish people into concentration camps, or when businesses added to the Y2K fear because they were making a profit. As well as, the forcing of Japanese American citizens into internment camps.

It all started on a naval base near Honolulu, Hawaii called Pearl Harbor. “At 7:55 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 7, the first wave of Japanese fighter planes struck; the second wave of attackers would come 45 minutes later. In a little under two hours, 2,335 U.S. servicemen were killed and 1,143 were wounded.” ( Rosenburg ) Later that day President Roosevelt addressed a joint session of congress seeking a declaration of war against Japan. Only one senator voted against war with Japan but the decision had already been decided. The day after the U.S officially declared war on Japan. President Roosevelt predicted that the date December 6, 1941 would live on in infamy and he was correct. Every year on this day all of the soldiers that lost their lives that day are remembered.

The attack on Pearl Harbor also started a rash of fear about national security. The fear was especially bad on the West Coast considering that was where the Japanese attacked. “On December 7, 1941, just hours after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the FBI rounded-up 1,291 Japanese community and religious leaders, arresting them without evidence and freezing their assets.” ( Weeks before president Roosevelt would sign the order to have Japanese people detained, the navy removed citizens of Japanese descent from near the Los Angeles port. “In January, the arrestees were transferred to facilities in Montana, New Mexico and North Dakota, many unable to inform their families and most remaining for the duration of the war.” This is a cruel act considering the people that were arrested were done so without any evidence that proved whether or not they were guilty of any crimes.

More a month after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on February 19th President Roosevelt signed an executive order that assigned Japanese citizens to internment camps to prevent espionage or spying on American land. “Amid this climate of fear, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover ordered the Immigration and Naturalization Service to detain and question thousands suspected of having ties to America's enemies. Many Germans and Italians were arrested in the days after Pearl Harbor, but the American people's fear of 'persons of Japanese ancestry' hardened the most.” (Greene) However after the order was signed military zones were created in the states that had the highest population of Japanese Americans. No other races were persecuted during this time like the Japanese. The Japanese people were only given about 48 hours to leave their houses and report to a center where the Japanese would wait until transported to the internment camps.

Within weeks, every person that was of Japanese ancestry-whether citizens or enemies of the state, old or young, whether they were rich or poor – every Japanese citizen was ordered to arrive at assembly centers near their homes. Soon they were sent away to permanent relocation centers outside the restricted military zones and then it began. This order affected the lives of about 117,000 and about 79,000 of them were American citizens. Canada soon followed suit, relocating 21,000 of its Japanese residents from its west coast. Mexico enacted its own version, and eventually 2,264 more people of Japanese descent were removed from Peru, Brazil, Chile and Argentina to the United States. “One month after FDR's order, a public opinion poll revealed that 93% of Americans thought we were 'doing the right thing' in moving 'Japanese aliens' from the Pacific coast.” (History) This means that the American people were so scared that they were okay with innocent Japanese Americans losing their homes, businesses, and many other things just for being of Japanese descent. Not everybody thought this was right though. There was 7 percent of the population didn’t believe this was right no matter how scared they were. This 7 percent could be anybody including Associate Justice Frank Murphy, who noted that 'restriction of the personal liberty of citizens ... bears a melancholy resemblance to the treatment accorded to members of the Jewish race in Germany and in other parts of Europe.' 

Many of the Japanese people felt like this was wrong and very few of them tried to do something about it. Out of the 117,000 people that were imprisoned, there are only about 12 cases where the Japanese Americans used their country’s legal system to fight back. One man named Fred Korematsu was arrested for failing to comply with the order of Japanese Americans to be put into internment camps. “With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, Korematsu sued on the grounds that as an American citizen he had a right to live where he pleased. But in a 6-3 decision in Korematsu v. United States the Supreme Court ruled that interning Japanese Americans during the war for purposes of 'military necessity' was constitutional.” ( Khan Academy)

There were many Japanese internment camps scattered across the country and all of them had prisoners in them. The most populated camp was in Tule Lake, California. The camp opened up on May 27, 1942. Throughout the time that the Japanese people were imprisoned there the camps population fluctuated and eventually reached a population that was larger than 18,000. The living conditions that the Japanese were put through were treacherous. There wasn’t very much space so our government forced entire families into room with only one bed. Another thing that the camps struggled with was meals. The Japanese would be fed three times a day in a giant mess hall. The portion sizes were small and the meals often consisted of potatoes and bread which caused the food to be considered starchy.

Although there weren’t many deaths because these camps were not extermination camps there were still a couple. Most of the death toll in the camps were either the elderly or children. They had limited health care in the camps, so if an elderly person or a young child got sick there wasn’t much they could do. There were also a few deaths that came from people trying to escape.

Although people were only in camps for a short period of time, it was enough time to strip them of their dignity and respect. After being released the Japanese people were left to rebuild their lives, the best they could considering most people lost their homes, and businesses. In 1988 the Civil Liberties act provided financial redress of $20,000 for each surviving detainee from the camps. “In 2001, Congress made the ten internment sites historical landmarks, asserting that they “will forever stand as reminders that this nation failed in its most sacred duty to protect its citizens against prejudice, greed, and political expediency.”

Throughout this essay I have explained how this situation developed, what the effects were on both society and individuals, and how justified the fear was, resulting actions and aftermath. Fear is such a powerful tool that if used by people with evil intent it can have major consequences.

16 December 2021
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