American History: Japanese-American Internment Camps

An article that hit the wire at FoxNews on December 13th caught my attention, written by Colleen Slevin, AP writer, about a person’s personal experience as a Japanese American citizen after the attack on Pearl Harbor. You might say this is a follow-up of the article about Pearl Harbor Day

Bob Fuchigami was 12 years old when he and his family were told to leave their 20-acre farm in northern California. The peach trees that his immigrant parents had planted were about to yield their first big crop. It was May 1942, five months after the Japanese Pearl Harbor attack. Fuchigami and his parents and siblings were among more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans ordered to report to internment camps. The Fuchigamis ended up at one in dusty southeastern Colorado. He and his family, like many others held in the camps during World War II, never returned to their previous lives and were left with only memories. And the 10 camps themselves, quickly dismantled at the end of the war, also became memories. Now the National Park Service is asking former internees like Fuchigami how it can preserve what is left of the camps and the stories they hold. The Service stands to get $38 million to help cities and groups develop educational programs. …

Congress has approved spending the money, but it remains to be appropriated. Advocates hope to see the money in the coming year. Among them is Fuchigami, now 77, who wants to ensure that no one forgets.
”I just want to make sure it doesn’t happen to other people,” said Fuchigami, who has amassed a collection of thousands of photographs and documents from that chapter in his life.
A young Fuchigami and his family had about a week to pack what they could. His parents leased their land. Fuchigami set his pet rabbits free, left his dog and said goodbye to his friends.
The Fuchigamis were moved to the country fairgrounds in
Merced, California before being sent to a relocation center being hastily built in southeastern Colorado, a landscape of prickly pear cactus and sagebrush prone to dust storms. For three years they lived in a barrack in what came to be called Camp Amache, surrounded by barbed wire and six guard towers just outside Granada. …

White House PR Campaign – Gila River Internment Camp

An order by President Franklin Roosevelt cleared the way for the evacuation of all Japanese Americans from parts of Washington, Oregon, California and Arizona. In 1988, Congress apologized for the evacuation. About 2,000 people moved to Colorado voluntarily before the evacuation at the governor’s invitation. They and other Japanese-Americans already in Colorado weren’t interned but were subject to curfews and travel restrictions. Camp Amache quickly became Colorado’s 10th-largest city, its 7,000 internees nearly all from California
Most adults had jobs, earning from $12 a month to $19 for professionals such as doctors – less than an Army private’s wages. The internees included Disney cartoonists Chris Ishii and Tom Okamoto,
Stanford University professor Yamato Ichihashi, and Chiyoko “Pat” Suzuki, who became a singer and Broadway performer. The mother of ice-skating champion Kristi Yamaguchi was born there.

Internment Camp

Farmers grew alfalfa, corn and wheat, and they introduced crops including tea and Chinese cabbage. Businessman opened a co-op store with a $2,500 investment from internees, and residents printed their own newspaper, checked by censors. The camp’s high school auditorium held graduations, as well as funerals. Nearly 1,000 men and women from Amache would serve in the military, including Fuchigami’s brothers. Thirty-two people refused to serve and were imprisoned, then pardoned after the war. …
These days, he lives comfortably in the foothills outside
Denver with floor-to-ceiling views of pine trees. …

Relocation Center
During this period of American history and after the dastardly attack by the Japanese Imperial Navy and air force, Americans and the government took hasty action against Japanese immigrants as a whole, especially after discovering there were Japanese spies in Hawaii that helped provide intelligence to the Japanese Imperial government. Most of these Japanese immigrants were naturalized citizens and their children who were born here – and some were born in the internment camps.
Various sources estimate between 100,000 and 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans (62% were American citizens) were taken from the West Coast states and placed in various internment camps called “War Relocation Centers”. [i]
Feb. 1942 – Enroute to Internment Camp, still waving US Flag

President Franklin Roosevelt authorized the internment with Executive Order 9066, which allowed local military commanders to designate “military areas” as “exclusion zones,” from which “any or all persons may be excluded.” This power was used to declare that all people of Japanese ancestry were excluded from the entire Pacific Coast, including all of California and most of Oregon and Washington, except for those in internment camps. In 1944, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the exclusion, removal, and detention, arguing that it is permissible to curtail the civil rights of a racial group when there is a “pressing public necessity.”
Some compensation for property losses was paid in 1948, but most internees were unable to fully recover their losses. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed legislation which apologized for the internment on behalf of the
U.S. government. The legislation stated that government actions were based on “race, prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership}, and beginning in 1990, the government paid reparations to surviving internees.

San Diego Americans Enroute to Internment

The prejudice against the Japanese extends back farther in history than December 7th, 1941 and started in the late 1840s, and increased in the 1890s. [ii] A series of laws were passed to discourage Japanese immigration and eventually a ban was passed upon almost all immigration from Japan that began in 1924. Other laws, like in California, and some other states prevented marriage between Caucasians and Asians, though the second generation Japanese Americans, called Nisei, was able to marry Caucasians, yet they were also interned along with their spouses and children.

In 1935, FBI agents had surprised two Japanese nationals preparing to sabotage the radio direction finder in the chart room of the new China Clipper air service then being inaugurated. The air service was understood to be an important means of strengthening U.S. influence in and around the Philippines, then a U.S. colony. During the period of 1939-1941, the FBI compiled the Custodial Detention index (“CDI”) on citizens, “enemy” aliens and foreign nationals who might be dangerous based principally on census records. On June 28, 1940, the Alien Registration Act was passed. Among many other “loyalty” regulations, Section 31 required the registration and fingerprinting of all aliens above the age of 14, and Section 35 required aliens to report any change of address within 5 days. “Within 4 months, 4,741,971 foreign nationals had registered at post offices around the country.”

The big question concerning the situation during World War II, after war was declared on Japan and, days later, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States – Why were not the German or Italian Americans and immigrants treated with the same suspicion, as far as the government situation. The US government and the military didn’t separate German descendants from the European Theatre of Operations, but the Japanese Americans serving in the military were not sent to the Pacific Theatre of Operations. Wikipedia entry notes that Admiral Chester Nimitz and General Dwight D. Eisenhower were of German ancestry, and no question of their loyalty was evident.
Another irony I this sad part of American history is that the Japanese spy ring case in 1942 involved a native born US citizen by the name of Velvalee Dickinson.

The most widely reported examples of espionage and treason are the Tachibana spy ring and the Niihau Incident. The Tachibana spy ring was a group of Japanese nationals who were arrested shortly before the Pearl Harbor attack and were deported. The Niihau Incident occurred just after the Pearl Harbor attack; two Japanese Americans on Niihau freed a captured Japanese pilot and assisted him in his machine-gun attack on Native Hawaiians there. Despite this incident taking place in Hawaii, the Territorial Governor rejected calls for wholesale internment of Japanese Americans in the Islands.
Some present-day supporters of the internment have argued that some Japanese Americans were indeed disloyal, as seen by approximately 20,000 Japanese Americans at the start of the war who joined the Japanese war effort, hundreds joining the Japanese Army. One particular example is Tomoya Kawakita, an American citizen who worked as in interpreter and a POW guard for the Japanese army, and who actively participated in the torture (and at least one death) of American soldiers, including survivors of the Bataan Death March. Kawakita was convicted for treason and imprisoned.

The official term for the internment camps was “relocation centers” – mostly as to not correlate it with the infamous Nazi concentration camps.

However, many historians and scholars, as well as former internees, object to the use of this term because the people who were sent to these camps were not merely “relocated.” In fact, Japanese Americans were forcibly uprooted from their homes and communities, and were imprisoned in what could be referred to as “prison camps.”

Either way, those terms are used to differentiate the death camps of the Nazi when historians and scholars write about the internment camp period of American history.
A list of internment camps can be found at Wikipedia. Also depicted are the WRA Relocation Centers with their locations, when opened, and the maximum population.
The general conditions of these camps are signified by the description of the Heart Mountain War Relocation Center in northwestern Wyoming at Wikipedia:

…was a barbed-wire-surrounded enclave with unpartitioned toilets, cots for beds, and a budget of 45 cents daily per capita for food rations. Because most internees were evacuated from their West Coast homes on short notice and not told of their destination, many failed to pack appropriate clothing for Wyoming winters which often reached temperatures below zero Fahrenheit. Many families were forced to simple take the “clothes on their backs.” Armed guards were posted at the camps, which were all in remote, desolate areas far from population centers. Internees were typically allowed to stay with their families, and were treated well unless they violated the rules. There are documented instances of guards shooting internees who reportedly attempted to walk outside the fences. One such shooting, that of James Wakasa at Topaz, led to a re-evaluation of the security measures in the camps. Some camp administrations eventually allowed relatively free movement outside the marked boundaries of the camps. Nearly a quarter of the internees left the camps to live and work elsewhere in the United States, outside the exclusion zone. Eventually, some were authorized to return to their hometowns in the exclusion zone under supervision of a sponsoring American family or agency whose loyalty had been assured.
The phrase “shkiata ga nai” (loosely translated as “it cannot be helped”) was commonly used to summarize the interned families’ resignation to their helplessness throughout these conditions. …the Japanese people tended to comply with the
U.S. government to prove themselves “loyal citizens”.
Some Japanese Americans did question their American loyalties after the government removed them and their families from their homes and held them in internment camps, although such cases were isolated incidents and did not reflect the larger sentiment of the Japanese-American people, who remained loyal to the United States. Several pro-Japan groups formed inside the camps, and demonstrations and riots occurred for various reasons in many camps … Of those who renounced their citizenship, 1,327 were repatriated to
Japan, although many of these deportees were not accepted by the Japanese Government. … Faced with possible deportation to Japan, the Issei [iii] largely refused to renounce their only citizenship. …
It is also important to note that there were 20,000 Japanese American men in the
U.S. Army during World War II and many Japanese American women. The famed and highly decorated 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which fought in Europe, was formed from those Japanese Americans who did agree to serve. Most notably, the 442nd was known for saving the 141st (or the “lost battalion”) from the Germans. The 1951 film Go For Broke! Was a fairly accurate portrayal of the 442nd, and starred several of the RCT’s veterans.

Canadian Japanese Internment Camp – Lemon Creek
Also, it should be noted that the Canadian government also interned Canadian citizens with Japanese ancestry during World War II. Japanese people from various parts of Latin America were brought to the United States for internment, or interned in their countries of residence.
The only elected official to publicly apologize for the internment of American citizens during World War II was Colorado governor Ralph Lawrence Carr, which cost him his reelection. However, the Japanese American community was grateful and erected a statue of him in Sakura Square in Denver’s Japantown. As stated above, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 that provided $20,000 for each surviving detainee, which totaled to $1.2 billion dollars.

On September 27, 1992, the Amendment of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, appropriating an additional $400 million in order to ensure that all remaining internees received their $20,000 redress payments, was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush, who also issued another formal apology from the U.S. government.

And …

To this day, some believe that the legality of the internment has been firmly established as exactly the type of scenario spelled out, quite clearly, in the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. [iv]

These events and circumstances are part of our American history, but it also can be examined today in the concerns of the War on Terror – especially with infiltration of organized Islamic fascists who have infiltrated American society and of whom several groups and persons have been found guilty of conspiring to commit some act of terrorism in the form of sabotage and mass murder. Because …

…the Supreme Court in the 1944 Korematsu and Hirabayashi cases, specifically, its expansive interpretation of government powers in wartime, were not overturned. They are still the law of the land because a lower court cannot overturn a ruling by the US Supreme Court. However, the coram nobis cases totally undermined the factual underpinnings of the 1944 cases, leaving the original decisions without the proverbial legal leg to stand on. But in light of the fact that these the 1944 decisions are still on the books, a number of legal scholars have expressed the opinion that the original Korematsu and Hirabayashi decisions have taken on an added relevance in the context of the War on terror.

In terms of infiltration of Islamic fascists within the United States, we have not conducted ourselves in a war hysteria scenario as during World War II, indeed, we have been too tolerant. The Islamic fascists have used our benevolence and our concern about civil rights against us. Terrorist cells in the US are still operating, although from time to time they are arrested and stand before trial, but it seems that there is more concern for their rights than American lives and the protection of the American people and our allies. For national security and the safety of Americans, we must address this problem with logic. I don’t believe that internment camps should be the answer, but instead the use of the deportation laws in dealing with these subversive and dangerous people who are not loyal to the United States. I am sure we can come up with something that will be best for all without profiling all people of the Islamic faith and targeting those who are dangerous and loyal to the rogue Arab nations and the Islamic fascist movement.

[i] Wikipedia entry
[ii] Wikipedia, Anti-Japanese sentiment
[iii] First generation Japanese; immigrants
[iv] Wikipedia, legality entry