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The Use of Internment Camps in World War II

Our country was founded on the principle that all people are created equal. Our Constitution and Bill of Rights clearly define the rights of people living in our country. There have been periods in our country’s history when we have blatantly disregarded the Constitution and jeopardized the integrity of the Constitution itself. For the first hundred or so years of our country’s existence our economy and survival for that matter depended on the work of slaves, African slaves. We treated an entire group of people as though they were animals though our Constitution states that all men are created equal.

In the 1940s our government invoked activities that were, by all means, unconstitutional and unjust. Early during World War II, there were roughly 45,000 50,000 Japanese citizens, and about 70,0001 United States-born descendants, virtually all children, living on the United State’s West Coast.

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They were forcefully taken from their homes and most were taken to relocation or internment camps. The vast majority of these imprisoned people had no reason to be seen as guilty, or even suspicious, the sole reason they were taken on was their ethnicity. Entire families were taken from their homes without even a chance to gather their belongings. The internment has become one of the most widely condemned actions in US history. There is no viable justification and was another United States strike against their own Constitution.

At dawn on December 7, 1941, the sun rose and bombs fell on Pearl Harbor. Japanese aircraft launched a surprise attack on the United States’ Pacific Fleet. Over 3,500 Americans were killed or wounded, two battleships were destroyed, four others were sunk, and 149 American airplanes were destroyed. That night President Franklin D. Roosevelt began making the necessary moves to declare war.

The declaration of war easily passed and the United States headed into the war, against the Axis Powers, on December 11. Ten weeks following the declaration of war, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 90066, which gave the Secretary of War and military commanders the power to exclude people from designated areas. The President’s “official” objective of signing Executive Order 90066 was to avoid national security espionage.

There were also other objectives in the mind of the President and his Cabinet though. The order was used, as the President knew it would be, to exclude people of Japanese ancestry, from the West Coast of the United States. Over the next several months more than 100,000 people of Japanese descent occupying the West Coast, were ordered to leave their homes, farms, and businesses and were taken to “Voluntary relocation centers”. Most of these relocation centers were located in Arizona, Colorado, interior valleys of California, Wyoming, Utah, Oregon, Washington, and a few others scattered throughout other states.

Typical camp life was nothing that a sane human being would voluntarily do to. With many of the camps located in the desert, conditions were often harsh. A woman describes her experience with dust storms at the Manzanar Relocation Center in California. “Dust storms blew dust through all the crevices of our small wooden barrack. We placed towels under our door but it would be no good. Our rooms would be covered in dust.” No sane person would voluntarily give up all they had to come to a place such as this.

The Constitution states that: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. “

It was said that there were considerable military justifications for the internment, though it does not go so far as to conclude that these justifications were sufficient. One of the justifications was that the Japanese Americans could not be trusted. In order to see the loyalty of the Japanese Americans the government sent a survey to the camps and asked if the inmates were loyal. It may seem like a very silly question but many of the Japanese were torn, my grandfather included. There was much discussion and a split within the camps between those loyal to the United States and those loyal to Japan. There are even stories of beatings to those loyal to the U.S. at the hands of those still Japan within the camps. Still, regardless of the given answer, they were still kept in the camps.

There is no reason for these things to have gone on in. It was against what our country is supposed to be about for the Americans to put people in camps. I think that there are certain things that a government should not do even to preserve itself, and locking up large numbers of clearly innocent citizens without charge certainly qualifies to be considered as such an act, even at the possible risk of allowing the western United States to be successfully invaded. And even then it was not clear whether Japanese Americans would even have a hand in fighting against the United States. We must set our morals straight and not stray from our backbone, our Constitution.

What’s more, the government deliberately lied to the public in order to influence American popular opinion in favour of internment. That in of itself forms questions in my mind about the leaders and morals of our nation. It has continually happened that people have been treated against how the Constitution tells us to treat each other. People’s own morality and judgments factor in too much in decisions that affect the lives of thousands of people our leaders will never meet. President Roosevelt acted out of what he felt was necessary, not looking to the Constitution or even his own common sense.

Almost none of the Japanese born had ever been given the chance to assume US citizenship which is wrong and should therefore have been considered as reliable US citizens like you or me. There is no doubt in my mind that under no circumstances would the US take huge groups of normal white people and place them in an internment camp.

It would be untrue to say that there were no Japanese Americans that were not loyal to the US and never acted in the name of their land of origin. One case was when a Japanese plane, after Pearl Harbor, crashed at Niihua, near Kauai, and was aided by a Japanese American, a US citizen, named Harada.

One question that I wanted to find the answer to was why weren’t German Americans or Italian Americans interned too?

I found that German and Italian nationals were not left alone, and in fact, many were locked up. When the war began, the white enemy aliens were subject to the same sort of interrogation and arbitrary searches that Japanese nationals received. Initial plans for internment called for the internment of all ethnic Japanese, along with German and Italian nationals living on the West Coast.

Reasons Not to Intern the Ethnic Germans

– It was not possible, because the proportion of American citizens with some German blood is huge, possibly a majority.

– It was not possible, because disruption caused by such a massive undertaking would have horribly undermined the war effort in both manpower and morale, probably costing us the war.

– Ethnic Germans have been around in such numbers for so long, that it would be extremely difficult to track down who had German blood. It would be very hard attempting to trace all the people with German in their blood. Because the ethnic Japanese were such a small and recently arrived (about one generation) group, it was much easier to identify who was and was not in the group.

– Everyone knew that the vast majority of ethnic Germans were solidly anti Nazi to the point of being ready to fight Germany. Interrogators in the west were reporting that the consensus among ethnic Japanese, by contrast, was a great reluctance to hurt either the US or Japan.

– During the war, Germany, and especially Italy, never posed a credible invasion threat against the US. Had such an invasion threat from those powers been looming, as the threat of Japanese invasion of the West Coast was perceived when the decision to intern was made, then no doubt German and Italian nationals would have suffered worse than they did.

– German Americans were much better assimilated than West Coast Japanese Americans. West Coast ethnic Japanese at that time were in the same places.

The Japanese stood out somewhat. The Japanese in California were an isolated and unknown group, even to most Californians, let alone many of the internment decision makers. FDR dismissed the Italians as “a bunch of opera singers” (he actually said that, funny huh?)– that is, he knew enough of them that he was not very worried about the group. Germans in the US were so numerous they must have been quite familiar to him. FDR discouraged the spread of Californian internment fever to other parts of the country and to other ethnic groups.

Note that early on, FDR was contemplating the internment of all German nationals. At 600,000 people, this would have meant incarcerating 5 times as many people as were involved in the Japanese situation. FDR was worried about the Germans, which he would not have been had his motives for the internment being strictly racial.

Had the German and Italian nationals on the West Coast been mass interned, it would have made the President look very bad. The public would have for sure known that it was a strictly racial issue, for at this point the majority of the people had no clue of the internment. Without interning the German’s and Italian’s, the uproar out of this outrageous treatment of so many people would be much less, and the issues less talked about, and less remembered.

Our country is one built on simple yet incredibly strong ideology that has been laid down like a red carpet there for us to follow. We cannot continually place our Constitution to the side in times where it is cumbersome. That is when we need to follow its words the closest. The heart of our Constitution is good and we must strive to make it pure. Events such as Internment Camps and slavery show us that we stray from what our country is supposed to be about. The people that were locked up in these camps have gone through hell only to recover and become stronger. We need to learn and also become stronger. We must not do things that jeopardize our word, what we stand for as a country.

 

 

Bibliography

Encarta Multimedia Encylopedia, 1998 “Japanese-Americans”, by Robert J. Tata

Japanese American Internment Experience. http://www.alterasian.com/internmant

Kitagwa, Daisuke. Issei and Nisei: The Internment Years. New York: The Seabury Press, 1967

Report of the Commission on Wartime relocation and Internment of Civilians. Personal Justice Denied. Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1982

The Japanese Internment. http://www.geocities.com/Athen/8420/main.html

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