Internment and Relocation
The American governments discrimination against Japanese Americans did not begin with internment. As early as 1922, the "Supreme Court had declared that Japanese were aliens ineligible to citizenship," and in 1924, Congress passed a law practically prohibiting Japanese from immigrating to America (Stein 9).
Things were certainly no easier for Japanese Americans after the nation of their origin attacked the US naval base at Pearl Harbor. A wave of hatred from the media, politicians, and everyday people broke against Japanese immigrants. Some people suggested that all Japanese Americans be moved away from the coast in order to prevent them from signaling Japanese ships or helping to plan an invasion (Stein 11-12, 14). One advocate of this was Lieutenant General John DeWitt, head of the Western Defense Command (humboldt). In a letter to the Secretary of War "that reached heights of illogic" (Stein 14) he wrote:
While many second- and third-generation Japanese born on United States soil, possessed of United States citizenship, have become "Americanized," the racial strains are undiluted . It therefore follows that along the American coast over 112,000 potential enemies, of Japanese extraction, are at large today . The very fact that no sabotage has taken place to date is a disturbing and confirming indication that such action will be taken. (Stein 14)
In February of 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which gave the Secretary of War and the military the authority "to prescribe military areas from which any or all persons may be excluded." (Find about E.O. 8972 yyyy and the "four months later" order)
General DeWitt was one of the people responsible for the removal of Japanese Americans into internment camps. His philosophy of "A Japs a Jap. It makes no difference whether he is an American citizen or not" (Stein 15) meant that, in his mind, all Japanese on the West Coast had to abandon their homes, businesses, and most of their belongings and go to the camps.
First they arrived at assembly centers, usually fairgrounds or racetracks, which were located in Arizona, California, Oregon, and Washington. They were used from March until October of 1942.
From there, they went to one of ten War Relocation Authority (WRA) camps scattered though Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming. Designated "relocation camps," two-thirds of those they held were American citizens.
Department of Justice camps held more than 2200 Japanese immigrants who were non-citizens. More than half of these "dangerous" people, whom the Federal government wanted to use for hostage exchanges with Japan, were Peruvian; the rest were from other Latin American countries. After the war, many were not allowed to return to the countries they were taken from. In fact, some 900 Japanese Peruvians were "voluntarily" sent back to Japan after the war. Three hundred of them successfully fought the decision, and they were allowed to settle in Seabrook, New Jersey (http://www.geocities.com/athens/8420/camps.htm).
Life in the camps was not easy. When Milton Eisenhower testified before the Senate appropriations committee, he said of the camps, "[The construction] is so very cheap that, frankly, if it stands up for the duration we are going to be lucky." (http://www.geocities.com/athens/8420/camps.htm)
Sometimes the guards were brutal. Rather than asking internees who were outside camp boundaries to halt or to return, some shot them. According to a WRA report found at unknownxxx, one officer said "that he only hoped the guard would bother to ask him (an escaping inmate) to halt," since "the guards were finding guard service very monotonous, and that nothing would suit them better than to have a little excitement, such as shooting a Jap."
Eventually, some Japanese men were allowed out of the camps to join the US Armys 100th Infantry Battalion and later the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, units made up almost entirely of Japanese Americans. If this was a test of the loyalty of Japanese Americans, the 100/442 passed with flying colors. With a Congressional Medal of Honor, 560 Silver Stars, 4,000 Bronze Stars, and nearly 10,000 Purple Hearts, and thousands of other decorations, the members of 100/442 won "more medals for bravery than any other American unit its size during all of World War II." (Stein 8, 18)
The soldiers of the 100/442 were not the only Japanese Americans who served their country during World War II. In the Pacific theater, many Japanese Americans worked as spies or decoders for the Allies. General Charles Willoughby, head of intelligence under General MacArthur, said that Japanese Americans "saved countless Allied lives and shortened the war by two years." (Stein 43)
Even so, the majority of Japanese Americans remained in internment camps for the duration of the war. When they finally were released, they found their homes and stores vandalized or sold as abandoned property (Stein 40).
Most of the internment camps closed in October and November of 1945, although one WRA installation remained open until March 20, 1946, despite the fact that Japan had surrendered and no longer posed a military threat to the United States or its allies (http://www.geocities.com/athens/8420/camps.htm).
Hawaii, where a third of the population was Japanese, was a different story since it was a territory and not yet a state. Even though it was the site of the beginning of the fear and hatred of Japanese Americans, nobody had been thrown into internment camps. In fact, it was where the 100/442 had started (Stein 18, 40).