December 7th, 1941; a day that forever changed history. It was the day that Pearl Harbor, a U.S. naval base located in Hawaii, was attacked by Japan. Following this event, the United States declared war on Japan, but also declared incarceration on its Japanese American citizens. Because of the attack the United States endured, Japanese Americans were suspected of being loyal to their ancestral land. This led to Executive Order 9066. Signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt in February of 1942, military personnel could now force Americans that were of Japanese decent, to relocate to internment camps (Notes p. 3). The national justification for incarceration of Japanese Americans was that it was a “military necessity” for World War II (Looking Like the Enemy). Although, the United States military had every reason to be in fear following the attack on Pearl Harbor, sending over 120,000 U.S. citizens into interment camps, most of whom had never even been to Japan, is a fault in our history that is often justified for “safety reasons.”
General DeWitt began ordering the most populated area of residing Japanese Americans, the West Coast, to relocate inland to their internment assignments. In addition, evacuation orders were posted in Japanese American communities, providing instruction on how to relocate to the camps (Notes p. 4). Families sold their assets, brought what they could carry, and boarded buses and trains, fearful for their future. After spending months in horse stalls, Japanese Americans, half of whom were children, were moved to ten different concentration camps, located in seven western states. These “relocation centers” were run by the War Relocation Authority (American Concentration Camps).
The camps were guarded by military personnel and surrounded by barbed wire. Families stayed in barracks with more that 7 people in one small room, had hay mattresses and one single light bulb. They shared communal bathrooms, a mess hall where they ate, and laundry facilities (American Concentration Camps). In hopes that the interns would be self-sufficient, the WRA enforced farming, established schools, and held elections for a “self-government.” Due to the lack of medical care, emotional stress, and inadequate living conditions, many interns died while incarcerated. Others were killed by guards for not abiding by their commands (Notes p. 6). The harsh 4 years that Japanese Americans spent in internment camps, reminds me all too well of another major fault in history: The Holocaust.
As I could imagine, the impact that these concentration camps had on Japanese American citizens is astounding. Not only did they endure emotional and physical trauma, but some even lost their lives. The ones who were legal citizens of the United States, lost their ideals of “citizenship” and “The American Dream”. They were not at fault, but somehow their own government forced them out of their homes into camps. Japanese Americans did not feel protected by their leaders in their homeland. If I was a law-abiding citizen and sent to internment camps because I was a descendent of a certain country but had nothing to do with the cause of the event, I would be devastated and infuriated. Despite the attacks of Pearl Harbor, if these individuals were law abiding citizens, they would have no reason to be incarcerated. It was only because of their ancestral background that they were forced from their homes into camps, not because they were at all affiliated with Pearl Harbor. This leads me to the idea that Japanese American internment is very similar to the Holocaust. The German government forced Jewish families into concentration camps, despite their citizenship or if they had a clear criminal background. Both events are horrific parts of history that affected thousands of lives.
“American Concentration Camps.” Densho, Densho, densho.org/american-concentration-camps/.
“Japanese American Internment Notes.”
“Looking Like The Enemy.” Densho, Densho, densho.org/looking-like-the-enemy/.