The internment of Japanese Americans commenced after Japan’s attack on American soil. The bombing of Pearl Harbor caused Americans to distrust people of Japanese descent. “In February 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed executive order 9066”. This order allowed military to evict and construct “camps” or “relocation centers” where Japanese Americans were forced to relocate. They had to figure out what to do with their properties and belongings, as they were only given days to move. People were only allowed to take what they could carry so most sold them for prices well below their worth.
The Japanese Americans were sent to one of the ten war relocation centers, most located in desolate and remote areas. The camps were not set up to house the amount of people that were sent there, so privacy and living conditions were of concern. The barracks were made up into blocks, which housed 200-400 people. They were forced to share tight living quarters, toilets, showers, laundry rooms, and a mess hall. These people were treated like prisoners (although not personally guilty of any crimes) because of the color of their skin. The camps were surrounded with armed guard towers, and barbed wire fencing. To make light of a bad situation they could build gardens, play sports, and publish a free press.
The president and other government officials were worried about possible attacks on the west coast and the safety of Americans. The Japanese Americans were thought to be traitors and loyal to Japan. They set up agencies who conducted surveillance on Japanese American communities who reported the population was little threat to Americans, however after the bombing many were considered “enemy aliens”. The ruling to issue the executive order was mainly driven by fear. The government did what they felt was right at the time to protect the American citizens without thinking of the effects to the people. In this situation they were not innocent until proven guilty.
Early into 1943 the government sent out a poll to separate the “loyal” from the “disloyal”. Based on a loyal response the individuals were able to join the army or leave the camps. When the order was lifted, it came with stipulations like they couldn’t return to the west coast. While trying to relocate and settle into homes they were not welcomed back into the communities and were treated very poor.
For years Japanese Americans felt racial discrimination, due to laws that prohibited allowing them to become U.S. Citizens, and Americans (mainly whites) treating them as lower-class citizens. I cannot imagine they would have a positive outlook on becoming a Citizen after their imprisonment. Why would they want to live in a country that treated them so poor? It seems that some would have been bitter towards the treatment, but America was the only home they ever knew.
The Civil Liberties Act off 1988 provided a President apology and $20,000 payment to all survivors. Was that enough? Some Japanese Americans protested the internment and fought the ruling all the way up to the supreme court. They hoped to prevent other groups from this type of treatment.
Thinking about myself in that situation is scary. Change is hard for some people and being uprooted from your home, job and life as you know it can be traumatic. We take for granted what we have today. I cannot imagine being essentially homeless and living in shelters. The idea of going to prison is terrifying.
Manzanar National Historic Site, 02/28/2018
The Japanese American Legacy Project http://densho.org/looking-like-the-enemy/