Does US Citizenship Really Matter In A Time Of War?
From as early as 1885, immigrants from Japan came to America seeking jobs and new lives. Facing discrimination throughout the years within the community and workplace, nothing compared to Executive Order 9066. President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued this executive order just twelve days after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1942. Fearing that citizens with a Japanese background living in the western states were loyal to their homeland and served as spies for the Japanese army, “FDR issued EO 9066 which gave the military the power to exclude whomever it saw fit as a military necessity” (densho.org). Because of the recent attacks by Japan’s army, the executive order mainly focused on immigrants, and even American citizens, with a Japanese background.
Upon receiving notice of their relocation, those with Japanese ancestry only had a week to get their affairs in order. Only allowed to bring what they could carry in their arms, “All Persons of Japanese Ancestry” (Visions of America 23.2.2) had to sell their remaining possessions and at a small portion of its true value. After the short notice, Japanese immigrants and U.S. citizens got onto a train headed to one of ten internment-camps where they would live the coming years during the war.
Arriving at one of the ten camps, those forced from their communities found their temporary homes fenced in and guarded by the military. Inside, living conditions were anything but ideal. Japanese families were crammed into small living areas eliminating any sense of privacy, community mess-halls and bathrooms, and although having the chance to work, the pay was minimum. The children attended school, and the camps hoped to be self-efficient by growing and producing their own food, but with bad soil farming became a challenge.
Fighting that being evacuated from their homes and put into internment camps was a violation to their constitutional rights, Japanese citizens took the matter to the supreme court in the trial of Korematsu vs. United States. The results from the case was “the constitutionality of relocating and interning Japanese Americans as a justifiable military measure” (23.2.2).
Out of all the Japanese decedents placed in the internment camps, two thirds were native-born American citizen that simply came from Japanese ancestry. This statistic alone proves how wrong this executive order was and questioned what U.S. citizenship really meant. These American citizens worked for their citizenship along with their possessions, and in parallel to the case of Korematsu vs. United States, order 9066 violated the constitutional rights of these Japanese people. With the military not using the same precautions on Italian or German immigrants, it is easy to side and feel the pain of the Japanese American citizens and in 1988 the United States government responded by apologizing and giving $20,000 dollars to every living Japanese-American that had been interned in the camps.
Imagine being in the shoes of a Japanese immigrant, it is easy to see how unjust the actions of the U.S government really were. Take the scenario of recently moving to the United states, looking for a job and a new life. After finding a stable income and a nice new home you get married and have a child. By working hard, you develop and produce a good life for your spouse and child by sending them to school and filling your home with new furniture. After 16 years of living in the United States, you and your family are US citizens, and life is going smoothly. Then, on December 7, 1942, you read about Pearl Harbor, and within a month, the United Stated army knocks on your door, telling you and your family have only one week to sell your belongings, and are being relocated to an internment came, hours away from your home and community. You have a number pinned to your shirt, carrying what little of your possessions you have left, and you and your family are put on a train and taken to your new home for the remaining years of the war.
Although opposite to the concentration camps ran by Hitler and the German military, it is still clear to see how the relocation of hundreds of thousands Japanese civilians to camps was a violation of their constitutional rights and challenged what it really meant to be an American Citizen.
Keene, Jennifer D., Cornell, Saul, and O’Donnell, Edward T. Visions of America: A History of the United States, Volume2, 3rded. 2019.
“Japanese American WWII Incarceration: The Core Story.”Densho, http://densho.org/core-story/. Assessed Feb. 28, 2019.