As an American citizen we feel it’s our god given right to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” as stated in our Declaration of Independence. The phrase gives us three examples of the unalienable rights which the Declaration of Independence says have been given to all humans by their creator , and which the governments are created to protect. Therefore, as a Japanese American during the start of World War 2 being forced into internment camps was far from the beliefs they had come to know growing up in the United States.
On December 7th, 1941 when the Japanese bombed the U.S naval base in Hawaii, otherwise known as the attack of Pearl Harbor everything changed towards people of Japanese ancestry whom resided in America at that time. Most notions were derived from fear itself not actual evidence of involvement. In the immediate wake of the attack Americans wanted explanations. According to our text, Visions of America, Keene clearly states; People started circulating rumors, they wanted the government to round up people of Japanese descent and quarantine them. However, being too important to Hawaii’s local economy, and the lack of transportation to replace workers nothing ever happened. This however didn’t ring true for the 110,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans who lived in California, Oregon, and Washington where they were less vital to the economy.( Keene, 694) The day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, air raids, and a submarine torpedo put American’s on the west coast on edge fearing they’d soon be under attack, making the American view on Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans as a potential threat or enemy to our country.
On February 19th, 1942, FDR issued Executive Order 9066, which was the start of Japanese internment camps. The Executive Order 9066 permitted the military to declare certain areas off-limits to any or all persons. General John L DeWitt, head of the Western Defense Command, immediately declared the entire West Coast a military zone closed to “all persons of Japanese ancestry, both alien and non-alien”. His order called for the evacuation of anyone of Japanese descent.( Keene, 694) A month after putting this order into effect FDR created the War Relocation Authority to oversee forceful removal. He then had posted instructions which told Japanese inhabitants to sell belongings and settle their affairs in a matter of a few days. The evacuees could only take with them what they were able to carry on their backs. As stated in our text, Visions of America, Keene clearly demonstrates how Japanese and Japanese Americans complied quietly with the evacuation order. An internee said, “It’s difficult to describe the feeling or despair and humiliation experienced by all of us.” A photographer Dorothea Lange was hired by the Office of War to document the treatment of evacuees humanely. She managed to snap a photo of a Japanese -American Veteran in his old military uniform. (Keene, 695) All of the photos and statements showed demonstrations of loyalty to our country.
There were 10 different internment camps located in remote areas of the interior west. To get to these camps those of Japanese descent were pinned with a number, herded like cattle more or less onto trains and put into recently abandoned stables or stockyards to await additional transportation to an internment camp location. These camps were overcrowded with poor living conditions. According to the 1943 report published by the War Relocation Authority, Japanese-Americans were housed “tarpaper-covered barracks of simple frame, construction without plumbing or cooking facilities of any kind.” Food was rationed out, served at a mess hall of over a hundred people for an additional cost to each internee. Since coal was hard to come by most had to keep warm by using any blankets they owned.
As a citizen to the United States, living in a home, contributing to society rather being a store owner or general worker before the start of World War 2 only to be forced into an internment camp and treated as an outlander seems almost barbaric. It is easy to sympathize with the Japanese-Americans who worked to sustain a life in America, the land of the free because of the brave. I feel both legal cases Hirabayashi vs United States & Korematsu vs United States gave insight to how the Japanese felt violated of their rights. When FDR closed the camps two and half years later it still took the government until 1988, to award any form of restitution or any arrangement of formal apology to any internee who was still alive. To me this shows just how judgmental and fearful our government was due to the unexpected attack on Pearl Harbor. I feel we jumped to conclusions as a safety net instead of looking to America as a country that accepts all diversity, we segregated the few from the pack to keep control of the country as a whole!
Keene, Jennifer D., Cornell, Saul, and O’Donnell, Edward T. Visions of America: A History of the United States, Volume2, 3rded. 2019.