Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Asian American Heritage Month, day 3

Japanese American Internment At 8:00AM on December 7, 1941, Japan launched a surprise attack on the U.S., decimating the battleships stationed at Pearl Harbour and killing thousands of American servicemen. America had, up until the attack, tried to stay uninvolved in the brewing World War, but Japan, realizing it could not sustain a long-term battle on two fronts (America was closest and most able to interfere with Japan's Pacific naval supply network, a major weakness in Japan's ability to maintain a prolonged military front), launched the attack on Pearl Harbour in an attempt to prevent America from entering the war by crippling its Navy and delaying the U.S.' ability to enter the conflict. The attack had nearly the opposite effect. On December 8, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared a state of war on Japan, thereby bringing America into World War II. The surprise attack on Pearl Harbour had a devastating effect on the American populace -- grief quickly turned to paranoia as American civilians and the government began to fear that Japan could eventually attack mainland America as they had Pearl Harbour, and perhaps even overrun it. The most terrifying scenario for the American government was the possibility that Japanese immigrants, already targets of the Perpetual Foreigner stereotype, would act as spies for the Japanese government and immediately join invading Japanese forces should they land on the Western shores. It must be remembered, at this point, that Japanese immigration had essentially ceased after the U.S.-Japan Gentleman's Agreement of 1907 and in which passports would no longer be issued to Japanese labourers hoping to emigrate to America further halted after the Immigration Act of 1924. However, there was already a sizable Japanese labourer population in the U.S., particularly on the West Coast, where Japanese labourers had been initially brought in by plantation owners to fill the holes left in the number of cheap labourers after the U.S. began passing a series of laws curbing Chinese immigration. Nonetheless, the same anti-Asian attitudes that prevented landed Chinese immigrants from becoming naturalized, marrying whites, or owning land extended also to the Japanese; in 1922, in Takao Ozawa v. U.S., the U.S. declares that Japanese are not eligible for naturalized citizenship and, regardless of their loyalties, should remain Japanese nationals. There were no such restrictions on German and Italian immigrants. Immediately after the declaration of WWII, some few hundred newly landed immigrants from Germany, Italy and Japan and other suspected spies were rounded up and placed in temporary relocation centres. However, the government still suspecting the loyalty of its Japanese population (after all, the Japanese had never officially declared their loyalty to America -- because Takao Ozawa v. U.S. said they couldn't), on February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 (download the pdf here). Citing the rationale that "whereas the successful prosecution of the war requires every possible protection against espionage and against sabotage to national-defense material, national-defense premises, and national-defense utilities", President Roosevelt ordered that the Secretary of War and other Military Commanders have the authority to relocate anyone out of any "military areas" which the Secretary of War could determine and to set up camps in which they were to be housed. Prior to and throughout WWII, there was not a single proven instance of Japanese American sabotage or espionage, according to General John L. Dewitt, commanding officer of the U.S. Army's Western Defense Command. Following E.O. 9066, the FBI began conducting house-to-house roundups of non-citizen Japanese immigrants, in many cases doing so without any arrest or search warrants. Restrictions were placed upon the movement and travel of German, Italian and Japanese nationals. In the end, over a hundred thousand "non-citizen immigrant" Japanese (known as 'Issei' or first-generation and subsequently referred to by the government as "enemy aliens") and their American-born citizen children (known as 'Nissei' and referred to by the government as "non-aliens") as well as a number of American-born Japanese who had been sent back to Japan for their secondary school education were given numbers for identification purposes and were told to move to temporary detention centers with only the belongings they could carry -- many were given only 48 hours notice. As the soon-to-be internees packed up, many families were forced to abandon their homes and any property they couldn't take with them, often to be later looted, destroyed or sold or given away by the internees' white neighbours. It is estimated that overall, Japanese American families lost billions of dollars worth of property during this time. The internees were sent to one of fiteen detention centres scattered throughout the West, a stopping point before they were to be transported to long-term internment camps. Nonetheless, most Japanese Americans spent several months at the overcrowded and unsanitary detention centres, most of them converted racetracks and fairgrounds. At the centres, families lived in horse stalls next to open sewers, washroom facilities were dirty and communal, medical care was rare, and meals were unnutritious and scarce -- subsequently, disease became a major concern. Throughout this time, the centres were surrounded by barbed wire and staffed with armed military guards with their rifles turned inwards towards the internees -- these were prisons designed to keep internees from escaping rather than sanctuaries to protect the internees from violence from other Americans, as the government later claimed. By October of 1942, eight months after E.O. 9066 was signed, most of the internees had been transferred to more permanent Wartime Relocation Authority internment camps far east from the California shore, usually located in remote and harsh areas such as deserts and swampland. There, internees were once again surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards, and internees were frequently shot for wandering too close to the camp boundaries. Families were crammed into tiny single rooms furnished with nothing but a cot and a stove. Three groundbreaking cases were presented to the U.S. courts challenging the Constitutionality of internment: Hirabayashi v. U.S., Yasui v. U.S. and Korematsu v. U.S. (see this post on Korematsu's recent death). In all three cases, the defendents challenged the evacuation orders on the basis of racial discrimination and argued that they should not be convicted for disobeying such unconstitutional orders. In all three cases, their convictions were upheld at the time, but were later overturned in the 1980's. Nonetheless, the internment camp became a micro-cosmos of a community and the WRA used loyal Nisei to help run the camps. Internees were able to apply for jobs running the camp and were even paid small wages, and despite the difficult life, the internees were able to organize entertainment groups to pass the time. Loyal Nisei were even allowed to make short trips out of the camps for school or jobs, if given proper authorization by the military police. Still, camp life proved trying for community and family structure as resentful feelings fueled increasing in-fighting among the internees -- parental relationships with children diminished as every activity, including eating and bathing was communal. Some of the internees were hurt, confused, and resentful of their adopted homeland and staged protests, while others, particularly older Nisei organized into groups like the Japanese American Citizen's League (JACL) and staged equally vocal shows of loyalty towards America, asserting that they were just as American and loyal as white citizens. Tension grew between these two factions as the JACL felt the disgruntled and older Issei were trying to make things worse for the internees by not acting patriotic and the Issei believed the Nisei were being foolishly patriotic to a country that didn't want them. On February 8, 1943, the WRA distributed applications for leave clearance which were titled "Statement of U.S. Citizenship of Japanese American Ancestry" and were basically mandatory loyalty questionnaires to separate the loyal from the disloyal among the internees 17 years or older. One question asked:

"Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty wherever ordered?"
Another asked:
"Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any or all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, or any other foreign government, power, or organization?"
Internees were unclear as to the ramifications of their answers. Many feared an affirmative answer to the first question would lead to being drafted for the army while many internees, particularly Issei, felt compelled to answer negatively to the second question -- they had spent over a year interned in camps by their adopted homeland and couldn't bring themselves to suddenly swear allegiance to a country that had treated them so shamefully. Some worried that an affirmative answer to the second question would force them to give up their Japanese citizenship which would leave them without a country of citizenship since they couldn't naturalize as American citizens, while still others thought the question was a trick: would agreeing to forswear any allegiance to the Japanese emperor be an indication that they had had some sort of allegiance to the Japanese emperor where, in actuality, they felt none? Nisei were further outraged -- no other American-born citizen was forced to answer questions about their loyalty. The internees were separated based upon their answers -- those who answered 'No' to both questions (for whatever reason) were seen as disloyal and were separated from the rest of the internees at Tule Lake Segregation Centre, where they were placed under heavy guard. Among those sent to Tule Lake also included the 17 or younger children of those who had answered 'No', and who had no choice but to follow their parents or guardians to the harsh conditions of Tule Lake. Tule Lake became known as the worst of the relocation camps, a site of frequent riots and shootings by military police. In January of 1944, the U.S. reinstated the draft for Japanese American internees and several men were drafted directly from the camps into the Army. Over 300 refused on the basis that their Constitutional rights had already been violated. Over 250 were convicted of draft dodging and sentenced to three years in federal prison. Meanwhile, several thousand Nisei, eager to prove their loyalty to the U.S. left the camps to volunteer for the Army, and quickly became the fiercest (and often greatest injured) fighters overseas. The all-Japanese 100th Infantry Battalion / 442nd Regimental Combat Team became the most highly decorated unit in U.S. history. Meanwhile, on December 17, 1944, in Ex parte Endo, the U.S. courts ruled in favour of a young Japanese American woman named Mitsuye Endo whose brother served in the 442nd, and decided that they could not intern loyal American citizens. By December 20, 1946, the last of the internment camps, Tule Lake, were closed. Afterwards, many internees resettled in the Midwest and the East rather than return to the West Coast. Those who returned to their homes found their property vandalized, destroyed, or resold. It was an uphill struggle to rebuild their lives, and many faced continued racial discrimination in post-war America. In 1952, the Walter-McCarran Act was passed allowing Issei (and other Asian immigrants), previously ineligible for naturalized citizenship, to at last naturalize as American citizens. In the 1970's, momentum grew behind a movement, powered mainly by Nisei and Sansei (third generation Japanese Americans), to push for a formal apology for internment from the U.S. government. President Jimmy Carter formed the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians in 1980 and in 1983, the Commission found that internment had not been militarily justified and instead had been motivated by "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership." On August 10, 1988, according to the recommendations of the CWRIC, President Ronal Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 and on November 21, 1989, President George H.W. Bush signed an appropriations bill that would authorize a reparations sum of $20,000 to internment camp survivors over the next eight years. In 1990, the payments began being sent out to survivors, along with a letter of apology. For more information: Japanese American Internment in WWII Photographs, Exploring Japanese American Internment, Japanese American Internment on (y'know, stuff written by a real-live APIA studies academic, instead of me, a lowly student) and To The Stars, an article on loyalty questionnaires written by George Takei, the actor famous for playing Sulu on Star Trek who spent his childhood in internment camps. Michelle Malkin recently wrote a hate-mongering and thoroughly inaccurate book "In Defense of Internment: The Case for 'Racial Profiling' in World War II and the War on Terror" -- see my response to her book in In Attack of a Defense of Internment.


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