World War II: Internment of the Japanese Americans
President Roosevelt at the peak of World War II authorized the internment of Japanese citizens living in the United States. On December 7, 1941,the Japanese army bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii prompting the Federal government of the United States led by FDR to issue the infamous Executive Order 9066(Inada 15). The order permitted the U.S Army to arrest all persons of Japanese ancestry from regions considered strategic in the war on the West Coast after which they were sent to inland restriction camps. The bombing forced the United States to engage in war with Japan, Germany and Italy. It was one of the major acts of human rights violation
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The German and Italian citizens were however not removed from their residences. On the other hand, the Japanese Americans were categorically and systematically removed from the West Coast irrespective of the citizenship(Moore 20). According to Housten,the Executive order applied to all Japanese citizens including the Issei(First generation Japanese that migrated into U.S. between 1885 and 1907), the Nissei(this refers to the second generation who were born and brought up in the U.S), Sansei(Third generation) and Kibei(these Japanese had moved to Japan in pursuit of education but had since returned to the U.S). The American government therefore legalized seclusion of the Japanese enthnic group within restriction camps.
The Japanese were imprisoned within deplorable dusty and remote camps fenced by barbed wire. The process was carried out without even giving the Japanese the right to formal charges or trials in the justice system. The decision was informed by the underlying ideological differences that were further compounded by the war which led to racial animosity. As a result, the federal government racial policy on Japanese Americans at that time exposed the deep hatred that existed between the two countries in pursuit of global political and economic supremacy. The sweeping and blanket internment of the Japanese Americans, both alien and non-alien was both non-democratic and inhuman.
The order directed military officers to monitor movement of the Japanese citizens within restriction camps in California, Arizona, Washington state and Oregon (Hatamiya 25). Their freedom of movement and expression was therefore curtailed and restricted. Their homes and livelihoods were equally destroyed at the pacific coast at the height of racial discrimination. Any attempt by the Japanese citizens and resident aliens to refuse relocation from their homes was met by harsh military interventions including judicial convictions since the executive order had been entrenched in the constitution. There was also a sustained military supervision of the interns in the assembly centers in order to determine their loyalty. This order bordered on the fear of invasion, sabotage and espionage with respect to Japanese populations without specific judgment of loyalty at individual level.
Experiences of Japanese Americans
The Japanese Americans imprisoned in the military camps were merely provided with food, shelter, clothing, transportation, supplies, equipment, utilities, facilities and other services as determined by the military commanders and secretary of war(Robinson 33). They were therefore treated as captives of war. It should be noted that the Japanese were hardworking citizens in the United States irrespective of neither their ancestry nor their racial orientation. Some worked on farms as gardeners among other economic activities that supported their livelihoods.
It was therefore undemocratic for the government to come up with a blanket restriction of their movement in military camps without giving a chance to a procedural due process of the law in order to determine their loyalty. Internees had experiences mixed with feelings of anger and hatred. Most of the Japanese interns were loyal to their resident country, the United States. The manner in which the internment was executed revealed gross racial impartialities since the government did not act in a similar fashion to Germans and Italians citizens (Hanel 13). As a matter of fact, some of the interns had never been to the Japan after migrating to the United States.
As such, the military interrogations that sought to investigate their loyalty were farfetched and a major departure from the democratic principles on which the United States as a country was founded. The interns actually lost their hard-earned investments, families and esteem during the evacuation process. According to Houston & Houston (12) “Older Nisei” family living in Hawaii confessed to have lost $10 000 during the evacuation from the West Coast. The wife lost her beauty parlor while the man lost a lucrative job as a gardener. Both of them were loyal citizens of the United States working hard to earn a living there. They weren’t on any relief and even donated money to charity organizations such as the Red Cross and the Community Chest in support of the poor and the needy in the society.
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The evacuation was actually a big mistake as interns found themselves being relocated from one restriction camp to another aimlessly. Others worked on farms without pay and were compelled to spend their financial resources to the last penny. The legal restrictions brought about by the executive order on internment of Japanese Americans were therefore suspect in view of their racial connotations. The restrictions were entrenched into the constitution as a desperate attempt by the federal government to respond to the challenges presented by the war (Inada 18).
In addition, they brought to the fore the historical differences between the socialist and capitalist blocks between the United States and Japan. The War Relocation Authority among other responsibilities was tasked to train and employ evacuees appropriately but lacked accounting information that could later be described as labor-insensitive. The policies, procedures and document findings that were applied on the interns were defined by the American capitalist values.
The internment was prescribed upon the Japanese Americans on the background of national security. However, it is worth noting that no single American citizen of Japanese origin had been accused of sabotage or espionage prior to the evacuation. WRA managed about ten restriction camps where they established business enterprises for employing evacuees towards the east (Moore 26). The Japanese Americans living in the United States were initially accepted there, that is, before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, because they were considered to offer cheap labor.
However, hardworking Japanese continued to improve their financial and economic situation thereby gaining negative publicity in the media and the general public. The “Oriental” mentality generated some degree of distrust among the Native Americans about the Japanese which was further worsened by the war. Life before the war began was basically the same for the entire American society irrespective of their ethnic or racial backgrounds.
The internment order specifically targeted the Japanese Americans as “enemy aliens” as they were perceived to be collaborating with Japanese forces (Hatamiya 31). The state actually thought that they could assist the Japanese army in organizing an invasion into the American territory. The governments therefore spied on them despite of the fact majority of them were born in the United States. They were then forced into the camps where they lost ownership rights over their property in addition to the restrictions in communicating using Japanese language. This further interfered with their cultural and social interactions including family relationships.
The relocation camps were actually moved inland to desert areas with barbed wire fencing. In essence, the communities were isolated from the general public and restricted in their own world. The camps contained facilities such as farms, factories, schools, churches, theatres and shops where interns lived under close monitoring of the military officials. The farms provided the food for the prisoners and camp employees. The camp houses which provided accommodation to both prisoners and workers were deplorable facilities in unhygienic conditions (Robinson 40). Bathrooms had no barriers and were shared by the entire public.
The combination of the pathetic accommodation and public utilities, the Japanese detainees succumbed to the pressure and resorted to riots in defense of their civil rights and freedoms. They were finally released in 1945 but continued to strain economically and socially since their entire livelihoods and belongings had been destroyed. They were also suppressed emotionally and could not therefore speak out in public about the atrocities committed to them in the camps.
The bombing of the Pearl Harbor offered the government of the United States a convenient opportunity to take revenge on their Japanese enemies. The democratic credentials of the United States were therefore weakened by the subjective treatment of the minority Japanese (Hanel 16). The gross violation of their human rights was clearly manifested in the manner through which Japanese detainees both psychologically and physically culminating in shock, grief and psychological trauma.
Another social phenomenon that characterized the incarceration of Japanese American was centered on women. The patriarchal society in the Japanese population was subjected to test in the isolation camps with restrained communication. As such, the Japanese women lost their traditional roles in the family. Life at the camp presented similar challenges to both men and women. Women were therefore liberated from the patriarchal Japanese society during the internment period. Both the Japanese men and women lost their self esteem; however, this was much more magnified in men due to their chauvinistic upbringing.
The women were actually perceived to be more cooperative to the Japanese Army officers due to their submissive nature. The process of “Americanization” of the Japanese detainees provided the Japanese women with greater freedom from the patriarchal bondage in their traditional society (Houston& Houston 21). In essence, the women got liberated from cultural and sexual stereotypes that suppressed them in Japanese society.
The Executive directing the internment of Japanese Americans was designed as a wartime emergency that sought to safeguard the national security of the United States during the World War II. However, its legitimacy did not stand constructive criticism based on the fact that Japanese Americans were not guilty of any violation of the constitution of the United States (Inada 23). The Japanese were loyal members of the Americans with ambitions to better their living standards irrespective of political and racial alignments. The subsequent racial antagonism that followed World War II revealed the serious loopholes in the American justice system and foreign policy.
The Executive order made by the state in conjunction with the military department was eventually being applied by the justice system in the courts where the Japanese Americans were deprived of their liberties and freedoms. Neither the state nor the courts could determine beyond reasonable doubt that Japanese Americans were guilty of espionage, sabotage and alleged invasion (Moore 32). The Order was implemented similar to a curfew among the Japanese population with no reservations being applied to distinguish citizens by birth. The sweeping declaration resulted in a gross violation of the rights and liberties among loyal citizens and hardworking Japanese on the platform of racial segregation.
The military actually did not have the capacity to determine the loyal members of the Japanese community from those capable of sabotage with respect to the war (Hatamiya 40). The fact that America was at war with the Japan and its allies did not warrant this kind of dogmatic internment with racial undertones. The predicaments that Japanese detainees went through further compounded the political and ideological differences that existed between the United States and Japan.
The degree to the Executive order empowered the military in carrying out the internment was equally unprocedural since it assumed that the military had express understanding and command of the situation at hand. The judgment brought forward by the state when passing the Executive order equally assumed that military authorities were better positioned to assess the situation even without the martial law in place. The combination of military actions with racial discrimination further complicates any attempts to unravel differences in determining loyalty among the Japanese with respect to the war in relation to national security concerns.
The immense democratic credentials that United States command in the international community are not commensurate with the internment procedures at the detention camps. It could have been important that the Japanese Americans undergo a loyalty verification procedure based on the due process of the law in order to ascertain worries presented by the state (Robinson 44). The entire Japanese population living in the United States did not present an imminent threat before and after the World War II. The population which was composed of about 112 000 Japanese could have been tried in the courts as it was done with citizens from German and Italy.
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The fact that the conditions prevailing at the time of the war did not also warrant the application of the martial law which further weakens the opinion that the internment was an emergency at the time war meant to safeguard national security. American democratic values and principles were therefore sacrificed at the altar of cheap and short term military ambitions founded out of desperate government (Houston& Houston 25). The mere bombing of the Pearl Harbor did not warrant express violation of democratic principles with the disguise of military interventions on the entire Japanese population.
The Executive order for the internment of the Japanese Americans therefore legalized racism without legitimate justifications enshrined within the democratic and humanitarian principles. It was equally unethical for the government to detain the Japanese Americans, destroy their property and eventually dismiss them into the public after the war without compensation (Inada 27). It was actually evident the whole exercise was not a product of Japan’s alleged provocative act of Pearl Harbor bombing but an inherent manifestation of racial hatred. The entire internment of the Japanese was therefore a cowardly act by the Federal government of the United States led by its President and the military commanders.
Hanel, Rachael.The Japanese American Internment: An Interactive History Adventure. Capstone Press, 2008
Hatamiya, Leslie T. Righting a Wrong: Japanese Americans and the Passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. Stanford University Press, 1994.
Houston, James D. & Houston, Wakatsuki J. Farewell to Manzanar: a true story of Japanese American experience during and after the World War II internment. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002
Inada, Fusao L. Only what we could carry: the Japanese American internment experience. Heyday Books, 2000
Moore, Brenda L. serving our country: Japanese American women in the military during World War II. Rutgers University Press, 2003
Robinson, Greg. By order of the president: FDR and the internment of Japanese Americans. Harvard University Press, 2001