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Japanese-American Internment Camps Essay

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, many Americans became paranoid of espionage from the Japanese. Because of this, President Roosevelt issued the internment of all people of Japanese ancestry to provide “national security”. Japanese- Americans were given two days to evacuate, and were forced into internment camps (Cooper, page 7). Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps because of their nationality, and had to undergo many unjust hardships. Although after the internment camps, they received compensation, it did not erase all the sufferings the government put them through.

The internment of Japanese- Americans was truly not the best action our government took in response to the war against Japan. The decision to evacuate and remove Japanese living on the West Coast was not based only on Pearl Harbor. The removal of Japanese was a consequence of anti-Japanese sentiment from the early part of the twentieth century (Ng, page 13). The government maintained that military necessity was the main reason behind the evacuation and internment program(Ng, page 13).

Other factors that lead to the evacuation included, arms found in Japanese homes and businesses when they were searched after Pearl Harbor, concentrations of Japanese in close proximity to highly sensitive military areas, and the presence of Kibei, second-generation Japanese-Americans educated in Japan, who were likely to be “pro-Japan” (Ng, page 13). Another reason for the internment, given by the government, was that the ethnic Japanese needed “protection” from vigilantes and other anti-Japanese forces during war time (Ng, page 14).

On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 (Cooper, page 6). Although this order did not directly mention Japanese Americans or aliens, but designated certain areas of the West Coast that would fall under military jurisdiction, the effect of the order gave the military power to remove Japanese aliens and citizens according to their needs(Cooper, page 7). The evacuation began at the end of March 1942, after the attack on Pearl Harbor (Cooper, page 12).

Over 90,000 people were forced into the assembly centers and had to stay an average of one hundred days (Ng, page 12). Of those who were forced into eh internment camps, around seventy percent were American citizens (Ng, page 12). The evacuation notices were posted in prominent public areas in the Japanese American communities (Cooper, page 7). One member of each family was forced to go register for the entire family (Ng, page 12). Most residents lived at the assembly centers from one to four months. Soon, more permanent residential facilities were built by the War Department.

They were to be managed by a new division of the Department of the Interior, the War Relocation Authority, which was created by Executive order 9201 in March of 1942 (Cooper, page 8). By October 1942, all of the assembly centers were closed and residents were transferred to the War Relocation Authority centers (Ng, page 37). These relocation camps were in isolated areas throughout the West, Rocky Mountains, and Southeast. There were ten camps, and they were all located “at a safe distance” from any military outposts and on federal as well as private property (Gordon, page 70).

All of the camps were built based upon the army model and resembled military housing of that period. The evacuees lived in barrack-style housing, in which each barrack was twenty by one hundred to one hundred twenty feet, that was divided into four to six rooms (Benti, page 25). Each room housed one family, no matter how large the family, and in a few cases, two families shared a room (Benti, page 25). The barracks were constructed of planks nailed to studs, covered with tar paper, with no interior wall (Benti, page 25).

Privacy was limited at these internment camps. For example, the coal heating stoves were ventilated to the outside with chimneys that cut through each room (Ng, page 41). The holes cut between the walls had to be large enough so that the wall would not burn, but this meant that conversations could be heard from one room to another (Ng, page 41). However, perhaps the most sensitive privacy situations were the bathroom and toilet facilities (Ng, page 41). The facilities at Manzanar had no partitions or doors, just toilets back to back (Ng, page 41).

Camp life ran on a fairly predictable military model of activity, a siren alarm blast rang every morning at 7 A. M. , breakfast was served at the cafeteria, adults went to work, and children went to school (Ng, page 42). However, the camps were not designed with their education in mind. School programs took place in large, open barracks that were often also used for recreation halls. Students had to sit on the floor or stand during classes. Eventually, in some camps, schools were built to accommodate the population, but that did not include colleges.

However, outside the camps, the National Japanese Student Relocation Council was formed to assist in the relocation of Nisei to colleges and universities in the East and Midwest (Ng, page 42). Qualified teachers were also in short supply since it was difficult to recruit teachers from outside the Japanese population because of the harsh living conditions in camp. Overall, the curriculum covered standard subjects, but underlying this education was an emphasis on Americanization, citizenship, and loyalty to America. On December 17, 1944, Public Proclamation 21 was issued (Ng, page 97).

The proclamation stated that all persons of Japanese ancestry that have been bleared by military authority have been permitted to return and should be accorded the same treatment and should be allowed to enjoy the same privileges accorded other law abiding American citizens or residents. Those who chose to leave the camps knew that it would be challenging, if not difficult, to live outside the camps, since the United States was still at war with Japan. With few financial resources when they left camp, many had difficulty finding housing and work.

In 1948, Congress passed the Evacuation Claims Act to allow people of Japanese ancestry to seek compensation from the U. S. government for losses they incurred as a result of their internment (Ng, page 100). Their claims were limited to “damage to or loss of real or personal property,” which was not covered by insurance and was not a reasonable consequence of the evacuation and exclusion (Ng, page 100). The compensation for losses could not ever replace certain items of sentimental or emotional value.

Although all those of Japanese ancestry that were sent to the internment camps received reimbursements, no amount of money could ever erase all the hardships they were put through. Though the internment camps were created for national security, they completely devastated the lives of thousands of people, forcing innocent American citizens out of their homes and into internment camps. They had to live in terrible conditions and once finally released, suffered hardships integrating back into society.


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