The Japanese American Internment during the World War II reminds us of the bigotry and racial prejudice of our nation towards other races. It shows the disastrous effects bigotry and racial prejudice can bring to innocent people. It has happened before and it is happening again now. This essay examines how and why the most cherished rights of American and non-American citizens nowadays are being taken from them similar to what happened to the Japanese Americans more than six decades ago.
Before World War II even began, many American farmers were already jealous of the success of the Japanese farmers. Because of their superior farming techniques they were able to earn twice as much as their American counterparts. (Jennifer Radcliffe 1) As a result, many foreign-born Japanese were not given the opportunity to own lands. The Anti-Japanese sentiment began to reach its peak on December 7, 1941 when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. The racist hatred against the foreign-born Japanese and even those born in the United States began to intensify.
Baseless accusations and rumors spread that the Japanese-Americans were running secret operations in support of the Japanese government. (“The Internment of Japanese Americans” 2) Newspaper columnists suggested that the Japanese Americans living within certain areas be removed for the protection of the United States. On February 19, 1942, Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt, after a recommendation coming from the congressional delegation, signed Executive Order No. 9066 which authorized the creation of military areas for the purpose of protecting the country against espionage and sabotage.
It immediately called for the removal of all persons with Japanese ancestry from the west coast of the United States. It was estimated that around 110,000 Japanese Americans were held captive. More than 2/3 of these were American citizens of the United States and over half were children. (“World War II Roundup: Overview” 1) The instruction given to them was to bring only those they can carry and leave everything behind. Because of the short notice, they were forced to sell all of their properties for a very small amount.
Their rights were denied to them and they were forced to live for 2 to 3 years at hastily built internment camps which were initially used as prison camps. The materials were made out of wood and situated in desolate and unsanitary places. Because more than 120,000 people relocated, the internment camps were overcrowded. The rooms were very small giving no opportunity for privacy for the women internees. Most of the refugees, even women and children, had to sleep on the floor. Food was rationed to the internees at a budget of a very small amount.
Indeed, life was difficult and burdensome inside these internment camps. In 1988, a formal apology was already issued by the American government to those who were placed inside the Japanese American Internment camps. Reparations for the damage caused had already been granted to the victims. The American government apologetically promised that this incident will never happen again in the future. It is likely that this exact incident of rounding up hundreds of thousands of people and transporting them to different internment camps all over the county may never happen again in the future.
It would be outrageous and absurd for the US government to repeat the same mistake it had committed more than six decades ago. But it does not mean that there will be no more violation of rights and civil liberties. In the era of mass hysteria against terrorism, people start to wonder and ask is it possible for the gross and blatant violation of civil liberties to happen in the near future? It is highly possible that rights will be trampled upon and civil liberties will be sacrificed, all in the name of national security.
The targets now are no longer the Japanese or the Japanese Americans but our Muslim brothers and sisters from Arab countries and even American citizens as well. We will not be placed in internment camps for sure but our privacy will be invaded, our internet communications and phone lines will be monitored, our mails will be investigated and our bank accounts will be checked. The law giving legitimacy to the violation of rights is no longer Executive Order No. 9066 but the USA Patriot Act. On the part of the government, they think that these acts are justified in view of the new threats of terrorism.
National security demands that hardcore surveillance operation tactics be employed. On the part of the people, the government has been taking drastic actions for the purpose of protecting us against terrorists but who will protect us from the government? Is it necessary for the protection of the public that civil liberties be sacrificed? We must be reminded of the alarming stories of the people, most of whom were of Middle Eastern descent, who were picked up by the government immediately after the 2001 World Trade Center and Pentagon attack.
Most of them were detained for several days without a case being filed against them by the government. It must be stressed that even American citizens have in the past been detained in military prisons without a case being filed against them. There are countless stories all over the news about law enforcement officers in full battle gear entering certain houses in the absence of its owner for the purpose of checking their thins and looking for any evidence that can be used against them.
National Security Letters are being sent to banks, internet service providers, and phone companies instructing these companies to hand over personal records of suspected terrorists. We must also include the attack against Iraq led by American and British soldiers because of alleged weapons of mass destruction which Saddam Hussein was said to have hidden in his country. Until now nothing has been found. Indeed American and non-American citizens are now being subjected to the same kind of treatment our Japanese American brothers experienced during the World War II.