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Japanese Interment

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WWII: Japanese - American Internment
War truly brings out the worst in mankind. Inhumane actions, even from the most sophisticated, shrewd leaders often occur during times of war. A relatively recent example of this was when leaders and politicians from the United States of America crafted Executive order 9066, which was later signed by President Roosevelt on the 19th of February, 1942, forcing approximately one-hundred and twenty thousand Japanese - Americans living on the West coast to leave their homes and become accustomed to the idea of living in an internment camp (Heather, Arundel). The internment of Japanese men, women, and children was not justified because internment was solely based on suspicions mostly caused by racism against Asians, because civil and human rights of these people were ignored, and because internment destroyed the lives of many of these people. This paper will look at how racism and paranoia were instrumental in the spread of suspicion, how civil and human rights of Japanese - Americans before and during internment were ignored, and what effect internment had on the lives of these people.
The internment of Japanese - Americans living on the West Coast was solely based on unsubstantiated suspicions and paranoia mostly caused by racism. Japanese - Americans were never fully assimilated into society, which is why racism against the group had already existed for forty years before the bombing of Pearl Harbor (Takei). Many believed that the Japanese were too different to assimilate the way European groups had. Immigrants who had moved to the U.S. from Japan could never, by law, become citizens, marry an American citizen, own land, or work in certain professions (Heather, Arundel). Racism did not only exist in people’s minds, but it had gotten as far as preventing Japanese, in the name of law, from doing certain things. Such laws did not apply to immigrant groups from Europe, suggesting that a strong sense of prejudice against the Japanese race existed. No proof was ever given to prove that Japanese – Americans were in any way a national threat.
Many believed that Japanese - Americans were posing a national threat as they might have been Japanese spies or loyal to the emperor of Japan, but such claims were never proved to be true, and the fact that most of these suspects had never even visited Japan makes the claim that some of these people were actually Japanese spies ridiculous (Dewitt 531). This whole situation really shows how unsubstantiated the reasons behind internment were. There was no concrete evidence suggesting that these people were of any threat, indicating that racism had part in the decision of internment (Boyer 812). Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, paranoia and anti-Japanese propaganda spread around the country. The U.S. government as well as some private organizations began releasing propaganda promoting anti-Japanese ideals. Films, posters, and songs were created to encourage hatred towards the Japanese. Japanese people were often called Japs, yellows, or nips, and were sometimes depicted as apes and other animals (Heather, Burnie).
Paranoia strengthened as hatred towards Asians was growing, and as public opinion against the Japanese grew, many began demanding the removal of possible threats. Like many others, Lt. Gen John L. De Witt, commanding general of the Western defence command, supported the removal of Japanese - Americans from “key defence locations,” so he had executive order 9066 signed by President Roosevelt, and the “evacuation” of these people began (Sundquist 532). This suggests that one major factor behind the internment of approximately 120,000 men, women, and children was the spread of paranoia and anti-Japanese views. And although it is true that a country should do what is necessary to protect it, Japanese – Americans did not deserve to be interned, because there was no reason to suspect them, and because anti-Japanese views were hampering on many Americans’ ability to judge the situation clearly.
Civil and human rights of Japanese- Americans were ignored, as treatment at camps was poor, wages at camps were extremely low, as there was denial of religious freedom and speech at camps, and as none of these people were ever charged with any crime. The treatment at internment camps can be considered a form of cruel and unusual punishment, because conditions under which internees lived were often very poor. Hospitals were understaffed, medical care was poor, and food was dietetically deficient. Small, dietetically deficient portions of food caused many internees to feel extreme hunger at times (Constitutional Rights Violated). Failing to provide sufficient nutrition can be seen as a violation of human rights, so not only were Japanese – Americans interned for non-existent reasons, but they were also treated poorly at internment camps.
Payments for Japanese - Americans wishing to work at internment camps was way below the minimum wage of thirty cents per hour. The highest professions gave workers only 19 dollars a month, while regular field work offered a wage of 12 dollars a month (Japanese Americans at Manzanar). Twelve dollars a month meant approximately forty cents per day, so the legislation law, which required a minimum wage of thirty cents per hour, was not even close to being met. Working for eight hours a day would have meant an hourly payment of 5 cents, which is one sixth of what the minimum wage was. Receiving such a low salary did very little in aiding internees to get back the money and property they had lost.
Internees at camps had no religious freedom as they were not allowed to practice certain religions. The practice of the Shinto religion as well as Buddhism were strictly forbidden at camps, while Christianity was officially encouraged (Constitutional Rights Violated). This shows that Japanese – Americans were not simply relocated, but their lives were being controlled. Before internment, these people, under the protection of the 1st amendment, could practice their own religions, but this right was removed from them after intenment. Although the reason behind internment had nothing to do with religious issues, religious rights were removed from these people, and this all links back to racism.
The 1st amendment was further violated as internees were denied freedom of speech and press. The use of Japanese language at public meetings was prohibited at camps, and camp newspapers were strictly censored (Constitutional Rights Violated). This further supports the idea that strong prejudice against the Japanese race existed. If evidence had existed against Japanese – Americans, the removal of communication devices would have been understandable, because spies could have used such items to send information to Japan, but the U.S. government decided to take away many other rights as well, showing the existence of racism.
Japanese – Americans were wronged because there was no solid reason behind internment. None of these people was ever charged with any crime, and there was no proof whatsoever that these people whom were of Japanese ancestry were of any danger to the U.S. Some believed that Japanese - Americans were posing a national threat as they might have been Japanese spies or loyal to the emperor of Japan, but none of these claims were ever proven to be true (U.S. History). The eighth amendment states that "A severe punishment that is patently unnecessary,” is considered cruel and unusual punishment, and since the U.S. government had no proof whatsoever that Japanese- Americans were loyal to the emperor of Japan, the punishment can be considered as “patently unnecessary” (Constitutional Rights Violated). Also, no similar treatment applied to people whom were of ancestry of the two other axis powers, Germany and Italy, which supports the idea that racism against the Japanese existed.
Internment destroyed the lives of many Japanese - Americans, because internees were given a very limited amount of time to sell their property, because many lost their homes, and because the reparations given to survivors were not sufficient to recover what had been lost.
After executive order 9066 was signed by President Roosevelt, federal agents began marching into people’s homes to inform all Japanese- Americans living on the West coast that they would soon be interned, and the the amount of time given for these people to prepare themselves by selling property was very limited (Boyer 812). Japanese Americans were, on average, given from forty-eight hours to a week to prepare for future internment. Such limited amount of time resulted in panic sales, which caused a sudden drop of prices for property being sold by Japanese - Americans. Because everyone was aware that these people would soon be interned, consumers often paid a fraction of the true value of the property they were purchasing (Sundquist 530). This shows unfairness in the process of internment. Japanese – Americans were not given a sufficient amount of time to prepare themselves for this change, and Americans were able to take advantage of this by purchasing property at a very low price.
Before internment, many Japanese - Americans were only allowed to keep with them what they would take to the internment camp. This forced many to sell their homes and property. Internees were allowed to take a very limited amount of items to camps, meaning that nearly all property had to be sold. Having no home or belongings to return to forcefully impacted the lives of many families. Some committed suicide out of despair. Reparations paid to surviving internees to help compensate for what had been lost were not sufficient, and they were paid a long time after internment had ended. (Sundquist 529) These people were not give the opportunity to store their property somewhere safe, but instead, they were forced to sell what they had. Preventing Japanese – Americans from getting back their property after returning from internment camps did not in any way relate to what these people were suspected of, which once again shows the existence of racism. The evacuations claim act of 1948, which “made up” for lost land, paid at an average of ten cents per every dollar lost in property for former internees. The second act to aid former internees, was the civil rights act of 1988, and this was a one time payment of $20,000 to surviving internees (Sundquist 529, 530). Due to political disarray, the evacuation claims act lasted until 1965, which meant that some former internees had to wait for two decades until they received any reparations. The civil rights act, which was a one time payment of $20,000, wasn’t passed until 1988, by which time most former internees had died. Ten cents per every dollar was not nearly enough to compensate for what had been lost, and the one time payment of $20,000, which was passed decades after internment had ended, only applied to former internees who were still alive at the time.
The internment of approximately one hundred and twenty thousand Japanese - Americans is a good, modern example of human cruelty, and shows what racism and paranoia can lead to, especially during times of war. Japanese - Americans were interned some months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, because paranoia and suspicions were spreading like a disease among the people of the United States. Consequently, executive order 9066 was signed by President Roosevelt in February, 1942, allowing the relocation of all Japanese - Americans living on the West Coast. Racism and prejudice strengthened rumors about some Japanese being spies and loyal to the emperor of Japan, and thus propaganda was released to make the Japanese - American race seem like a bad one. Internees lost lots of money as they were often forced to sell their belongings before relocation, and their lives were strictly controlled at camps. Human and civil rights were both ignored, as internees often did not receive enough food, did not receive a fair salary, and were not allowed to practice certain religions and say certain things. The internment of Japanese - Americans during world war II was unjustified, because internment was solely based on unsubstantiated suspicions and paranoia caused by racism against Asians, because civil and human rights of these people were ignored, and because internment destroyed the lives of many of these people.

Works Cited

Boyer, Paul S. “Japanese - American relocation”. Holt American Nation ch 27.2 (2003): 812- 813. Book. 4 Feb. 2014. Print.

“ConstitutionalRightsViolated: A lesson in American History”. Jacl edu (2004)

“Japanese Americans at Manzanar”. (March 2014): National Historic Site California. Web. 28 April. 2014. URL:

Steven Heather, Arundel Anna. “Japanese American Internment During World War II”. UMBC center for history education. 29 April. 2014.

Sundquist, Eric J. “The Japanese - American Internment: A Reappraisal”. The American Scholar 57.4 (1988): 529-547. JSTOR. Web. 4 Feb. 2014.
URL: http//

Takei, George. “George Takei on the Japanese internment camps during WWII” (Oct.2004.): Archive of American Television. Web. 4 Feb. 2014.
URL:”Japanese-American internment”. U.S. History online textbook 51e (2002)

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