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A Brief Exmination Of U.S. Japanese Internment

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During the study of Japanese Internment of World War II, I cannot help empathizes with the Japanese Nisei of the time. The Nisei were the second generation of Japanese Americans. They were born and educated in the United States. Despite the prejudice and insults and the resulting inferiority complex, the Nisei considered themselves proud Americans. This I know better than most other Americans, as I am a second generation Asian American and each day I trudge through the racism and prejudice and still I am proud to be an American. Thus, this dark chapter in American history strikes particularly close to home for me. But regardless of being a proud American or not, regardless of your history, your heritage, or your loyalties - the American government can have American citizen stripped of their rights and properties and thrown in prisons and internment camps they would dubiously call evacuation sites. It is this dark of United States History to which we are to briefly examine.

The question posed before us is: "was the perceived need to intern Japanese-Americans a result of poor leadership, paranoia, or feelings of extreme ethnocentrism; or perhaps a combination of all those factors." The correct answer is be the latter, a combination of all those factors.

Months prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, a report by Special Representative of the State Department Curtis B. Munson carried out an investigation regarding the loyalty of Japanese Americans. (Weglyn) The report was categorizes by their generations and educational background. The information gathered on the first generation of Japanese Americans is that "the Issei, or first generation, is considerably weakened in their loyalty to Japan by the fact that they have chosen to make this (the U.S.) their home and have brought up their children here. They expect to die here." (Weglyn)

The other categories are: the Nisei, second generation in the U.S. and their whole education in the United States; the Kibei, second generation of American-born Japanese who received a latter part of their education in Japan; and finally, the Sansei - the third generation of Japanese American were disregarded for this report as they are all at the age of infants during the report's intelligence gathering. (Weglyn)

The report summarized that Nisei were "90 to 98 percent loyal to the United States" and "pathetically eager to show this loyalty" despite the constant discrimination against them. (Weglyn) "They (Nisei) are not Japanese in culture. They are foreigners to Japan." (Weglyn)The report also pointed out that from a logical standout that the Kibei would pose the same threat potential as the Issei; however the report mentioned that Kibei who has made the trip to Japan returned more loyal to America. (Weglyn)

The United States government knew full well the fact that the possibility of a Japanese-America uprising are next to none along with acts of sabotage and espionage. The director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, J. Edgar Hoover, goes on to state that the German and Italian-Americans posed more of threat than the Japanese-American. (Weglyn)

The idea of imprisoning loyal Japanese American was so repugnant among government officials that even Lieutenant General John Dewitt, one the main players involved with the Japanese internment camps, said to General Gullion on December 26, 1941 (after the events of Pearl Harbor and prior to Executive Order No. 9066, "If we go ahead and arrest the 93,000 Japanese, we are liable to alienate the loyal Japanese from the disloyal...I'm very doubtful that it would be a common sense procedure to try and intern or to intern 117,000 Japanese...I don't think it's a sensible thing to do...An American citizen, after all, is an American citizen. We can weed out the disloyal and lock them up if necessary."(Conn)

So despite the evidence, intelligence, and common sense opposing the idea of interning the Japanese American, why did such an atrocity still occur? The simplest answer would be a combination of the extreme ethnocentrism of white Americans and their pre-existing negative sentiments against Asian Americans in general.

Anti-Asian sentiment arose with in influx of Chinese workers in the West Coast during the early 1850's. By 1905, over sixty labor organizations met to deal with the threat of the "yellow peril" or "Asiatic horde." (Ancheta) This league of labor organizations' constitution stated "The preservation of the Caucasian race upon American soil...necessitates the adoption of all possible measures to prevent or minimize the immigration of Asiatics to America." (Ancheta)

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