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Japanese Internment During World War II

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Japanese Internment During World War II

        At first glance, reasoning for the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II seems to be straight forward. On December 7, 1941 the Imperial Japanese Navy conducted a surprise attack on the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor. This led to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declaring this as “a date which will live in infamy”. President Roosevelt pressured by the American people and their representatives in Congress was pressured to do something…anything that would give them a measured feeling of security.

        The President’s main solution to this problem came in Executive Order 9066 which was signed and issued on February 19, 1942 which authorized the Secretary of War to assign certain areas as military zones, clearing the way for the deportation of Japanese Americans to internment camps that had been created.

        While some would say that this was necessary and was done only because of the attack at Pearl Harbor, it also continued a systematic persecution of those who were of Asian descent going back as far as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. These oppressions were a direct slap in the face of the Constitution, even though the Supreme Court of their times upheld these laws and orders.

        Japanese-Americans were interned in camps all over the United States by the tens of thousands. They were usually given only 48 hours of notice to gather the few belongings that were allowed and get their affairs in order. Many of these families lost their homes, jobs, and belongings during their internment. There was a fear that there could be wide spread sabotage of U.S. factories which would hamper the war effort.

        Those living in the internment camps faced many hardships such as sub-standard housing, living in barracks where they had to use communal facilities for things such as eating, washing, and doing laundry. It is important to remember that this was being done to American citizens that had been convicted of no crime and most of whom had never shown any type of hostility or ill will toward the government of the United States. There were many detainees who died due to improper and inadequate medical treatment. The facilities were run by the military and were very similar in many ways to a prison, up to and including barbed wire fencing and armed guards. Many of those in the internment camps were separated from family members, friends, and communities in which that had lived.

        There were riots and demonstrations inside the camp in response to the unfair and illegal detention of those inside. All detainees the age of 17 and older were asked to answer a questionnaire. The questionnaire consisted of only two questions:

  1. Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty wherever ordered?
  2. Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any or all attack by foreign or domestic forces and forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, or to any other foreign government, power or organization?

Although almost all of the detainees in the camps were loyal to the United States, many refused to volunteer unless the rights that they had been denied were reinstated. They stated that they could not fight for a country who had systematically taken their constitutional rights without any real cause.

There were those however that did volunteer for the Army just to keep from having to continue staying in the internment camps for the duration of the war. Many of those who volunteered ended up in the 442nd Regimental Combat Unit. There are numerous statements by many different high ranking officials telling of the fighting prowess and unbelievable courage of those in the 442nd. These Americans who happened to be of Japanese descent took many casualties during fighting in Europe to help protect their country, even if their country had let them down.

The internment of Japanese American citizens officially ended in 1945, but the last detention center at Tule Lake would not close until March of 1946. The last detainees would not be released until October of 1946, more than a year after the official end to World War II.

In response to Japanese internment there were several cases that made it to the Supreme Court. One of the most noted is Korematsu v. United States. Fred Toyosaburo Korematsu refused to evacuate California and report to an internment camp for which he was arrested. Mr. Korematsu would file a lawsuit which declared that his constitutional rights as an American citizen had been infringed upon. In its decision dated December 18, 1944 the Supreme Court of the United States upheld his conviction citing that they could not reject the conclusions of the military leaders of that time. Mr. Korematsu’s conviction would be formally vacated in 1983 by Federal Judge Marilyn Hall Patel.



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