Justifying the Japanese Internment Camps



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Justifying the Japanese Internment Camps

            The Japanese relocation to internment camps happened because of different reasons rooted in some of the events in the Second World War. During this war, Japan was allied to Germany, which was the rival of America. Japan therefore, opposed and fought against America in the Second World War. What aggravated the tension between USA and Japan was the attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii by Japan. This was an American territory, although it had not formally become a state. After this incident, USA felt that the Japanese Americans living in the country could possibly act as spies, for further attacks in the country. This led to the decision of all the Japanese immigrants being relocated to internment camps. This move by the USA was justifiable, as it would help curb any violent acts from Japan, and enhance safety in USA. However, this was also considered as a prejudice toward Asians, since the same sanctions were not taken against immigrants of other rivals such as Germany, and therefore, this is unjustifiable (Welgny 23). This paper will use literature review to address this issue from the two points of view, before taking a stand in the conclusion.

The Japanese immigrants were put in internment camps not because they were guilty of crime, but because their country had become one of the USA’s enemies during the period of the Second World War. The USA therefore, considered these Japanese people in America as a threat to its national security.  During this period, most Japanese people in America had occupied the area in the west coast of America. They worked hard to sustain their families. They had bought land, gotten an education, and had become citizens of America, who participated in voting during American elections. Problems rose after their country of origin attacked the USA. This had their land taken away from them, and them sent to internment camps, to avoid further attacks in the USA from Japan. Since these were of a different race, it was easy to identify them, therefore, all were sent to the camps (Sakurai, 44).

An order known as, “Establishing the War Relocation Authority in the Executive Office of the President and Defining its Functions and Duties,” also referred to as “order 9066,” was signed by President Roosevelt on 19th February 1942. In this order, there were the instructions about relocating close to 1110,000 American Japanese people to the ten internment camps that were available. When the Japanese were taken to the internment camps, they lost their rights as American citizens, as most of them were legally settled in America. This also separated them from the things and people they loved. The camps were fenced, with block arrangements inside. In each block, there were more than ten barracks, a recreational hall, and one mess hall. This also included car storage and repair area, canteens, hospitals, schools, a post office, a library, among others (Welgny 47).

Apart from being alienated from the wider society, the Japanese Americans were exposed to many hardships in the internment camps. Since most of the camps were located in desert places, the Japanese people had difficulties dealing with the extreme unbearable temperatures in the camps. For instance, during summer periods, the temperatures could reach 100 degrees and more. On the other hand, winter periods had extremely low temperatures, going as low as negative 30 degrees in some of the camps. Meals in these camps were served in meager portions. Most of the food was grown in the camps, including vegetables and fruits. In addition, the people bred livestock in the camps, which was also a source of food. Due to insufficient provision of healthcare in the camps, most Japanese people died when they got sick. The psychological stress that most of them were experiencing also contributed to the deaths of Japanese people in the camps. Aggressive military guards sometimes harassed the people, killing those who showed signs of resistance to their orders (Heinrichs 31).

Although the Japanese Americans were later released from the internment camps, this was a nasty experience, which was detrimental to all aspects of their lives. On being released from the camps, the Japanese had no homes to go to, since new families now occupied their homes. Additionally, they had no land, as this was taken away from them when they were placed in the camps. They therefore, had to start life a new, and attempt to regain all their life basics, which they had lost while in the camps. Initially, they did this without the help of the American government (Welgny 83).

In 1948, the Congress reached a consensus to compensate the Japanese Americans for the loss they experienced while in the internment camps. Each Japanese American was therefore, given close to ten cents, for each dollar they had lost. This shows a sense of remorse in the government’s deeds. The Congress also developed the civil liberties Act in 1988, which made it clear that the congress had realized that the Japanese Americans were treated unjustly during the internment period. The security reasons offered for the internment were unreliable, baseless, and only motivated by racism and discrimination. This portrayed the American government as possessing poor leadership capabilities, since this event cannot be compared to how a good leadership government system would have acted. Denying innocent citizens their liberty rights and other rights is not a way that can be adopted by good leaders. All these pointed to the bias and weakness of the congress at that particular period. The congress therefore deemed it important to pass an apology to the Japanese people and on behalf of all America. However, this did not make the Japanese Americans feel any better, as the government did not support them fully while they were trying to fix their lives back to normal (Dickerson 54).

Even though the Japanese Americans went back to living their normal lives again, life was not the same, as they knew it. They had difficulty finding new jobs, and getting loans. This had a lifetime effect on some Japanese families. Many were psychologically and emotionally damaged, while some died. Today, some Japanese American families are still involved in legal cases, demanding for fully compensation by the American government, for all the loses they incurred while in the internment camps (Heinrichs 54).

The Japanese American Internment: Civil Liberties Denied was written by Burgan Michael, and published in 2007. It is a great and resourceful book on the subject of the Japanese American Internment. The author of this book offers detailed information concerning the Japanese internment situation, starting from how the Japanese lived before the internment, to the internment period. He addresses what the events during the internment meant to the internees, and how the Japanese were affected by the internment. He as well analyzes the implications of the internment of the Japanese Americans. This is a useful source to this paper, as it unravels the situation as it was in the Japanese Americans internment camps.

In her book, Years of Infamy, The Untold Stories of America’s concentration camps, Michi Welgny also describes the events leading to the incarceration of more than 110,000 Japanese Americans during the Second World War. What inspired her to write this book, which was published in is the thought that the internment of the Japanese Americans was unjust and wrong, yet it was never given the seriousness it deserves, as it has been perceived only but partially. This book therefore, also has the aim of reminding the readers that they are responsible for guarding their own liberties, which are important to them. She describes the internment process, and all the accompanying events, by using different primary and secondary sources.  For instances, she makes use of legal cases, federal reports, among others. However, she sometimes is biased in the interpretation of her sources, by giving contradicting opinions about the same source.

Whether the internment of Japanese Americans should be justified or not, is dependent on the outcome of an analysis of the events leading to the internment, the events in the internment camps, as well as what happened to the Japanese Americans after their release from the internment camps. Primarily, there was an element of discrimination and bias in the way the Japanese Americans’ relocation was conducted. While all the Japanese Americans living in the American Pacific coast were relocated to the internment camps, none of those living in Hawaii was relocated, yet these accounted for almost a third of the Hawaii population. This is believed to be the case because the government figured it would spend a lot of money on transporting the Japanese Americans in Hawaii to the internment camps. In addition, since the Japanese Americans in Hawaii mostly served as laborers, interning all the Japanese in this region would mean that the region suffers economically, due to lack of sufficient labor. From this, it then becomes clear that the internment of the Japanese Americans living in the Pacific coast was unnecessary and was motivated by a different reason (Dickerson 61).

The government of the United States of America did not punish the German Americans, and other Americans from the America’s rivals in the Second World War. Choosing to intern the Japanese Americans only is an act of prejudice against the people of Asian origin. This was therefore, highly discriminatory. It is easy then for anyone to conclude that this was an element of racism, as the government chose to intern only individuals from a particular race. Therefore, the internment of the Japanese Americans would have been more justifiable, at least if all the citizens from the enemies of the United States were interned as well. Interning the Japanese Americans only was discriminatory and racist (Howard 98).

The internment camps in America for the Japanese Americans is similar to the Nazi concentration camps. In both cases, the internees are subjected to poor living conditions, and many hardships, including starvation and forced labor. This denied them their liberties, and dehumanized them. They lost their property and their business opportunities, as the government did not warn them earlier about the relocation. The notification to prepare for relocation was announced forty-eight hours prior to the relocation, therefore the Japanese Americans lacked sufficient time to dispose of their property at reasonable prices. This has been viewed as a tactic by Americans to ensure the economic status of the Japanese Americans was derailed. The Japanese Americans were hardworking people who had earned themselves considerable amount of wealth in the United States, which was not pleasant to most Americans. Most Californians were jealous of the success of Japanese Americans. Additionally, after the release from the internment camps, the American government did not give a satisfactory compensation to the Japanese Americans. This was equally wrong, as it was the government’s fault that these lost their property, thus the government had to fully compensate them, as a way of showing them justice (Dickerson 65).

It is possible for one to think that by interning the Japanese Americans, the government was offering them protection from the possible outrage of most Americans, following the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. However, this stops to make sense, considering the harsh treatment the Japanese Americans were subjected to in the internment camps. While in the camps, the Japanese Americans were forced to take an oath, declaring their loyalty to the United States of America. Those who accepted to take the oath remained in the camps, and helped to make equipment such as parachutes, for use by the American army in the world war. On the other hand, those that refused to take the oath were further relocated to different internment camps in the Rocky Mountains (Heinrichs 69).

The 1988 civil liberties Act by the congress showed that the government regretted the harsh treatment of the Japanese Americans, and it also realized that all the events leading to the internment camps were motivated by racism and discrimination. The congress also realized the injustices subjected to Japanese Americans, as they were not compensated for all their loses. This therefore, proves that the internment of Japanese Americans was based on racism, and not the need for national security, as always stated (Burgan 97).

In conclusion, the internment of Japanese Americans a devastating event, and this resulted in both detrimental long-term and short-term effects. Most Japanese Americans were psychologically hurt. Some succumbed to their illnesses, while others committed suicide in the camps. They also lost their land and property. Although the government claimed that this was the purpose of state security, the same sanctions were not observed in all the citizens of the descent of American rivals, neither did the Japanese Americans in Hawaii face the same conditions. This was a sad incident in America’s history. Removing the Japanese Americans from the society, on the suspicion that they could be spies, was discriminatory and unjust. However, this could have also helped them escape the violence other Americans would expose them to, as a revenge for the deeds of their country as a rival to America during the Second World War. Today, most scholars of law and historians consider the Japanese Americans internment among some of the grave mistakes that ever happened in the history of America. Therefore, justifying this is same as trying to right a wrong, which is impossible, and wrong.



Works Cited

Burgan, Michael. The Japanese American Internment: Civil Liberties Denied. New Jersey:

Capstone, 2007.

Dickerson, James. Inside America’s Concentration Camps: Two Centuries of Internment and

Torture. New York: Chicago Review Press, 2010

Heinrichs, Ann. The Japanese American Internment: Innocence, Guilt, and Wartime Justice.

London: Michelle Benson, 2011.

Howard, John. Concentration Camps on the Home Front: Japanese Americans in the House of

Jim Crow. New York: University of Chicago Press, 2008

Sakurai, Gail. Japanese American Internment Camps. New York: Scholastic Library Pub, 2007.

Welgny, Michi. Years of Infamy, the Untold Story of America’s Concentration Camps. New

York: William Morrow and Company, 1976.


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