Saturday, August 16, 2008

Japanese Reloacation Center

This is an interesting photograph. It was taken in 1943, and shows a nurse and newborn baby. The baby was born in the United States, and hence was a US citizen. At the same time, the baby was born a prisoner.

US participation in World War II was spurred by the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. The US government believed that some individuals of Japanese descent on the Island of Hawaii had provided critical intelligence to the Japanese government that helped coordinate the devastating attack. The US feared that similar agents might be at work on the mainland of the United States. With this concern that the Japanese might be planning an even more devastating attack on the mainland, attention was focused on people (including US citizens) of Japanese descent living in the United States. A decision was made to "relocate" these people to "relocation centers". These centers were in fact incarceration camps. The people (including US citizens) that were relocated were given very little time to put their affairs and businesses in order. Many were forced to sell businesses for pennies on the dollar, and many people were financially ruined due to being relocated. It is generally accepted that the conditions in the incarceration camps were good. The people were in fact denied their liberty, but the camps were safe, relatively comfortable, and well equipped. This act of relocation is probably one of the most controversial actions ever taken by the US government, in that it denied US citizens some of their basic constitutional rights.

I recently asked my Dad about his opinion on the Japanese Relocation Program. Interestingly, he said he would have traded places with any one of the people placed in the relocation camps. You see, at the outbreak of World War II, my dad had just finished business school, and had just purchased a hotel, and was in the process of getting his business off the ground. He was drafted into the infantry, and had no time to get his business and affairs in order. Having to leave his business unattended was financially disastrous for him. After training, he was sent to the pacific, and was in the middle of some of the most intense fighting of the war. He was in the first wave of soldiers to land on Leyte Island, and was again in the first wave to land on Okinawa. He spent months in fox holes on the front lines, witnessing horrors that even today he can not talk about. He was proud to go, and proud to serve, but in his mind, he is not to sympathetic to people who got to live in a comfortable center is California for a few years.

I understand that this is a politically charged issue. Please realize that I am not personally advancing a position, or stating any opinion of my own. I am simply stating that there are two different perspectives on this. One perspective is that this was one of the greatest outrages ever done by the US government, and the other perspective is that there were a lot of people asked (or forced through the draft) to make a MUCH larger sacrifice.


  1. Oh My...well, first of all, I believe it was a horrible thing to do to US Citizens....My Dad was Also in the Pacific during the war, playing "dodge ball" with the Kamakazi...(USS Bulmer). Green, blue yellow or red, they were US Citizens...I Also feel Roosevelt knew of the attack forthcoming to Pearl Harbor, and stopped All warnings...and so, it commenced. But, now that's all history made public for all to see...all you can do these days is pray for political leaders with...private agendas. Happy day to you!hughugs
    Great thought provoking post!

  2. I have no sympathy for the Japanese in the US or Canada during WW2. They had it easy compared to what happened to the citizens of Great Britain, Holland, United States and other countries who were residing in the South Pacific at the time of the Japanese invasion. The Japanese were so cruel and inhumane to their prisoners it was positively disgusting. My family (many of my great aunts and uncles died in their camps)have no remorse at all regarding what happened to Japan. If the US hadnn't got there first the Japs or the Germans would have dropped the H-Bomb on Engand or North America.

  3. Check out Free to Die for Their Country, by Eric Muller. It focuses on a slice of Japanese internment life, but gives a flavor of the overall picture. Your dad probably isn't all that aware of what life was like for the Americans in U.S. concentration camps during WWII, and he may not have remembered to add to whatever physical hardships they experienced healthy helpings of indignity and uncertainty. I wouldn't want either life, frankly.

  4. A prison is a prison, no matter if you call it an internment camp, a relocation camp or a concentration camp. Japanese Americans were found guilty with no trial and incarcerated. It was wrong. I deeply appreciate the dangers our GIs went through (my own family members included) but I don't think that two wrongs make a right. We used to drive past Manzanar on our way to go camping when I was a kid. It's in the middle of the high desert - blasting heat in the summer and freezing cold in the winter. It was no idyllic California vacation, so please think twice when you are saying you have no sympathy. Would you like to live there with no idea of when you will leave, for no reason other than your family's nationality?

  5. Once again, the confusion lies with "race" and "nationality". Those US and Canadian citizens were forced into prisons because of racist politics - not because their nation was Japan, Italy, or Germany because clearly the nation to which they belonged was either the USA or Canada.

    This is not to be confused with people who VOLUNTEERED to go fight for their nation. Those citizens were denied their rights as citizens - including the chance to go fight for their countries. Perhaps your father could have committed a crime and got an "easy ride" in prison - oops, except that no crime was committed by these innocents. They were presumed guilty by looks alone.

    Perhaps we could take this scenario forward to modern times. Would it be acceptable now for families to be deported or imprisoned because of ancestry? Should we start putting people who look like they could be criminals into prison because of criminal likelihood and say that they have it better in prison than police officers on the streets enforcing "the law"?

    It seems, according to "anonymous", that the historical internment of US and Canadian citizens is still considered acceptable because they were not white citizens.

    Should we not then also consider shameful acts against visible minorities such as turning away Jewish immigrants prior to and during WWII when there was full knowledge that the European Jews were being persecuted and executed to be excusable under the guise of Christian righteousness? Is this similar to the current harassment of US and Canadian citizens by customs officers who see Islamic terrorists everywhere they see someone with brown skin?

    "Presumed innocent until proven guilty". It's something that makes living in the US and Canada as good as it is and we have to understand it instead of paying lip service to it when we watch crime-drama TV shows.

  6. Fact is, there was a draft in WWII in the United States. Many of those GI's did not volunteer, they were drafted, and sent to hell . . . comparing the internment centers to the trenches of Okinawa is rediculous. Tens of thousands died on Okinawa. Others were Injured. Others were emotionally scarred for life.

  7. And your point is, Anonymous?

    Is your point that two wrongs make a right and that somehow the draft makes imprisonment of innocent citizens acceptable? That doesn't even make any sense so that can't be it. There is a history of US citizens running away from their free country to Canada to escape the draft. The draft was and is not acceptable in a free society just as imprisonment of the innocent is not acceptable in a free society.

    Is your point that those imprisoned based on their ancestry volunteered to be the subject of a racist policy, voluntarily realised that no matter if they were born in the US or Canada that they would never ever be treated like citizens because they weren't and never would be white enough, volunteered to be denied the chance to fight for their homes and loved ones, volunteered to give up their homes and livelihoods in all their entirety, and interred in camps because it was in support of the war effort? Nope, that can't be your point because none of those people volunteered for these things, least of all accepting racism as a justifiable policy. See Donna's comment above in case you don't understand these were NOT Japanese citizens. Kurt Vonnegut experienced questioning by German soldiers when he was captured: why was he not fighting with the Germans since he was of German ancestry? I think you can understand why he was fighting with the US forces and I think you know why US citizens of German and Italian descent were not imprisoned. I have not heard you say once how lucky those of Germanic or Italian descent were who were neither interred, fought in the war, or made to fight in the war, yet every argument you present seems to suggest that these people would be the most fortunate of all.

    Is your point that people who are imprisoned because of racism should be told they are being silly since they were safe from warfare, that, bosh!, they or their descendants don't have any emotional scarring, and that they are ok especially because they didn't witness warfare first-hand, that it isn't even possible they may have lost US or Canadian friends and family through warfare and so therefore can't understand loss, and that they are lucky they were sent to prison even though they were innocent? Is your point that since soldiers (be they volunteers or draft inductees) are injured by enemy forces, emotionally scarred by fighting, captured and imprisoned by enemy forces that anything else experienced by anyone else in the time of war who was not in the direct line of fire of no consequence and therefore any wrongdoing (like, say, the draft) by a country to its own citizens is something that should be considered an acceptable sacrifice?

    Since you brought up Okinawa, I'll remind you that the Japanese were defending what they viewed as their last line of defense for their homes and their loved ones from the foreign invaders, the US forces, and in that light they were willing to fight and make the enemy invaders pay dearly.

    Does that make the suffering inflicted on the US forces in Okinawa or anywhere else on the Pacific front ok? No. Does the fighting in Okinawa make what happened on the European front or anywhere else "rediculous"? No. Does the suffering of soldiers make the suffering of innocent prisoners ok? For you, somehow the answer is "yes". Look, if you had terminal cancer and I had a crippling stroke, your disease wouldn't strike out my disability, the suffering of your loved ones wouldn't strike out the suffering of my loved ones. What you fail to see is that the response to the idea that another's honest suffering can make the honest suffering of someone else ok by comparison is ridiculous. Those interred didn't just bang their shins on a night-table in the dark on the way to the front lines. They were labeled as the enemy by their own friends and country-men just because of their ancestry, not because they were the enemy, and they were singled out as such since those of Germanic and Italian descent were left untouched. They had their physical and emotional homes torn away from them. Physical property may be something that can be recovered but time cannot be reimbursed, and mental and emotional well-being after ostracism and imprisonment are not guaranteed to be restored either. Looking back we can see that they were safe but you can't tell anyone that those interred never experienced fear for their safety and for their future, especially since the imprisonment occurred in their homes, in the countries where they should have been safe. That you continually dismiss their suffering by comparing it to the suffering experienced by the soldiers shows how little understanding you have of what occurred to not only those interred but also of the soldiers, and that you fail to comprehend the ugly hatred that is inherent in racism.

  8. Typical hate America rhetoric. Perhaps we should have just let Hitler and Japanese take over the world. It always amazes me how US prevented brutal totalitarian crazy dictators from taking over the world, yet we are the bad guys.

    The world today has no discernment, and can not recognize cold cruel evil . . . Hitler was the bad guy, the Japanese leadership were the bad guys in WWII, not the US.

  9. You seem to fail to understand that a criticism of US (and Canadian) policy is not "anti-US". I maintain that the US is one of the best places to live in the world and that in working together to make it an even better place to live is entirely within reach if we don't forget the lessons learned from history and accept responsibility as adults are supposed to do.

    Your rhetoric shifts to the "you're against the US" stance when you cannot justify the singling out and the unjust suffering caused to those US and Canadian citizens, and yet you are advocating the imprisonment of US citizens based on the actions of another country. I'm saying don't imprison US and Canadian citizens and you're saying that it is perfectly acceptable to imprison US citizens, which is the anti-US stance of the two.

    We live in a democratic society and thus we have the privilege of improving our society through voting i.e. agreeing and disagreeing with policy and political parties, and making our voices felt as citizens. Disagreeing with the draft is not an anti-US statement and in no way devalues the contributions and sacrifices made by soldiers who volunteered for service or who were drafted for service, or who fought for their country. You fail to see that it is exactly because the US and Canada are great nations that this unjust incarceration of their own citizens is not something these countries should be doing, or of which these countries should be proud, or something to which we respond to in infantile cries of "He made me do it!" and "You're picking on me!" as excuses for poor actions. This policy in our history should instead be something to which we respond with the likes of "this was wrong to do to ourselves, we are entirely capable of becoming better than this, and we are doing so because being better nations and being better people are what we strive for in our hearts and the rest of the world can learn from our example".