12. The relocation camps were often located on Indian Reservations
The WRA placed many of its camps on lands which belonged, by treaty, to various American Indian Tribes, promising compensation for the use of their land. The camps were built quickly, as cheaply as possible, and offered little in the way of protection against the harsh climate of the region in which they were established. In 1943 the United States Secretary of the Interior, who also held ultimate authority for Indian Affairs, commented that the conditions in many of the camps were bad and deteriorating badly. Conditions at each camp were dependent on the region in which it was located and the competence of its administrator, often influenced by his personal view of the Japanese and Japanese Americans. All of the camps were patrolled by armed guards.
The camps were not intended to be permanent housing, instead the stated intention of the relocation program was to give the Japanese Americans temporary and secure quarters while they arranged their relocation in the United States. The political pressures which surrounded their creation ensured that they were located in remote areas, far removed from urban centers or areas offering employment opportunities for the internees. About 25% of the Japanese Americans sent to the camps were able to find a new place to live outside of the exclusion zones. The rest remained in the custody of the United States government. Some volunteered for and were accepted into the United Stated armed forces, and served with distinction in Europe after the US Army began accepting Japanese American volunteers in 1943. Later they were included in the draft.
13. Life in the camps was dependent on the individual camp leaders
Although the camps were operated by a government bureaucracy, daily life for what the government called internees, who were in fact prisoners, varied depending on their location. Some camps became notorious for the difficulties encountered by the Japanese Americans held within. Gila River War Relocation Center was a complex of detention camps established on the Gila River Indian Reservation, located south and east of Phoenix, Arizona. When it opened in the summer of 1942 it was intended to hold no more than 10,000, it eventually housed more than 13,000, including the mother of the woman known to history as Tokyo Rose, Iva Toguri. Gila River was built on land owned by the Gila River Indians, who were offered payment for its use. Despite strenuous objections on the part of the Indians, the land was taken and used anyway. The Gila Indians had to wait until the 1980s to receive compensation from the federal government.
The Gila River camps were considered to be one of the more comfortable camps of the WRA system, though there were continuous shortages of fresh water, and the buildings offered little relief from the desert heat. Its administrators stressed both education for children and recreation for all, and its residents, most of whom were relocated from Fresno and the Los Angeles region, created baseball leagues, with teams playing in a 6,000 seat ballpark. Though the baseball teams were well supplied the schools were not, textbooks were scarce, all classes were conducted in English, and classes which presented Japanese history and culture were banned. Among the residents interned at Gila River was Pat Morita, who later earned fame as an actor on the television series Happy Days and the Karate Kid motion pictures.
14. Manzanar was the most widely known of the internment camps
The most widely known of the internment camps was established on the site of an American Indian village, bore a Spanish name, and used by Americans to incarcerate Japanese. Manzanar means apple orchard in Spanish. A former home of the Paiute, it was purchased by the City of Los Angeles as part of the watershed for the region. Manzanar was the first WRA camp, originally established as an assembly center under the auspices of the Army, and transferred to the WRA in June 1942, officially designated as a relocation camp. The first Japanese Americans to be sent to the camp, then under Army control, were used to build it. The camp’s buildings were constructed from pine wood and covered with tar paper for insulation and protection from the weather. The buildings were far from adequate protection from the harsh extremes of the regional climate, which was hot and arid in the summer months and frigid in the winter.
At Manzanar a relocated family occupied an “apartment” of twenty by twenty-five feet. There was no running water in the apartments, instead the internees shared communal latrines, bathing facilities, and washrooms. The apartments were located within residential blocks and were simply partitioned sections, without individual ceilings, similar to office cubicles. Privacy was non-existent. Showers were in open areas rather than individual stalls. Japanese Americans were employed to run the camp (and in a facility to manufacture camouflage netting for the military) and were paid by the US government. Unskilled laborers were paid $8 dollars per month. Professionals such as doctors were at the upper end of the pay scale, receiving $19 each month.
15. The Tule Lake Segregation Center housed “undesirables” from other camps
Tule Lake became both the largest and the most controversial of the internment camps after it was designated as the facility to which Japanese Americans considered to be problematic or disloyal were to be sent. It was considered a maximum security facility and eventually held just under 20,000 internees. Japanese Americans could be sent to Tule Lake based on their answers in loyalty questionnaires, which the WRA began giving to its internees in 1943. The questionnaire was presented to men of draft age, and asked among other things whether the internee, a prisoner of the United States government behind barbed wire, was willing to serve in the combat forces of the United States. If an internee gave an answer other than an unqualified yes (for example, stating that they would be willing to serve after their family was freed from custody) they were considered problematic.
In November 1943 the United States Army placed the Tule Lake facility under martial law, a condition which remained in effect through January 1944. In July of that year the Congress passed the Renunciation Act of 1944, which allowed those Japanese who held American citizenship to renounce it, absolving them of the requirement to be loyal to the American government, but if they chose to renounce citizenship placing them in the legal status of enemy aliens. Just over 5,500 Japanese Americans chose to renounce American citizenship. When the war ended most of the internment camps closed quickly. Tule Lake remained in operation, detaining the Japanese Americans who had chosen to cede their American citizenship, until mid-1946. Most were designated for deportation before legal activists stepped in. Many former citizens (Nisei) were able to remain in the United States, though for decades the status of citizenship was denied.
Though the United States relocated the Nisei from the exclusion zones into internment camps it did not consider Nisei men of draft age too dangerous to be conscripted into the US Army. Those who indicated on their questionnaires they would be willing to serve were drafted (if they were physically qualified), those who did not were designated disloyal and sent to Tule Lake. The Heart Mountain War Relocation Center became known as the center of an attempt to make public and resist this obvious injustice on the part of the federal government. At Heart Mountain, located in the northwestern corner of Wyoming, 85 men of draft age and seven members of a committee who encouraged Nisei to resist the draft until their rights as American citizens were restored were arrested and convicted, sentenced to imprisonment if the federal prison system.
Despite the resistance by some, more than 800 Nisei from Heart Mountain accepted the draft and joined the United States Army. Two Nisei men from Heart Mountain were awarded the Medal of Honor, both of them posthumously. Near the end of 1944 Roosevelt rescinded the executive order which created the exclusion zones and the Japanese Americans were free to leave the camps and return to their homes, if they were still there, in early 1945. They also had the option of relocating elsewhere if they wished. Those who had been convicted of draft evasion remained in prison, in many cases for several years. Those who left the camps to return home received train transportation and a voucher for $25. Those with nowhere else to go remained in the camps while the government tried to decide what to do with them.
The WRA decided early in the internment process that the Japanese Americans detained in the camps should be allowed to make a living, but that under no circumstances should they be paid more than the lowest salary paid to Americans serving in the military, $19 per month. Thus doctors and dentists were allowed to practice their profession in the camps, compensated by the federal government at the same rate as an Army private. The camps employed detainees in hospitals and clinics, food services, schools, and in some cases shops which manufactured goods for sale in the camp and outside it as well. Americans frequently worked alongside them, for example Army nurses staffed hospitals and clinics, paid more than eight times what the doctors whose orders they followed were paid. Japanese teachers were allowed to conduct classes in camp schools, as long as they were conducted in English, using a prescribed curriculum.
Outside of the schools, which provided some sense of stability to children, most of the camps provided recreational facilities which included baseball and football fields, martial arts classes conducted by the Japanese Americans, basketball, a library in a few of the camps (though books were scarce), craft circles, social clubs and scheduled events such as tea dances. At Heart Mountain, the camp high school fielded football and baseball teams that scheduled games against other schools outside the camp. Its team traveled to away games escorted by armed military guards. Food was prepared under the nutritional guidelines of the US Army, though at some camps internees were allowed to create their own gardens and keep the produce for their own use. At other camps gardening was mandatory and the produce was provided to the communal kitchens for consumption.
18. Closing the camps created a new bunch of problems
After the creation of the exclusion zones and the removal of the Japanese Americans several states and local governments enacted laws which confiscated the property and businesses of the Japanese. Homes, farms, and businesses were seized under eminent domain and disposed to other entities. Many of the Japanese, who were under law allowed to leave the camps in early 1945, thus had nowhere to go, their homes having been sold, their farms confiscated, and their businesses closed. By the summer of 1945 some of the returning Japanese were veterans of the European war who had been drafted or who had enlisted out of the camps, only to find that the home which they had lived in in 1941 was now the property of someone else. They also found an American society in which anti-Japanese sentiment raged unabated, fed by government propaganda and the American press.
As early as December, 1942, the Los Angeles Times opined in its editorial page, “The Japs in these centers in the United States have been afforded the very best of treatment, together with food and living quarters far better than many of them ever knew before, and a minimum amount of restraint”. Seven Japanese Americans were shot and killed by sentries while under what the Times called “a minimum amount of restraint.” In 1948 Congress passed legislation to allow Japanese Americans to establish claims for recompense for losses, but the difficulty of proving financial loss kept most of the Nisei from being compensated. Out of more than $148 million in claims, only about $37 million was distributed. Not until the 1980s would serious attempts by the Congress to redress the grievous treatment of Japanese American citizens during the Second World War be undertaken.
19. The aftermath of the Japanese American internment during the Second World War
Thomas C. Clark, a Texan who served as an associate justice of the Supreme Court from 1949 to 1967, wrote in 1992, in the book Executive Order 9066: The Internment of 110,000 Japanese Americans, “The truth is – as this deplorable experience proves – that constitutions and laws are not sufficient of themselves”. Clark had been responsible for representing the United States Department of Justice during the relocation. He continued, “Despite the unequivocal language of the Constitution of the United States that the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, and despite the Fifth Amendment’s command that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, both of these constitutional safeguards were denied by military action under Executive Order 9066”.
Since the 1990s it has become commonplace to drop references to the camps as being internment centers, relocation centers, or detention camps and refer to them as what they were, which was concentration camps. Some Americans can’t reconcile themselves to the fact that America operated concentration camps, though they had done so previously during the Philippine-American War. The camps were created for the purpose of incarcerating Americans of Japanese descent during a time of fear of the Japanese and loathing of them as a race, against the backdrop of barbaric atrocities committed by troops of the Japanese Empire in the Pacific. It remains a little studied episode of the American experience, and deserves greater scrutiny as an example of what can happen when the rule of law is swept aside by passion, however that passion is created.
Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources: