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 Near the end of 1944 Roosevelt rescinded the executive order which created the exclusion zones and the Japanese Americans were free to leave the camps and return to their homes, if they were still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.
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