Justification for the Internment of Japanese Americans

Date: Oct 25, 2018


Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on 7thDecember 1941. The citizens of US feared that another attack was on the way. State representatives started to put pressure to President Roosevelt to take an action against the Japanese people living in US. In February 1942, the president signed executive order No. 9066. About 120,000 Japan Americans were evacuated from their homes and placed in the internment camps (Houston, 14). The United States claimed they were dangerous and had come to spy for the Japanese so that they could plan for war. Two thirds of those interned were American citizens and half being their children. They were very loyal to the nation and always abided with the laws governing the nation. Some family members were put in separate camps as a way of punishing them by not seeing one another. During all this period of war, only ten people were found guilty for spying for the Japanese people. Surprisingly they were all Caucasian and none was Japanese American as was thought (World War Two, Historyonthenet.com)

The Americans fought World War II so that they can preserve their freedom as well as democracy, yet the same war featured the suppression of the civil liberties in the history of the nation. President Roosevelt authorized the internment of thousands of American citizens who were resident aliens from Japan. He did this with the encouragement of officials at all the levels of federal government. On 18th March 1942, he authorized the establishment of War Relocation Authority which was to govern the detention camps. The President chose Milton Eisenhower who worked in the Department of Agriculture as its first head. He was also the brother of General Dwight Eisenhower. In 1942, after a film with the title ‘Japanese Relocation’ was produced, Eisenhower offered U.S. government’s rationale of the relocation of American citizens from Japan. He claimed they (Japanese) had cheerfully participated in the process of relocation (Opler, historymatters.gmu).

In the book Farewell to Manzanar, which is a true story showing the Japanese American experience in the period after the World War II internment, we get to see how thousands of the Japanese living in America were relocated from the West Coast after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. The story written by Jeane Wakatsuki and her husband James Houston, demonstrates a family’s experience as well as efforts to deal with injustice, lack of dignity and harm done to their family by uprooting and sequestering them behind the fences of barbed wire in California foothills.

Was the U.S Government Justified in Interning Japanese-Americans in 1942?

Japan and Germany having been united were on same side fighting England, France and other countries. When war was to begin, the United States had not joined any party. On December 1941, Japanese attacked the Pearl Harbor, a part of the United States territory though it was not yet a state. With this, Japan became an enemy and the United States joined the war. Many Japanese people lived on the West Coast of the United States and worked very hard. They had bought land, got education, had children and became citizens of this country. They used to pay taxes and vote like other Americans. However, there were two problems. First, their original country Japan attacked the United States and second, they were another people, another race and therefore were prejudiced. It is said that the United States was suddenly attacked by Japan. The Japanese person being on the West Coast was a danger to the nation’s security. President Roosevelt believed that they would launch an attack or spy for their homeland. As a result, the President who is also the Commander in Chief and has constitutional power and responsibility to defend the nation, in February 1942 signed an order No. 9066 that declared all Japanese-Americans be removed from their homes and be placed in the internment camps.

These Japanese-Americans had undergone a lot of discrimination by the US government that included acts like; preventing them from marrying outside their race, owning their land and forcing them to attend segregated schools. There was an act that had been passed in 1924 which had put an end to Japan American Immigration, but the 9066 order became a culmination of all past discrimination and also had far reaching effects (World War Two, Historyonthenet.com). The Japanese Americans were rounded up by army, police and the FBI and put in the internment camps in California. These camps were concentrated camps which had barbed wire and small cabins for prisoners to live in (Houston 17). Those who lived in these camps lost their jobs and were forced to keep their belongings in these camps. Process of relocating the Japanese took a period of eight months. That is from March to November 1942. There were no charges brought against the Japanese. All the families were registered and given tags for easy identification that included their possessions (Houston 16). Since the movement took place very fast, they lost a lot of property as every one was moving hence no one to be left caring for other’s property. Having little time to make arrangements with few people who would remain around and be trusted, a lot of property was abandoned (Houston 12). Others were forced to sell things they could not be able to take with them at low prices leading to losses of billion of dollars. Since the US government did not take similar steps on German-Americans, we could conclude that the internment of Japan-American was as a result of prejudice against people of Asia. It did this without evidence and since that time, the government of the United States has apologized and made reparations to people who were harmed or even their descendants (Spearmefarm 1).

The Reparations

During the World War II, the governor of Colorado Lawrence Ralph, was elected as a leader to apologize publicly because of the internment of Japan American citizens. This costed him a re election but he gained gratitude from the Japan American community. A statue of the governor was also erected at Sakura Square. In early 1960s, a generation of young Japanese Americans became inspired by a movement of Civil Rights and began Redress Movement which was aimed at obtaining official apology as well as reparations from federal government because of interning their grandparents and parents during the war. They focused on an injustice done during the internment. Their first success was observed when President Ford Gerald announced that the internment was a wrong national mistake which was never to be repeated.

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Reparations are only an aspect of the issue. The consideration of the Japanese-American internment met the emotional needs for most of those people who were interned. Hearings have meant much more to them than reparations. They served as catharsis from the trauma they had as it was the first time the community got to speak to the government. People’s greatest worry was why 1942 had to be and whether it could ever be repeated. A former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldenberg though that it is inconceivable for any court of today to sustain mass evacuation of American citizens because of their ethnic origin without any proof of disloyalty (“Commission Hearings Probe Reparations”, 1440). He said this because he thought that whatever happened was unconstitutional.

The reparations were not immediate. The Japanese American citizens in 1978 launched a campaign to obtain $25,000 per survivor, an educational trust fund for the descendants and an official apology to every internee. In 1980, the congress and President Jimmy Carter created a commission on wartime Relocation and the Internment of Civilians which would investigate the Japanese American internment during the World War II. The commission’s report found out that the internment was actually unjust and therefore recommended the government should issue $20,000 per an internment survivor, an apology and also create an educational trust fund as was demanded by the Japan-America Citizen’s League. This legislation was presented in Congress in 1983 and was passed in 1988 due to objections of lack of funds and also the Supreme Court ruling of 1940. In August 1988, the Civil Liberties Act was signed by President Ronald Reagan and the funds authorized for reparation to the internees (Steven, et al. 1). In 1992 September 7, Civil Liberties Act did amendments and gave four million dollars to make sure that the remaining internees would receive $20,000. This was signed by President George Bush and he also gave yet another formal apology from the United States government. Other Japanese Americans who had been relocated during WWII were compensated for the loss of their property as per the law of 1948. The congress gave out thirty eight million of dollars to meet the claims of twenty three thousand complainants. This was done slowly by slowly and the last sum of money was allocated in 1965.

In 2001 United States budget, it was however agreed that ten of the sites where the camps of the detainees were, should be made to be landmarks for remembrance. Some of the places are; Tule Lake, Manzanar, Topaz, Heart Mountain, Rohwer, Jerome and Amache. These places will always be the reminders that a nation once failed in a very noble duty of protecting its people from greed, political expediency and prejudice. On 30 January 2011, California observed its first day of Constitution and Civil Liberties. Alan Garcia Peruvian President also apologized for the country’s internment during World War II where the Japanese immigrants were taken to United States.

Dorotea Lange

Dorothea Lange was a photographer who believed in her words, in “a visual life” (Abbey 1). She could look at anything, be it a crowd of people in a bus stop or a line of clothes flapping in air and find it beautiful. As she used to put it, her eyes were a camera. Lenses of the camera were an “appendage of the body”. She had engaged in photography for decades, since the time she was a young girl it served as the her first apprenticeship as well as a foundation of her art education.

During the depression, government created work for writers, artists and scholars through documentary assignments. Lange got a position and she took pictures of labor strikes in San Francisco. Following attacks on Pearl Harbor she took pictures of Japanese families as they moved from their homes and sent those pictures to prison camps.


Japanese Americans were sent to camps during the World War II. This occurred even though they had been US citizens for a long time and had not posed any threats. President Roosevelt signed an order No. 9066 into law and forced about 120,000 Japanese Americans to leave their homes and move to other facilities across the country (Houston 14). The order came as a result of prejudice and war problems after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Even before the relocation, the life of the Japanese Americans was very much under the threat especially when all their accounts were frozen, their political and religious leaders arrested and were not told of their whereabouts.

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The relocation had major consequences to the community. They had to sell their property at great losses and most of them lost their homes and businesses (Houston 12). The War Relocation Authority has created the relocation camps. The first camp was Manzanar in California where over 10,000 people lived (Kelly 1). The centers were supposed to be self efficient with their own hospitals, schools, post offices and all these were surrounded with a barbed wire (Houston 17). When the relocation centers were closed, WRA gave the inhabitants small amounts of money about $25 as meals and train fare on their way home. Many people had no place to go and some had to be evicted as they had not left the camps. President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act that served the reparation and each survivor was given $20,000. In 1989, the US president Bush forwarded a formal apology. It cannot be possible to pay for the sins that were done in the past, but the most important thing that we can do is to learn from them and not at any time repeat the same mistakes (Kelly 1). The internment of the Japanese Americans was the worst thing that the Americans did.

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