Anthropology Japanese-American Internment During The Term Paper

Length: 18 pages Sources: 12 Subject: American History Type: Term Paper Paper: #22390575 Related Topics: Concentration Camps, Anthropology, Manifest Destiny, Home Before Morning
Excerpt from Term Paper :

... further, that it would be only a question of time until the entire Pacific coast region would be controlled by the Japanese.' Yet Japan's ultimate aim was not limited to California or the Pacific Coast but was global domination achieved through a race war. 'It is the determined purpose of Japan,' the report stated, 'to amalgamate the entire colored races of the world against the Nordic or white race, with Japan at the head of the coalition, for the purpose of wrestling away the supremacy of the white race and placing such supremacy in the colored peoples under the dominion of Japan.'

The presence of sizeable numbers of persons of Japanese origin in California and other Western states was seen as but the beginnings of a Japanese attempt to not merely expand territorially into the United States, but to literally substitute the existing racial order with a new scheme entirely under Imperial Japanese control. Interestingly, the "Japanese menace" is also linked directly to white American fears of all, non-white, and therefore inferior races. It is the old terror of African-Americans, non-Anglo-Saxon immigrants, and a host of hostile "others" that have, or will, insinuate themselves within the body of "pure" American society.

Anti-Japanese racial attitudes were further enhanced and encouraged by the treatment that resulted from the attitudes themselves. Japanese who attempted to "make it" in white American society, to succeed on the terms of their new country found themselves under attack. A case in point is that of Yamato Ichihashi, who pursued a career at Stanford University. A professor of history at the university, Ichihashi was evacuated along with other Japanese in 1942.

Japanese academics, like Ichihashi, were commonly accused of stealing jobs from whites; a charge that led the government of Japan to employ Ichihashi as an agent to counteract anti-Japanese propaganda.

The Japanese government believed money to support Ichihashi and others like him who were sympathetic to Japan was money well spent."

The situation created a catch-22 in which, by accepting payment from the Japanese government to improve white Americans' images of Japan and the Japanese people, Ichihashi and others, were simultaneously appearing to confirm those same white Americans' suspicions that they were nothing more than agents of the Japanese government.

Ichihashi publicly urged Japanese immigrants to 'Americanize.' They should assimilate as 'the first step for their success,' he maintained, and then by 'contributing to the national interests of America they could attain their own economic development.' They should not live a sojourner life, planning to make quick money and return to Japan, but rather should accept America as their permanent home."

It was this sort of thinking that made the Nisei believe, in the early months of the war, that they would be safe from any anti-Japanese agitation. They accepted that restrictions would be placed upon their Japanese-born parents, but believed that their own American birth set them apart.

The appointment of General John L. DeWitt - who had remarked, "A Jap's a Jap" - as the official in charge of the evacuation of Japanese-Americans confirmed their worst fears.

Within the space of only sixty-eight days, nearly the entire Japanese-American population of the West Coast had been herded into detention centers, from there to be transferred to concentration camps - grim facilities consisting of stark, uniform barracks.

The facilities were surrounded by barbed while searchlights played up and down on any nearby streets. "Families were to sleep in the barracks; they were to eat, wash themselves and their clothes, go to the toilet, and play in the communal buildings in the center of the block.

Inmates were dependent on government administrator sin the camp for food and medicine, while those who could work were forbidden to earn more than twenty-one dollars a day - white workers continued to garner regular wages.

In short, Japanese-Americans - men, women, and children, had been reduced to the level of prisoners. Their liberties were gone and they would henceforth be entirely dependent upon the good graces of the military authorities.

Such conditions produced extremism on both sides. Denied their rights, and treated as enemy aliens, many Japanese-Americans actually embraced ultranationalist Japanese ideologies. In the Tule Lake Camp, fanatical groups, such as the Young Men's...


Shots were fired from tanks and, on May 24, 1944, James Okamoto, a Nisei who was returning from a work detail outside the camp, was fired on by a guard at the front gate - "Okamoto died the following day. The soldier was of course disciplined. The charge against him? Wasting a bullet. His punishment? A fine of one dollar."

More than anything else, it was a question of cultural identity. Both Japanese-Americans, and their white American captors were being forced by circumstances to take sides; to choose, as it were, a culture, a civilization... An identity. Prior to the war, Nisei identity had been shaped by the twin goals of Americanization and the maintenance of their Japanese heritage. Japanese-Americans acculturated themselves to the customs of the United States in school, while at home they learned the Japanese language, together with Japanese values and behaviors.

The experience of detention shattered the inner norms and forced the individual to re-think her or his connections to society. It produced what,

Political philosophers have generally described as 'obligation' -- that is, the idea of willful membership that forms the basis for a citizen's sense of active support in matters of public interest, and the moral obligation to obey laws, as well as the range of commitments that arise between family members and friends, or in groups of a more religious or social nature."

Cultural identity - whether Japanese or American, or some combination of the two - could no longer be taken for granted. A nearly osmotic evolution of identity was replaced by a need to analyze everything, to consciously accept, or reject, each and every part of the whole. The new framework that would emerge from such a process would be different for each individual, depending on his or her personal experiences; his or her understanding of the camps, his or her interpretation of the meaning of detention. The cohesive organism that had been Japanese-American society before the War, would be shaken to its core; forced to re-invent the connections between its component parts, and between itself and the larger "other" of majority white America.

The dreams of transnationalism - the belief that different nations could be linked together in a single world - that had informed much of the Japanese-American experience until the time of the evacuations were being replaced by new realities. The stereotyping of all Japanese as enemies of the United States of America was rendering it impossible to cling to the hope that one could possess and maintain two national identities, for those national identities were now rendered distinct and irreconcilable. In the concentration camps, Japanese-Americans were encouraged to turn on one another, based on positions of national and cultural allegiance:

Authorities went so far,

As to segregate the 'loyal' from the 'disloyal' internees by means of a questionnaire that demanded a declaration of each individual's national loyalties and willingness to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. The questionnaire precipitated intense conflict within families. Many Nisei found themselves in bitter disagreement with fathers and mothers; brothers and sisters chose opposing sides."

Abandoning one country and culture, therefore, equaled abandoning certain family members, or perhaps, an entire generation. The respect for tradition that was so central to traditional Japanese and Japanese-American life was being torn away by the catastrophic events of the War. The family, too, had always enshrined those same traditions, and now its authority was being contested, or worse, denied. The notion that Japanese-Americans suffered from "collective guilt" by virtue of their national and ethnic origin made moral imperatives of these forced choices.

Make the wrong decision, and one committed a sin -- but a sin against what? The moral and ethical dilemmas of wartime confinement ran the gamut from the most deeply personal to those issues which defined an entire ethnic population.

The transnationalist dichotomy of the pre-war years would become, through the experience of the concentration camps, a much more genuine fusion of cultures and identities. The Nisei had lived in what were essentially self-contained communities. Though they hoped to be both American and Japanese - these cultural values were specifically values of the Japanese-American community. Though born on American soil, the Nisei in fact lived and grew up in Japanese cultural enclaves that just happened to be located in the midst of American cultural territory. Though these enclaves had never been legally defined, the conditions of detention brought home the realities of cultural separateness, and the awful distinctness of the Japanese-American population. The Nisei, unlike the Sansei who…

Sources Used in Documents:


Asumah, Seth N., and Matthew Todd Bradley. "Making Sense of U.S. Immigration Policy and Multiculturalism." The Western Journal of Black Studies 25, no. 2 (2001): 82+.


Chang, Gordon H., ed. Morning Glory, Evening Shadow: Yamato Ichihashi and His Internment Writings, 1942-1945. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997.

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