Internment of Japanese Americans in WWII Essay

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Internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II

When the national interests are threatened, history has shown that American presidents will take extraordinary measures to protect them, even if this means violating the U.S. Constitution. For example, the U.S.A. PATRIOT Act enacted immediately following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, watered down civil liberties for American citizens. Likewise, President Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus during the Civil War just as President Franklin D. Roosevelt did during the outset of World War II following the Japanese sneak attack on American forces at Pearl Harbor when tens of thousands of Japanese-American citizens were interred for the duration of the war. Despite the compelling circumstances that were involved, this paper will show that the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II was not only unconscionable, it was also a fragrant violation of the U.S. Constitution and should not have taken place. A summary of the research and important findings are presented in the paper's conclusion.

Review and Discussion

In the Home of the Free, there is a fundamental expectation of the civil liberties that are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution in general and the Bill of Rights in particular, but this expectation was violated when the decision was made to inter-Japanese-American citizens following the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor, an act that was particularly egregious for the vast majority of Americans because a declaration of war had not been made. According to Flamiano, "After the Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States entered World War II and anti-Japanese hysteria gripped the home front. Then, on February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 authorizing the War Department to exclude any group of people from military areas for the duration of the war" (23). According to a historical timeline of World War II published in the Washington Times, in March 1942, U.S. authorities begin rounding up about 120,000 Japanese-Americans into internment camps. The Roosevelt administration says it's trying to head off possible espionage" (6).

Executive Order 9066 provided the legal framework that was used to relocate and inter-between 110,000 and 120,000 (accounts vary) Japanese-American citizens and Japanese immigrants to internment centers scattered across the country (Flamiano 23). Most of the internees were in fact, U.S. citizens who had either been naturalized or were natural-born, with the second generation being forced into the camps as part of whole families. In this regard, Gallavan and Roberts report that, "Two-thirds of those evacuated from their homes were American-born citizens. More than half were children, exiled only because their parents had been born in Japan. Evacuees were not told how long they would be held, nor were they charged with any crimes" (275).

Not surprisingly, this event was contrary to everything these people of Japanese descent had come to believe about their adopted or natural homeland. For instance, Luther reports that, "Studies have shown that many of the Japanese-Americans who were forced to relocate, a majority of whom were citizens of the United States, experienced an identity crisis. Suddenly denied their civil rights as U.S. citizens, they began to question the American side of their identity" (69). Besides causing the internees to question their American identities, many also experienced significant personal losses as well. For instance, Flamiano emphasizes that, "Many were forced to sell their homes and businesses, often suffering huge financial losses, and educations, careers, and lives were disrupted, sometimes irrevocably" (24).

Given the enormous groundswell of anti-Japanese hysteria that followed Pearl Harbor, it is also not surprising that there were few voices of dissent advanced against the internment, perhaps for fear of being perceived as "pro-Japanese" and "anti-American," and the mainstream American media primarily characterized the internments as logical and realistic necessities that were required during a time of total war. For instance, Flamiano reports that, "Mainstream American newspapers and magazines portrayed the incarceration of Japanese-Americans as a military necessity, adopting the euphemisms 'relocation and internment,' which was consistent with government propaganda for the forced evacuation and confinement" (25).

Although a few liberal publications argued against the internments, the vast majority of mainstream media consistently published editorials and articles that favored the internment as being a "required curtailment of civil liberties during wartime" (Flamiano 25). This "required curtailment of civil liberties" through internment was further rationalized by the military leader who was responsible for implementing Executive Order 9066, Gen. John Lesesne DeWitt, as being a military necessity because of the large numbers of Japanese-Americans and Japanese immigrants living on the U.S. west coast who represented a potential internal threat to national security (Flamiano 25). The hysteria was fueled by reports of Japanese atrocities against U.S. military forces in the Pacific theatre, further silencing any potential voices of dissent (Riechers 11).

To their enduring credit, though, most of the Japanese-American and Japanese immigrants internees maintained their spirits and kept their sense of Americanism alive despite their harsh treatment at the hands of the U.S. government. In fact, when the U.S. military relaxed the rules against Japanese-Americans serving in the armed forces, thousands joined and served with honor in specially segregated units that were assigned to the European theatre (Riechers 11). Despite the fundamental violation of the civil liberties and the honorable service by thousands of Japanese-Americans during the war, some scholars even continue to employ such euphemisms in their analyses of this event today (Shaffer 597). For instance, Hata notes that, "The conventional use of internment is for the incarceration of enemy aliens (noncitizens) in wartime, thus the use of this term perpetuates the dangerous myth that Nikkei [Japanese-Americans] were not United States citizens" (74).

The fact of the matter was, though, that these internees were U.S. citizens for the most part, and given the large numbers of children who were also interred, euphemisms alone will not hide the harsh realities of what took place. As Hata points out, Japanese-Americans and Japanese immigrants were not placed in internment camps, but were rather more accurately incarcerated in concentration camps. According to Hata, "Concentration camps confine political prisoners, and that term is apt for the mass incarceration of Nikkei, the majority of which were American citizens" (74). The term "concentration camp" is also appropriate for the types of facilities that were used to incarcerate Japanese-Americans and Japanese immigrants during World War II (Crockett 191), which are described by Riechers as being "isolated camps inland, where they lived cramped in bunkhouses behind barbed wire" (11).

From a modern perspective, these actions are hard to believe to be sure, but the historical record makes it clear that the internment of tens of thousands of people of Japanese descent did in fact take place during World War II for no other reason that their heritage -- and the unbelievable mass hysteria that followed the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor. In this regard, Luther adds that, "The closing of the last gates to the internment camps on November 30, 1945, marked the end of a dark chapter in the history of the United States. Thousands of Japanese-Americans had suffered financially, psychologically, and often physically due to racist hysteria on the part of the U.S. government and the public at large" (70).


The research showed that following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, "a date that lives in infamy," tens of thousands of Japanese-American citizens and Japanese immigrants were rounded up and hauled off to euphemistically described "internment camps" that were in reality nothing more than concentration camps. The research also showed that these actions were taken pursuant to Executive Order 9066 signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on February 19, 1942, another date that "lives in infamy" in U.S. history because it authorized the U.S. Department of War to take actions to remove people of Japanese descent…

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