The internment of Japanese Americans during WWII was a clear example of mass hysteria that permeated the United States during the dark days of WWII. After the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor many Americans believed that the Japanese were disloyal and were associated with the enemy. There were rumors that the Japanese Americans were exchanging military information and had hidden connections. The U.S became increasingly paranoid causing a question to arise, is this really because the Japanese were truly spies or is it mass hysteria?
Japanese-American internment camps were a dark time in America’s history, often compared to the concentration camps in Germany (Hane, 572). The internment camps were essentially prisons in which all Japanese-Americans living on the west coast were forced to live during World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor Naval base in Hawaii. They were located in inland western states due to the mass hysteria that Japanese-Americans were conspiring with Japan to invade and/or attack the United States. At the time the general consensus was that these camps were a good way to protect the country, but after the war many realized that the camps were not the best option. Textbooks did not usually mention the internment camps at all, as it is not a subject most Americans want to talk about, much less remember. Recently more textbooks and historians talk about the camps, even life inside them. Some Japanese-Americans say that their experiences after being released from the internment camps were not as negative as most people may think. Although the Japanese-American internment camps were brutal to go through, in the long run it led to Japanese-Americans’ movement from the west coast and their upward movement in society through opportunities found in a new urban environment such as Chicago and St. Louis.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government started to become very suspicious of different races living in the country especially the Japanese. To make sure nothing happened again these internment camps were set up and they were basically “America’s concentration camps”. The Japanese Americans faced a lot of hardships at these camps. Japanese Internment Camps were extremely unfair to the majority of the Japanese Americans who have not engaged in sabotage or spying for Japan during the war. Nevertheless, it was a necessary effort to limit the activities of those who would have tried to harm the U.S. and the war effort.
What were the Japanese internment camps some might ask. The camps were caused by the attack of Pearl Harbor in 1942 by Japan. President Roosevelt signed a form to send all the Japanese into internment camps.(1) All the Japanese living along the coast were moved to other states like California, Idaho, Utah, Arkansas, Colorado, Wyoming and Arizona. The camps were located away from Japan and isolated so if a spy tried to communicate, word wouldn't get out. The camps were unfair to the Japanese but the US were trying to be cautious. Many even more than 66% or 2/3 of the Japanese-Americans sent to the internment camps in April of 1942 were born in the United States and many had never been to Japan. Their only crime was that they had Japanese ancestors and they were suspected of being spies to their homeland of Japan. Japanese-American World War I veterans that served for the United States were also sent to the internment camps.(2)
After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the United States was filled with panic. Along the Pacific coast of the U.S., where residents feared more Japanese attacks on their cities, homes, and businesses, this feeling was especially great. During the time preceding World War II, there were approximately 112,000 persons of Japanese descent living in California, Arizona, and coastal Oregon and Washington. These immigrants traveled to American hoping to be free, acquire jobs, and for some a chance to start a new life. Some immigrants worked in mines, others helped to develop the United States Railroad, many were fishermen, farmers, and some agricultural laborers.
Degrees of Loyalty Loyalty was a major issue in the United States during World War II and the subsequent years following. This was especially true in California, where Japanese Americans were held in internment camps during the war because many felt that their loyalty was to Japan and not the United States. This caused many problems for the Japanese American citizens, as they were subjected to loyalty tests and forced draft programs into the armed forces. Those who opposed the American Government and their tactics were sent to work camps and their families were broken apart. This also raised issues as to how our government operates.
On December 7,1941 Japan raided the airbases across the islands of Pearl Harbour. The “sneak attack” targeted the United States Navy. It left 2400 army personnel dead and over a thousand Americans wounded. U.S. Navy termed it as “one of the great defining moments in history”1 President Roosevelt called it as “A Day of Infamy”. 2 As this attack shook the nation and the Japanese Americans became the immediate ‘focal point’. At that moment approximately 112,000 Persons of Japanese descent resided in coastal areas of Oregon, Washington and also in California and Arizona.3
In the middle of WW II, many Americans were worrying about their next meal or about the house payments; however, this wasn’t the case for Japanese Americans. Instead, they were worrying about if they were going to eat and if they were going to have a house due to internment camps. These camps were designed to protect and nurture the Japanese from the American people who were persecuting them. However, these camps did little good beyond that. Many Japanese Americans faced starvation, horrible living quality, and a large distance away from what they knew as home. These Japanese immigrants were always treated with discrimination in America; however, after Pearl Harbor they were forced to leave their homes, live in internment camps, and face prejudice for the years following.
Much controversy has been sparked due to the internment of the Japanese people. Many ask whether it was justified to internment them. It is a very delicate issue that has two sides, those who are against the internment of the Japanese-Americans and those who are for it. With World War II raging in the East, America was still, for the most part, very inactive in the war. When America took a stand against Japan by not shipping them supplies, Japan became very upset. Japan, being a big island that is very overpopulated with little natural resources, depended on America to provide them with an assortment of supplies including scrap metal and oil, vital items that are needed in a time of war. Japan retaliated by declaring war on America and attacking Pearl Harbor. This surprise act led to many soldiers deaths and millions of dollars of damaged army equipment, including air craft carriers and planes. As a result to Japan declaring war, the Japanese-Americans were asked to and eventually forced to do their duty to the country and report to internment camps until the war conflict was over. Many opposed this act for a couple of reasons. One reason was that people felt that it was a huge hypocrisy that the Japanese were being interned while the Italians and Germans, also our enemies, were still walking around free in America. Another reason why many were against the internment was because many of the Japanese had already been in America for some time now. The Issei, the first generation of Japanese people that immigrated from Japan, had immigrated many years ago. A whole another generation of Japanese children had already began growing up in America called the Nissei. They were automatically U.S. citizens for they were born in America and for the most part were like other American children. Anti-Internment activists also said that the Japanese were being robbed of their rights as U.S. citizens. However, there are two sides to everything.
Japanese Internment Camps were established to keep an eye on everyone of Japanese decent. The internment camps were based on an order from the President to relocate people with Japanese Heritage. This meant relocating 110,000 Japanese people. “Two thirds of these people were born in America and were legal citizens, and of the 10 people found to be spying for the Japanese during World War II, not one was of Japanese ancestry” (Friedler 1). Thus, there was no reason for these internment camps, but people do irrational things when driven by fear. In theinternment camps, many of the Japanese became sick or even died because of lack of nourishment in the food provided at these camps. The conditions in the internment camps were awful. One of the internment camps, Manzanar, was located to the west of Desert Valley in California. “Manzanar barracks measured 120 x 20 feet and were divided into six one-room apartments, ranging in size from 320 to 480 square feet.