Keith SalenskiJen StaussHistory 201 May 31, 2005 Japanese Internment Camps in WWII For over a century, the United States has been one of the most powerful and influential states on the globe. However, every nation has made mistakes in its past. Throughout our country's history, certain groups have had to endure horrible injustices: the enslavement of African-Americans, the removal of Native Americans, and discrimination against immigrants, women, homosexuals, and every other minority. During World War II, the government crossed the line between defending the nation and violating human rights, when it chose to relocate Japanese residents to internment camps. The actions taken by the U.S. government against Japanese Americans and Japanese living in the United States were not justified. Much of the support for the camps was probably fueled by fear.
The attack on Pearl Harbor was unlike anything the United States had ever experienced before, and the events of that day must have had devastating effects on Americans's else of security. In 1942, most of the American public was in favor of internment (RTAP, 122), but it was not necessary. A person's heritage does not determine his or her personal opinions. But, paranoia led American military leaders assumed that anyone of Japanese descent was automatically loyal to the Emperor of Japan and in full support of the Pearl Harbor attack. Many of the internees had a deep love for the U.S. and had either raised their children here, or had spent their entire lives in the U.S. There was vehement opposition to the violent action taken by Japan, as there is with any act of bloodshed.
Unfortunately, the Japanese-Americans living on the west coast were given no time to show what their loyalties were: they were expelled from the area. They were shipped off to remote locations in the more barren sections of the country. The living conditions at the camps were inadequate at best. Residents were forced to endure extreme cold and extreme heat, cramped living spaces, poor meals, and a lack of indoor plumbing.
The whole time, they were under the watchful eyes of armed military police. They were treated as prisoners. Another factor in the case is racism. Japanese-Americans were subjected to discrimination from the government even before the United States' entrance into WWII. Five days before the executive order that allowed for removal of Japanese from the west coast, Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt speculated the possibility of the Japanese-Americans acting against the U.S., saying that "the very fact that no sabotage has taken place to date is a disturbing and confirming indication that such action will be taken" (RTAP, 119).
This created a no-win situation for the Japanese-Americans because if they did not act against the U.S., it was still thought that inevitably would. Japanese were denied citizenship before the war, as well (RTAP, 121). Inside the camps, the loyalty questionnaires forced them to either renounce both their allegiance to Japan (while remaining a non-citizen in the U.S.A.) and probably get sent to the military, or to stay stuck in the horrendous conditions of the camps. How could they be expected to support a country that would show so little faith in their loyalty and integrity? These people had done nothing to harm this country in any way.
This racism was a contributing factor in the eventual loss of their freedom. What is truly disturbing about this part of our history is that it can happen again. It has already occurred against people of almost every background, and in the post-9/11 U.S., Arabs, Muslims, and anyone who looks like they could be Muslim are confronted with the problem of discrimination. How far away are we from a new set of "relocation centers", as the government called them in WWII (RTAP, 127)? No matter what you call them, they still are an infringement of basic human rights.