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Facts About the Japanese-American Internment Camps During World War II

Padmini Krishna
For more than two years during World War II, Japanese-Americans were detained in internment camps, where they were isolated from the rest of the nation, in spite of having committed no crime. Here, we hope to share information about the incarceration of thousands of innocents, and the conditions they endured at the camps.

Did You Know?

A major factor that led to the American government to place Americans of Japanese origin in internment camps, was the Ni'ihau incident. On December 7th, 1941 (Pearl Harbor Day), a pilot from the Japanese Imperial Air Force was facing trouble with his Zero fighter aircraft, and ended up crash-landing on the shores of the Hawaiian island, Ni'ihau.
The only three Japanese-American inhabitants of Ni'ihau not only came to his aid, but also tried to abet his escape (although eventually, he was killed). By turning traitor, they endangered the lives of their neighbors and fellow citizens.
This incident contributed to the government's notion that Japanese-American citizens may turn out to be loyal to Japan during the war, and influenced them to implement mass-incarceration.
Even before the Pearl Harbor incident, the general American attitude towards Asians was not a trustful one. While some were not granted citizenship even after staying in the country for three to four decades, fear of the so-called 'Yellow Peril' caused the government to curb even the rights of citizens of Japanese origin to own property and to vote.
However, after the bombings, the American government found some much-questioned reasons to believe that Japanese-American citizens of the country were capable of switching loyalties and launching a fifth-column attack on them, and the Ni'ihau incident only strengthened this belief.
What resulted was the mass-incarceration of Japanese Americans, especially those who lived along the West Pacific coast, in internment camps.

Photographs of Manzanar National Historic Site

The Entrance

The Manzanar War Relocation Center relics are located on Highway 395, Eastern Sierras, south of Independence, and north of Lone Pine, in Owens Valley, California.

Police Sentry Post

Memorial Obelisk

This monument was built by a resident internee, stonemason Ryozo Kado, in 1943, at the site of the cemetery, and bears a Japanese inscription that translates to "Soul Consoling Tower".

Watch Tower

With none of the original ones remaining now, a replica of one of the watch towers was built at the site in 2005.

Barracks; Living Area for Internees

Today, only the foundation of most of these barracks, where more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans were housed, still stand.
The Daunting Internment Camp
A museum operated by the U.S. Parks Services exists over this site to preserve relics and so that the stories of those incarcerated here are not forgotten.

Brief History and Living Conditions in Internment Camps

The United States of America entered World War II after the Pearl Harbor incident. On February 19th, 1942, President Roosevelt signed the Executive Order 9066, which allowed the government to compel Japanese-American residents of the Pacific West Coast to relocate themselves, stating that evacuating the land in question was for military reasons.
The government would provide transportation and alternate accommodation. This paved the way for the establishment of these internment camps. Of the 120,000 (approx.) Japanese-Americans detained, more than 60% were American citizens, while others, despite being residents of the country, were considered for mass incarceration under the Alien Enemies Act.
More than a hundred children of Japanese origin, from orphanages located in the marked areas were also included in this internment. However the Governor of Hawaii fought against the mass-incarceration of Japanese-Americans residing on the islands of Hawaii, as a result of which, barely 1200-1800 internees were from this region.
After being asked to evacuate, leaving behind almost everything they owned, the Japanese-Americans were taken by train or bus to 'assembly centers', where they awaited their re-allotment to 'relocation camps'. The assembly centers were race courses or fair grounds, to serve as a makeshift camp until their permanent wartime residence was made ready.
Those Japanese-Americans who were considered especially dangerous, or were of special interest to the government, were sent to the camp at Tule Lake, which was designed as a 'segregation center'.
The internment camps (other than the one at Tule Lake in California) were located at Manzanar in California, Heart Mountain in Wyoming, Minidoka in Idaho, Poston in Arizona, Topaz in Utah, Jerome in Arkansas, Granada in Colorado, and Rohwer in Arkansas.
The internees were housed in military-style barracks that were covered in tar paper. It is said that although the photographs of the camps were careful not to show it, the camps were surrounded by barbed wire, and had armed soldiers to guard them.
While life there was supposed to function as normally as possible, with educational and medical facilities (albeit insufficient) being provided by the government, as well as there being employment opportunities in the camp itself, the entire order of society was disrupted.
Residents had to avail of common living, sleeping, laundry, washing, and dining arrangements. They had no privacy. In 1943, a report by the War Relocation Authority mentioned that the camps were "without plumbing or cooking facilities of any kind".
Food was rationed out by the government at less than 50 cents per capita, and served at a communal mess. Blankets were also limited, and the camps were overpopulated.
The younger generation, or Nisei, who were born in America and were citizens, were given more importance, especially when it came to leadership positions, than the elders; the Issei, who were long-term residents of America, although not American-born and so were not citizens.
Moreover, the camps were located in remote areas that were deep inland, and hence, the internees had to bear with extreme climatic conditions like winters of Wyoming, or the summers of the desert, that they were unprepared for, since they had left behind a majority of their belongings, including clothing.
Inevitably some internees did not survive the incarceration, as a result of inadequate medical care and being prohibited from leaving the camp to seek medical help, harsh weather conditions, improper nutrition and sanitation, and/or mental torture that was uncalled-for. Some also succumbed to being shot by American soldiers as a result of trying to escape.
While living conditions in the Japanese-American internment camps were definitely austere, internees were not tortured or executed. However, all control over their own lives was taken away, and they were imprisoned for no fault of theirs.
In fact, at the end of the War, not a single American of Japanese origin was found guilty of any kind of treason or espionage; those convicted for the same turned out to be Caucasian. In 1943, an all-Japanese American combat unit was formed, and as registration began, residents of these internment camps were questioned about their loyalty.
The patriotism shown by this Combat Team during the War was extolled greatly. Finally, in December 1944, President Roosevelt rescinded the Executive Order 9066, under Proclamation no. 21, and in the next six months, the camps were evacuated. The internees were finally allowed to go home.
The incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II caused great loss of personal property amongst the interned, and many of them had to rebuild their entire lives from scratch.
As consequences of being detained in camps (where maintenance of hygiene, etc., was questionable), many of them even became vulnerable to heart ailments, apart from being psychologically scarred by the entire ordeal. In case of students wishing to pursue education, their whole academic progress had come to a standstill for the 3 years of their internment.
The American government, in the post-war years, has attempted to redress the situation by publicly stating that the whole incarceration was "wrong", and also by compensating each living survivor, even if they had relocated themselves to Japan, with USD 20,000. Some former internees were even reimbursed for their property loss.

Chronological Order of Events

December 7th, 1941 - The Pearl Harbor incident takes place; Japanese fighter planes carry out the bombings of Pearl Harbor.
December 8th, 1941 - The United States of America joins World War II, by declaring war or Japan.

February 19th, 1942 - President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Executive Order 9066, which sets the foundation for mass-incarceration.
March 18th, 1943 - The War Relocation Authority is formed, under Executive Order 9102. It is entitled assume jurisdiction over Japanese-American evacuees from California, Oregon, and Washington. 
March 22nd, 1942 - The first large group of American civilians of Japanese origin is shifted to Manzanar, a military-run internment camp located at Owens Valley, California.
March 23rd, 1942 - The order to evacuate the Japanese-American residents of Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound, and send them to the Puyallup Army temporary detention center near Seattle before the 30th of March is passed by General DeWitt.
March 27th, 1942 - Proclamation no. 4 issued by General DeWitt puts an end to any further voluntary migration of Japanese Americans from the West Coast.

April 3rd, 1942 - The Japanese-Americans residing in Los Angeles are sent to the Santa Anita temporary detention center.
April 28th, 1942 - The internees at Seattle are shifted to yet another to temporary detention center at Puyallup fairgrounds, called Camp Harmony. Also, Japanese-Americans from Alaska are sent to the Puyallup detention center (from where later they would be sent to the Minidoka internment camp).
May 8th, 1942 - The internment camp at Poston gets its first wartime residents.

May 19th, 1942 - Civilian Restriction Order no. 1 is issued, under which temporary detention centers will now be considered as military areas, and residents are prohibited from leaving.
May 27th, 1942 - The first contingent of internees arrives at the Tule Lake internment camp.

June 1st, 1942 - The jurisdiction of the Manzanar temporary detention center is transferred to the War Relocation Authority, and it becomes the Manzanar internment camp.
August 7th, 1942 - The completion of the removal of more than 120,000 Japanese-Americans from their homes is announced.

August 10th, 1942 - Temporary residents of the Puyallup detention center are moved to the Minidoka internment camp in Idaho.
August 12th, 1942 - The Heart Mountain internment camp in Wyoming sees its first batch of internees who are shifted there from the Pomona detention center.

September 18th, 1942 - A contingent of internees from Stockton detention center arrives at Rohwer internment camp in Arkansas as its first residents.
October 6th, 1942 - The last of the ten internment centers, the Jerome internment camp in Arkansas, receives its first batch of internees, who have been relocated from the Fresno detention center.
November 3rd, 1942 - The last group of internees from the Fresno detention center arrive at the Jerome internment camp, and with it, the transfer of internees from all the temporary detention centers is completed
January 23rd, 1943 - The plan to form an all-Japanese-American combat unit, comprising volunteers from the mainland as well as the Hawaii islands, is announced by the Secretary of War, Henry Stimson.
February 8th, 1943 - In most of the internment camps, all persons over the age of 17 are questioned about their loyalty, and could enlist themselves. This would result in their relocation.
May, 1944 - The 442 Regimental Combat Team (RCT), which is the all-Japanese-American combat unit, is sent to the Italian front.

June 30th, 1944 - The remaining personnel at the Jerome internment camp are transferred to the camps at Granada, Colorado, and Rohwer, Arkansas, after it is shut down.
December 17th, 1944 - The War Department announces the revocation of the West Coast mass exclusion orders, effective from the 2nd of January, 1945. The revoked order had been in effect since the issuance of Executive Order 9066.
December 18th, 1944 - The War Relocation Authority declares that all the internment camps will be closed before the end of 1945, and that the entire War Relocation Authority program will be liquidated on June 30th, 1946.
Oct 15th, 1944 to Dec 15th, 1944 - Except for the Tule Lake Center internment camp, all camps are shut down.

March 20th, 1946 - The segregation center at Tule Lake is finally closed down.
July 2nd, 1946 - The government passes the Evacuation Claims Act, under which, internees are given time until January 3rd,1950 to file claims against the government for damages to or loss of real or personal property. The total amount paid by the government was US $31 million, which was less than 10 cents against each dollar.
August 10th, 1988 - President Reagan signs the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which provides for a Presidential apology and allocates US $1.25 billion for reparations of $20,000 to all living survivors of the incarceration.
November, 1989 - The Public Law 101-162 is signed by President Bush, wherein it is guaranteed that surviving former internees will be paid reparation, starting from October 1990.

March 3rd, 1992 - The National Historic Site at Manzanar is established.
The needless imprisonment of thousands of innocent Americans of Japanese origin only truly ended with the nuclear attack on the two Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in 1945.
This not only brought World War II to a close, but by then, even the process of shutting down the camps, and allowing the internees to walk free for the first time in more than two years, was almost complete. However, life was never the same for the former internees.
They went back home to see their properties ransacked, and even long afterwards, they were treated as enemies. Some of these camp survivors, who could not forgive the government for what was done to them, even renounced their citizenship to go back to their hometown.
The first official acknowledgment of wrongdoing from the government, for what the Japanese-Americans were put through (even though they were allowed to claim damages from the government), only came after more than twenty years since they were freed, and the entire process of meting out payments to those who filed claims was painfully slow, spanning decades.
Meanwhile, the unspoken truth will always linger, that neither apology nor compensation can ever wipe away the scars of the survivors of these internment camps.