Thursday, December 18, 2014

Detainment of American Citizens in the West

Detainment of American Citizens In The West

 During World War II, between 1942-1946, Americans became suspicious of their neighbors, Japanese citizens of our country, because the citizenry believed the Japanese might have sympathies to their homeland of Japan, after the bombing attack on Pearl Harbor. Well, considering that Americans are a blend of just about every country on Earth, I found this piece of history particularly grievous. Unfortunately, this fear caused innocent people to suffer and to live in Internment Camps sprinkled across the western United States. This could be considered profiling at its worst.

By Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized local military commanders to designate "military areas" from which "any or all persons may be excluded." 

President Franklin D. Roosevelt

This power was used to declare that all people of Japanese ancestry were excluded from the entire West Coast, including all of California and much of Oregon, Washington and Arizona, except for those in government camps. Approximately 5,000 "voluntarily" relocated and some 5,500 community leaders were arrested after Pearl Harbor and were already in custody. The majority of mainland Japanese Americans were "evacuated" from their West Coast homes over the spring of 1942. The United States Census Bureau assisted the internment efforts by providing confidential neighborhood information on Japanese Americans. The Bureau denied its role for decades, until 2007 when it was proven to be true. How frightening to learn that the Supreme Court of these United States. in 1944, upheld the constitutionality of the removal when Fred Korematsu's appeal for violating an exclusion order was struck down. The Court limited its decision to the validity of the exclusion orders, avoiding the issue of the incarceration of U.S. citizens. Doesn’t that make you wonder how our Constitution can be so loosely interpreted?

Fred Korematsu (later awarded the American Freedom Award by President Bill Clinton. Died in 2005)

Just to be clear, most of these Japanese Americans were second and third generation Japanese. Included in this scandalous act were Italian Americans and German Americans.

Major Karl Bendetsen and Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt, head of the Western Command, each questioned Japanese American loyalty. DeWitt, who administered the internment program, repeatedly told newspapers that "A Jap's a Jap" and testified to Congress, “I don't want any of them [persons of Japanese ancestry] here. They are a dangerous element. There is no way to determine their loyalty... It makes no difference whether he is an American citizen, he is still a Japanese. American citizenship does not necessarily determine loyalty... But we must worry about the Japanese all the time until he is wiped off the map.”  

General John L. DeWitt

March 27, 1942: General DeWitt's Proclamation No. 4 prohibited all those of Japanese ancestry from leaving "Military Area No. 1" for "any purpose until and to the extent that a future proclamation or order of this headquarters shall so permit or direct."

May 3, 1942: General DeWitt issued Civilian Exclusion Order No. 34, ordering all people of Japanese ancestry, whether citizens or non-citizens, who were still living in "Military Area No. 1" to report to assembly centers, where they would live until being moved to permanent "Relocation Centers."
Notice to Japanese Americans and Instructions for Relocation

These edicts included persons of part-Japanese ancestry as well. Anyone with at least one-sixteenth (equivalent to having one great-great grandparent) Japanese ancestry was eligible. Korean-Americans and Taiwanese, [citation needed] considered to have Japanese nationality (since Korea and Taiwan were both Japanese colonies), were also included.

Internment was popular among many white farmers who resented the Japanese American farmers. "White American farmers admitted that their self-interest required removal of the Japanese." These individuals saw internment as a convenient means of uprooting their Japanese American competitors.

Japanese-American Children pledging Allegiance 

Austin E. Anson, managing secretary of the Salinas Vegetable Grower-Shipper Association, told the Saturday Evening Post in 1942:"We're charged with wanting to get rid of the Japs for selfish reasons. We do. It's a question of whether the white man lives on the Pacific Coast or the brown men. They came into this valley to work, and they stayed to take over... If all the Japs were removed tomorrow, we'd never miss them in two weeks, because the white farmers can take over and produce everything the Jap grows. And we do not want them back when the war ends, either."

Heart Mountain Detainment Center in Wyoming

Can you imagine what kind of press these declarations and presumptions would make in today’s news? Fear and hatred can cause people to say and do the most horrendous things.

After the dust settled from World War II and people began to reconsider how the Japanese American were treated, the government made laws protecting American citizens.

Beginning in the 1960s, a younger generation of Japanese Americans who were inspired by the Civil Rights movement began what is known as the "Redress Movement," an effort to obtain an official apology and reparations from the federal government for interning their parents and grandparents during the war, focusing not on documented property losses but on the broader injustice of the internment. The movement's first success was in 1976, when President Gerald Ford proclaimed that the internment was "wrong," and a "national mistake" which "shall never again be repeated"

The campaign for redress was launched by Japanese Americans in 1978. The Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) asked for three measures to be taken as redress: $25,000 to be awarded to each person who was detained, an apology from Congress acknowledging publicly that the U.S. government had been wrong, and the release of funds to set up an educational foundation for the children of Japanese American families.

President Jimmy Carter

In 1980, under mounting pressure from the Japanese American Citizens League and redress organizations, President Jimmy Carter opened an investigation to determine whether the need to put Japanese Americans into internment camps had been justified by the government. He appointed the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) to investigate the camps. The Commission's report, titled “Personal Justice Denied,” found little evidence of Japanese disloyalty at the time and recommended the government pay reparations to the survivors. On February 24, 1983, the commission issued a report entitled Personal Justice Denied, condemning the internment as unjust and motivated by racism and xenophobic ideas rather than real military necessity. The Commission recommended that $20,000 in reparations be paid to those Japanese Americans who had been victims of internment.

President Ronald Reagan signing the Civil Liberties Act of 1988

 U.S. President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which had been sponsored by Representative Norman Mineta and Senator Alan K. Simpson – the two had met while Mineta was interned at Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming. The Act provided redress of $20,000 for each surviving detainee, totaling $1.2 billion. The question of to whom reparations should be given, how much, and even whether monetary reparations were appropriate were subjects of sometimes contentious debate.

President George H. W. Bush 

On September 27, 1992, the Civil Liberties Act Amendments of 1992, appropriating an additional $400 million to ensure all remaining internees received their $20,000 redress payments, was signed into law by President George H. W. Bush, who also issued another formal apology from the U.S. government on December 7, 1991, on the very day of the 50th-Anniversary of the Pearl Harbor Attack: "In remembering, it is important to come to grips with the past. No nation can fully understand itself or find its place in the world if it does not look with clear eyes at all the glories and disgraces of its past. We in the United States acknowledge such an injustice in our history. The internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry was a great injustice, and it will never be repeated."

Detainment at Heart Mountain, Wyoming at a Dance

Some Japanese and Japanese Americans who were relocated during World War II received compensation for property losses, according to a 1948 law. Congress appropriated $38 million to meet $131 million of claims from among 23,000 claimants. These payments were disbursed very slowly. The final disbursal occurred in 1965.  In 1988, following lobbying efforts by Japanese Americans, $20,000 per internee was paid out to individuals who had been interned or relocated, including those who chose to return to Japan. These payments were awarded to 82,210 Japanese Americans or their heirs at a cost of $1.6 billion; the program's final disbursement occurred in 1999.

Under the 2001 budget of the United States, it was also decreed that the ten sites on which the detainee camps were set up are to be preserved as historical landmarks: “places like Manzanar, Tule Lake, Heart Mountain, Topaz, Amache, Jerome, and Rohwer will forever stand as reminders that this nation failed in its most sacred duty to protect its citizens against prejudice, greed, and political expediency”.

On January 30, 2011, California first observed an annual "Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution", the first such commemoration for an Asian American in the U.S. On June 14, 2011, Peruvian president Alan García apologized for his country's internment of Japanese immigrants during World War II, most of whom were transferred to the United States.

The United States is a relatively young country. We’re still working things out to allow all of our citizens to receive fair and equal treatment, in wartime and in peace. Although it is disturbing to learn that these terrible things were done and that we still don’t have a perfect government, I am hopeful that we can get our act together and find ways to allow everyone in this country the freedom and civil liberties they deserve.

Before I go, I wanted to lift the mood a touch and wish you all a very merry Christmas and a New Year filled with love, prosperity, and happiness!

Sarah McNeal is a multi-published author of several genres including time travel, paranormal, western and historical fiction. She is a retired ER nurse who lives in North Carolina with her four-legged children, Lily, the Golden Retriever and Liberty, the cat. Besides her devotion to writing, she also has a great love of music and plays several instruments including violin, bagpipes, guitar and harmonica. Her books and short stories may be found at Publishing by Rebecca Vickery, Victory Tales Press, Prairie Rose Publications and Painted Pony Books, and Fire Star Press, imprints of Prairie Rose Publications. She welcomes you to her website at


  1. Sarah, I agree that the detainment of innocent people is a dark blot on our history. Hardly a way to inspire loyalty from those citizens.

  2. Yes, it was a dark day in our history, but I cannot blame those in charge so very much. How were they to know? And remember Pearl Harbor was the first military attack on American soil in history. This absolutely skewed the mindset of every thinking American. The horror of it was unthinkable and completely mysterious. It hit our citizens in the heart and soul--I was one year old at the time. But we know what happened later and how our relationship with Japan is today.

    We're Presbyterians, and one elderly longtime members were Sam and T Hada--a Japanese couple who had two daughters. They moved to San Marcos long before we arrived here, but guess what? Both had been in an interment camp in California and that's where they met. Funny about Sam and T--now both deceased--they were interviewed by our paper years ago and they stated they held no ill will from that. They did then, but they were never punished or deprived and could even leave the camp once in a while to walk in a park or go to a movie.
    The sad part was their daughters, both pretty and smart, but who would date Japanese girls in San Marcos Texas High School? They both were accepted by the Hispanics and both married Hispanics. Neither marriage lasted, and both now are married to Anglo men-both successful in careers, etc.
    Guess what Sam Hada's profession was? He was a "Chicken Sexer." Really.
    I loved this post, Sarah--you did a splendid job with the history and the photos. Thanks.

  3. Sarah, such a great post. It always amazes me how information comes out after the fact in things to do with our government. I guess during a war they did what they felt would ensure the safety of our citizens but many innocent people were affected. So little is taught in our schools of what really happened in our American History classes.

  4. Interesting post, Sarah. I'm certainly in no way advocating the internment of a people, and yes this was a dark spot on our history.

    However, as in everything history can be skewed in the aftermath. After WWII the nation was stronger and could look back with some objectivity to see what was done right and what was so very wrong. (You know it's always easier for us to look back then for people living in that moment and making the hard decisions).

    Also, while I was working for the Navy and discussing this with other historians. I found out this wasn't just some hysterical reaction. And this is really important to know: The government had/has proof of Japanese AMERICANS providing intel to Japan about the best locations on Pearl to bomb and where the fleet was located etc. They even provided information regarding where the Naval Hospital was so Japan could bomb that and there would be no place to take the wounded. Armed with this information is it any wonder they panicked about who was sending what in the aftermath. This was also why Japanese American men couldn't fight in the Pacific...although they did a heck of a job in Europe. Apologetic history is nice, but sometimes the real story isn't so clear cut.

    And though Caroline mentioned about hardly a way to inspire loyalty, I think that's what surprises me the most is how very loyal they remained. Even working the farms around the internment camp. Many of the successful farms in the Big Horn Basin are in thanks to the Japanese who worked there and taught the Wyoming farmers some tricks.

    Once again, I'm in no way saying we should inter a large population because of the actions of some, and I'm glad our nation learned the lesson and made the changes necessary to keep it from happening again.

  5. I know, Caroline, I think sometimes people react to a situation without giving it thought. We still do it. Just recently people demonstrated against the Americans with Ebola coming home for treatment even though they would have died without it.
    We are a country founded on the premise of civil liberties, yet time and again, we break that premise due mostly to unfounded fear.
    Thank you so much for commenting, Caroline.

  6. Celia, what the heck is a chicken sexer? I've never heard of that.
    I have never met a person from a Japanese detainment camp, so I was glad you shared that information about your church members.
    While I was researching this article, I saw German POW camps in the west, too. Who would have thought we'd bring prisoners all the way back to American from the war in Europe? But we did. When the Germans were released, they said they were treated well, and I was happy to hear that. One German prisoner actually escaped and lived in America for many years.
    There were German and Italian detainment centers, but they were very rare. I guess that was because it was the Japanese that attacked us on our own soil.
    Thank you for your kind remarks and for sharing your experience.

  7. Barbara, I imagine it's difficult to teach kids everything about our history--there's so much of it. The hope is that parents and students themselves are interested enough in our history to find out these amazing factoids. PBS, the History channel, and National Geographic do attempt to bring out these fascinating facts about history, but people have to actually be interested enough to watch these programs.
    Thank you so much for coming and commenting on my blog.

  8. Kirsten, they tell us over and over again to learn history because it does have a way of repeating itself. Although I know that some Japanese did provide information to the enemy about Pearl Harbor, I believe it is unwarranted, although somewhat understandable, that we would lock up entire families because of race. This is profiling at its worst. These people had such a short time to report to camps that they had to sell their homes at ridiculously low prices. They lost their jobs and had to leave college. It is my hope that we can learn from this piece of history not to repeat these offenses.
    Thanks for coming by and sharing your thoughts on the article, Kirsten. It's always good to hear from you.

  9. I wonder how the government arrived at the $20,000-per-internee payment. How does one put a price on lost liberty; lost homes, businesses and jobs?

    Without going into the politics of that era or this one, I must say I think it's a testament to the internees that so many remained devoted to the U.S. while they were held and after they were released. No matter the circumstances or ethnicities of those involved, it's difficult to kill the American spirit.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post, Sarah! Merry Christmas to you and yours.

  10. Sarah--a Chicken Sexer turns baby chicks over to see if they are a hen or a rooster. See how easy that is? But apparently it's not that clear--so an experienced cs would have a good job.

    I knew about German soldiers being detained in camps on the West Coast from a made-for-tv movie years ago. Oh, it was a wonderful story.
    In brief:
    Somewhere in the Midwest, a young woman, the daughter of a minister and wife, became pregnant by her boyfriend. To avoid scandal, the minister wrote to his long-time friend in California and asked if there might be a suitable husband for his daughter. They arranged this marriage between strangers, with the young man knowing his new bride was pregnant. He was a farmer and had a pretty good house and acreage and pickup.
    So, she arrives and they have a difficult time becoming acquainted.
    She talks longs walks down the country lane and one day comes upon two young Japanese women sitting in a field of flowers, drawing the flowers. The Japanese woman were dressed very nicely, spoke perfect English, but were very wary of being found talking to this young woman. But they did talk and agreed to meet the next day.
    This story goes on and one day she's driving the pickup toward town but must stop because American soldier with rifles were marching a line of German soldier prisoners--they worked the fields for somebody--and one German man made eye contact with the young wife...scared her.
    Meanwhile, he escapes and runs into the two Japanese girls. One of them falls for him-not knowing he is a German soldier escaped form the prison farm.
    I'll stop here, but the story becomes complicated and tense and yes, it was a wonderful story in the end. A little sad, too, but all ended well.
    So, that's how I knew about the German prisoners in California. I'd love to see that again.

  11. Kathleen, that is an interesting question about the $20,000 to each detainee. Maybe that's all we have left in the till. Or maybe the government sets aside a certain amount of money for lawsuits and divided that amount up between the number of detainees. Some things about the government will always be a mystery to me.
    I think you're right about the spirit of Americans, Kathleen. It is amazing to me that Japanese descendants fought for the United States in WWII while their families were detained in camps.
    You're a mighty busy chickadee these days. All the more reason I appreciate you taking the time to read my blog and comment. Thank you.

  12. Celia, I saw that movie on the Hallmark channel. See? I think I said I was a total Hallmark movie addict. LOL That was a great summary you gave. I had no idea that German POWs were in camps here until then. I wasn't sure if it was just a movie plot or for real until I researched this article and I saw more about them. Boy of boy, I don't think I'll ever get all the neat history of this country. I had no idea there were so many foundling fathers who were Free Masons, either--but that's a whole new story.
    All chicken bottoms look alike to me. Of course, I'm a city girl so not a lot of experience in such matters. So much for ever having a chicken sexer job. LOL

  13. Great post, Sarah. It was particularly interesting to me since I have a novel series published under my own name and the next book includes scenes from Hart Mountain internment camp. There were many Japanese-American from close to where I live that were shipped off to one of these camps. Our county fair grounds has a memorial to them, since they used it as a temporary camp. It was a dark chapter in our nation's history. Robyn Echols

  14. Robyn, what is the name of your series that features the Japanese interment camp in Wyoming?
    I did not know that the place was once a fairground.
    Thank you so much for coming by and commenting.


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