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Japanese Internment in the US during World War II Research Paper

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Updated: Oct 15th, 2019

A country becomes exposed to multiple threats from other nations at times of war. As a result, the government takes any necessary measures that it perceives to be vital in promoting the national security of the nation, including subordination of the constitutional rights of certain individuals for the collective safety of the population.

In the United States, one of the key functions of the government is to provide equal protection for the constitutional rights of all citizens. Issues are therefore, raised during a wartime, with regard to individual liberty and collective security (Daniels 12).

Some questions were raised due to the temporary sacrifice of a particular group of people, the Japanese, with the intention of national survival. The issues raised were a result of the attack by Japanese aircraft against Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. These questions were associated with two cases brought to the U.S. Supreme Court within the context of World War II: Hirabayashi v. United States and Korematsu v. United States (Okihiro 62).

Background

The American naval forces on Hawaii were devastated by the Japanese attack on pearl harbour. Some of the damage caused by the Japanese included the destruction of five American battleships and three cruisers, as well as the death of over 2,200 and injuries on over 1,100 military personnel. The then president was Franklin D. Roosevelt, who re-assured the public that the US would retaliate against the Japanese, which led to their entry in to the World War II (Robinson 29).

The Japanese moved fast to occupy the territories previously in the hands of the US, and the more than 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry in the west coast raised issues for the president’s cabinet. As a result, general DeWitt wanted to relocate all of them to the interior of the country, where they could be kept from getting in touch with the enemy (Irons 22).

The then U.S. Attorney General Francis Biddle urged caution, since he believed that forcible relocation of the Japanese Americans would violate their due process rights under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. However, most of the Presidential advisers emphasized the importance of military necessity and national survival.

As a result, “President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, providing authority for military commanders to establish special zones from which civilians might be excluded for reasons of national defence, On February 22, 1942” (Robinson 33). The President based his order on the Espionage Act of 1918 and statutes enacted by Congress in 1940 and 1941 to enhance the chief executive’s wartime powers (Robinson 33).

On March 18, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9102 to establish the War Relocation Authority. This executive agency was empowered to relocate the people identified by military commanders under the provisions of the previously issued Executive Order 9066. More than 110,000 Japanese were commanded to abandon their dwellings in places that the military had identified as sensitive parts of the West Coast. Anti-Japanese frenzy in the United States since the beginning of the century fueled calls for removal (Unk 1).

Intolerance demonstrated in the event

About 45,000 Japanese nationals and 75,000 American citizens of Japanese ancestry were deprived of liberty and property without criminal charges or even a trial, in the period between 1942 and 1946 (Okihiro 64).

Due to their ancestry, all people of Japanese ancestry were expelled from their homes, and confined in inland detention camps; this did not apply to American citizens of German or Italian ancestry, who were on the same side as the Japanese during the war. The events that occurred marked one of the greatest blows to constitutional liberties on the American citizens (Okihiro 65).

Impact of racism on relocation

There had been many previous instances of hostility upon the Japanese and other Asian immigration for many decades before the forceful eviction after the attack at pearl harbour. The attitude of the public was emphasized after the attack, during World War II. The reason why the west coast public was not sympathetic with the Japanese Americans is because the National Guard units from eleven western states were fighting in the Philippines, where they were tortured and starved by their Japanese captors (Daniels 17).

During the war, one of the key attributes in the policy of evacuation and resettlement was to protect the Japanese-Americans from population rage. There were many causes for the evacuation that had little to do with racism.

Peter Irons wrote level-headedly about this in 1983: “To cast this case into outlines of racial prejudice, without reference to the real military dangers which were present, merely confuses the issue. Korematsu was not excluded from the Military Area because of hostility to him or his race…He was excluded because we are at war with the Japanese Empire….” (24).

Economic impact

There are a few Japanese Americans who lost their property during the mass eviction, to unscrupulous people, though the army tried to safeguard the evacuees’ property. For those who had crops, the yields were harvested and sold at favourable prices. The gains were then put in their bank accounts, for their access.

The fury directed at the Japanese Americans started in the nineteenth century, when the first immigrants arrived during the California Gold Rush (Unk 1). The discovery of gold in California led to a scramble for control of the gold mines and ultimately for control of the Territory of California.

About 25 percent of the miners in California during the Gold Rush came from China. The English speaking newcomers who had previously established dominance over the native, Spanish, and Mexican Californians were in no mood to tolerate further competition. Using acts of terrorism (e.g., mass murder and arson) the white newcomers drove the Chinese out of the mining areas (Unk 1).

Conclusion

The Japanese Americans were conditionally released, that is about 33% of them, between 1943 and 1944. College students were allowed to attend school, though they had to report to government officials. The young men and women were also released for military duty. The remaining 67% were not allowed to leave the camps for the whole duration of the war. The fathers lost their role as breadwinners, and the families fell apart since the children were controlled by the military.

The uncertainties of the situation that the Japanese Americans found themselves in led to some committing suicide (Murray and Daniels 53). Others died due to the harsh environment, and the lack of medical facilities. Communication channels were monitored by the camp administration, the Japanese language was banned at public meetings, and Buddhist religious practices were suppressed (Irons 24).

Other extreme measures like deportation, sterilization or stripping off the citizenship of the Japanese Americans were not pursued, though the events that took place had a lot to do with racism, and the attacks on pearl harbour provided the Americans with an opportunity to get rid of the Japanese Americans, and they went for it, going as far as offering them for exchange with American prisoners of war (Murray and Daniels 60).

Works Cited

Daniels, Roger. The Politics of Prejudice. New York: Atheneum, 1970. Print.

Irons, Peter. Justice at War: The Story of the Japanese American Internment Cases. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.

Murray, Alice Yang and Roger Daniels. What Did the Internment of Japanese Americans Mean? Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2000.

Okihiro, Gary Y. Whispered Silences: Japanese Americans and World War II. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1996.

Robinson, Greg. By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001.

Unk. The Exclusion of the Ethnic Japanese from the US West Coast in 1942. 1998. Web. <>.

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IvyPanda. (2019, October 15). Japanese Internment in the US during World War II. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/japanese-internment-in-the-us-during-world-war-ii/

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Japanese Internment in the US during World War II." October 15, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/japanese-internment-in-the-us-during-world-war-ii/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'Japanese Internment in the US during World War II'. 15 October.

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