The internment of Japanese Americans in the United States during World War II was the forced relocation and incarceration in concentration camps in the western interior of the country. The number of Americans incarcerated was between 110,000 and 120,000. At least 65% of those interned were full-fledged United States citizens. The forced relocation of these hard-working Americans was ordered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. A great number of the citizens were the second- and third-generation Americans descended from Japanese immigrants who held only the equivalent of a green card because they were barred by U.S. law from being granted citizenship. The excuse at the time was that they might be loyal to Japan and launch a terrorist campaign against west coast targets or become spies for the Empire of Japan.
The internment, as many suggested in its time, today is considered more a result of racism than a security risk.
During relocation, citizens were told they could only take what they could carry and to leave the rest behind; most lost everything.
The Supreme Court ruled to uphold the constitutionality of the Exclusion Act in Fred Korematsu vs. U.S. but only by sidestepping the main issue and only ruling on the exclusion order — not on the lawfulness of incarcerating citizens without due process. The court surprisingly ruled in favor of Mitsuye Endo. Endo worked as a clerk for the California Department of Motor Vehicles before her relocation and the court conceded that her rights were violated and she should be released. But the case wasn’t a class action, so it only applied to her. She chose to stay in the camp and continue her legal fight so it would stay in the public eye.
Internment ended in 1945. In 1988 President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act into law; it was an official U.S. government apology for the policy of internment. They also paid $20,000 to each camp survivor as restitution. The law admitted the government’s actions were based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”
The camps were not similar to Nazi death camps. The camps were an embarrassment and a stain on the land of liberty but were designed more like towns. The camps had shops, farms, clinics, high schools, and movie theaters. Internees were still prisoners but could feign normalcy. The students in high school even produced yearbooks. The internees were also able to make money by creating crafts and other goods and having them legally sold on the outside by designated agents. The conditions weren’t perfect. The dorms were divided up for families, but the walls didn’t go to the roof so there was a lack of privacy. If you were single or a couple you probably had roommates. The kitchen/mess hall was communal as well as the toilets and showers.
I can’t say enough about the heartiness of these people. The country they loved betrayed them. They took all that punishment from the government and still wanted to serve in the armed forces. The returned to their lives or what was left of them after the war and tried to carry on. The lasting legacy of the Japanese internment is having a living group of people in our country that speak out when they see racism and discrimination and remind us what can happen even in the land of liberty when we let paranoia and racism go unchecked.