After the attack on Pearl Harbor, thousands of people of Japanese heritage were imprisoned in internment camps. What were internment camp conditions like? Could this happen again?
America hasn’t exactly made a proud history for itself as far as treating others fairly. One of the most memorable and somewhat more recent events is removing Japanese Americans from their homes and placing them in internment camps when the government feared that first, second, and even third generation Japanese and Japanese Americans were going to terrorize America in one way or another. What brought this on? What was it like for Japanese Americans during this time? Not pleasant and very unfair to put it mildly.
Japanese military forces attacked the U.S. Naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Immediately the U.S. government became suspicious of every Japanese person who was on American soil. At the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, there were 5,000 Japanese American people in the U.S. military. They were immediately discharged as “alien enemies.” Franklin Roosevelt passed Executive Order 9066, which called for all Japanese Americans to be held in “Internment Facilities” which were basically prisons. It took only a couple of months after the attack on Pearl Harbor before the camps were ready and families were being put in them. Is that the only reason that the U.S. Government required this? It was also believed that farmers and other entrepreneurs were not happy about having to compete with Japanese labor and preferred that something be done about it.
One hundred twenty thousand men, women, and children of Japanese descent were sent to the internment camps. There were also a few people of European descent put in the camps if they were declared as a threat to the government. There were 10 major camps established, in the states of California, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado, and Arkansas. Because of this Executive Order 9066, many successful and well educated Japanese Americans lost their homes and businesses, and some even were separated from their families.
The imprisoned people were not used to the bad living conditions, many were middle classed families who were well educated and successful before coming to the camps. The conditions were very bad. The camps were overcrowded, there was no plumbing or cooking facilities in the individual units. The living quarters were not very private and they were very small, usually 20 x 25 foot, and a family of five or six people might be required to live in one. There were common bathrooms and bathing rooms, as well as a mess hall where 300-500 people would be fed at a time. The budget for the food was very low, an average of about 45 cents per internee, so the quality of the food was poor. The camps were surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards, so there was no escaping. Japanese born internees were not treated with respect, and only the American born internees were given chances for advancements within the camp.
Even with the unsavory conditions, the internees tried to make the best of their situation. Families tried to make their quarters as comfortable and homely as they could. Some camps formed small communities, establishing a mayor, postmasters, street signs, etc. The internees were encouraged to work to show loyalty to the U.S. Government. Pay was very low; eight dollars per month for common labor to sixteen dollars per month for professional and technical jobs. The government thought the wages were fair because the internees were being provided food, shelter, and medical attention at no cost.
The internment facilities continued to hold Japanese Americans for two and a half years. At one point, internees were allowed to leave if they would join the U.S. military. About twelve hundred people decided to do this. Others waited until the camps closed. The last of the camps was closed by the end of 1945. Upon being free again, Japanese pretty much had to start over, they could not simply go back to the life they had before. Many of the internees renounced their American citizenships because of what had been done to them although they had been innocent and loyal.
Since the closing of the camps, not a whole lot has been done to make the situation right with the people who were wronged. In 1988 Congress agreed to give twenty thousand dollars to each of the surviving sixty thousand internees. From my research, I can’t see that the U.S. Government has made any sort of formal apology for their harsh and unfair actions in the 1940’s.
We have learned from history, but could a situation like this occur again right here in America, the land of the free? When doing the research on these camps, I came across several links to evidence that FEMA is constructing many camps all over the country for some unknown reason. I don’t know if this is in case something similar to the Pearl Harbor incident happens again, or what. I do know that FEMA was established to protect the American Government in times of a crisis, and at any given time they can take over food distribution, waterways, utilities, transportation, media, education, welfare, production and distribution, among a few things. They have the power to suspend the constitution and declare martial law. This is a very scary fact, especially since we’ve seen that the government was in fact capable of moving a massive population in a short amount of time in 1942. So could it happen again? Yes, it seems that it could. There is more information available on FEMA and that topic at www.freedomfiles.org/war/fema.htm.
In conclusion, Japanese Americans were wrongly held as prisoners for things that they didn’t do. They lived in harsh conditions for an extended period of time, and even made the most of it. Upon dismissal from being held, many remained loyal to the U.S. Government who may have ruined their lives and businesses.
Image Credit: Stockers9