Pros and Cons of Interning the Japanese during WWII

            Approximately one hundred and ten thousand Japanese-Americans and Japanese dwelling along the Pacific Coast of USA were compulsorily relocated to “War Relocation Camps” and interned by the American government in 1942. After Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, the internment of Japanese-American’s was effected asymmetrically. For example, all Japanese Americans dwelling in regions near the West Coast of America were interned. The Executive Order 9066 signed by Franklin Roosevelt on February 19, 1942, allowed military commanders to set aside “military areas,” that enabled the military to exclude any person from the area (Zinn, 2003). These “exclusion zones,” facilitated the Japanese internment. The internment had several pros and cons as are discussed in this paper.

The white farmers benefited from the internment since their competitors had vacated. A white farmer had said in 1942 that he would not miss the Japanese a fortnight after their vacation or even wish for their return after the war (Burgan, 2007). The white farmers supported the vacation because they argued that the Japanese had come to provide labor in the United States and not to compete with them. They therefore unanimously agreed that their self-interest required the Japanese to be evicted. The whites who bought Japanese-Americans’ land at throwaway prices made huge profits as a result.

The internment helped preserve the American’s secrets. David Lowman asserted that the internments aided in safeguarding the clandestine efforts that the US was involved in as concerns code breaking (Zinn, 2003). With the Japanese in internment, it was legal to disclose vital information to them that would otherwise end up in Japan. If the Japan’s government knew of these efforts, they would change their codes and this would jeopardize America’s strategic plan. The government insisted that the Japanese or the Japanese-American’s were sympathizing with the enemy and were therefore not loyal to US government. By interning the Japanese, the government argued that it was reducing the number of their enemies and preventing information flow from America to Japan.

The Japanese being held in camps were used to provide labor to American firms. Initially some Japanese did business therefore posing a threat to the white Americans. With their removal from their homes, their only source of income was working in white farms. Japanese-Peruvians were put in internment camps with an aim of using them as hostages for exchange with Japan (Harnel, 2000). With these hostages, the US government could coerce the Japanese government to release any information deemed relevant, or to forgo some of its planned attacks. The US target in such efforts was Japan’s collectivism culture. Such a culture implied that the Japanese government cared for its citizens and would therefore do anything in its power to protect their rights.

The cons of the internment stemmed from the inhumane acts that the internees faced. They lost their personal property due to restrictions on the kind of items to take to the camps. Most Japanese-American farmers had to sell their property at throwaway prices to get money for relocating their families. In states like California, there was “Alien Land Laws” that prohibited non-citizens to own land. This resulted in loss of rights by Japanese-Americans’ to the rented farms. This led to enormous financial loses. Items placed in government storage were either stolen or lost. A number of the internees died for lack of medical care, while others developed chronic diseases and even others were killed by soldiers. For instance, James Wakasa was killed for walking near the Topaz War Relocation Center perimeter wall (Zinn, 2003). Due to the hurry in which they had left their homes, most of the Japanese did not carry warm clothes with them (Zinn, 2003). This left many people prone to pneumonia and other cold-related illnesses. The conditions in the farm were deplorable. The houses were tar paper-covered and had no plumbing and cooking facilities. Though these structures met international laws, they left a lot to be desired since they were built like barracks and not fit for families.

Psychological torture affected all the internees. It was by the director in WRA camps that most Japanese Americans were depressed and overcome by hopelessness and personal insecurity (Zinn, 2003). Most of the Japanese children had to leave school after relocation. No schools were set up in the internment camps, therefore parents had to ask for vacancies in nearby schools that were willing to take their children. At the same time, most of the internees were not compensated for their property loss after the internment. The “American Japanese claims act” that was passed on July 2, 1948, allowed Japanese Americans’ to seek formal reparation but they had to produce their tax records. Due to the hurry that most of the internees had left with, they had not taken their tax records with them. Since most of their property was destroyed during this time, it was difficult for them to trace their tax records. The government had gone further to delete the tax records for the years between 1939 and 1942. This made it very difficult for the internees to get evidence to support their claims and therefore most of them were not compensated.

The US government has faced sharp criticism for interning Japanese Americans from the global community. It has had to pay compensation to the tune of $1.6b to the internees or their next of kin. The government has had to issue apologies to the Japanese-American community for violating their rights though they were American citizens. In 1976, President Gerald Ford said that the internment was wrong (Hiraoka & Masugi, 1994). In 1983, a report called “Personal Justice Denied” was produced and its aim was to censure internment asserting that it was based on racial prejudice as opposed to imminent danger of a military nature. In 1992, George H. W. Bush released an additional formal admission of guilt to the Japan Americans. The descendants of the internees are still seeking justice and the whole world is watching how adequately they are going to be compensated. It is therefore clear that internment camps had more disadvantages than advantageous not only to the internees but also to the country at large.

Work Cited

Burgan, Michael. The Japanese American internment: civil liberties denied. Minneapolis, MN: Compass Point Books, 2007. Print.

Hanel, Rachael. The Japanese American internment: an interactive history adventure. Mankato, MN: Capstone Press, 2008. Print.

Hiraoka, Leona and Masugi, Ken. Japanese-American internment: the Bill of Rights in crisis. Amawalk, NY: Golden Owl Pub. Co., 1994. Print.

Zinn, Howard. A people’s history of the United States: 1492-present. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2003.

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