Can the Japanese-Internment be applied to the post-9/11 discrimination?

Archive for February, 2012

Random Haiku

Home has disappeared,

I stare out beyond the fence,

The dust fills my eyes.


Toyo Miyatake

Boys behind wire

Miyatake's best known photo of three boys looking through barbed-wire camp fence

Though when reviewing photography that was taken of the internment, the authors are largely Dorothea Lange and Ansel Adams’, there is a series that cannot be overlooked. Toyo Miyatake was a man who migrated from Japan to Los Angeles when he was 13 to join his father. At only 27, he bought a photography studio and began receiving awards for his work. When WWII started he was interned and smuggled a camera lens into the camp and made a camera body from wood. He spent 9 months secretly photographing the true plight of the Japanese Internee. When he was first found out he had his camera taken away, but they slowly allowed him to photograph again, first with a WRA “assistant.” He made over 1000 exposures during his time there and was celebrated upon his release. What I find particularly striking about this man’s story is that he put his safety at risk to capture his experience. The government hired photographers were forbidden to include the barbed wire and the guard tours in their photos, as you can see Miyatake was able to in the above picture. While Lange and Adams were given instructions about what type of sentiment to convey, Miyatake has a unique, vital perspective. He felt compelled to represent his and his family’s living conditions in an artistic way. This is evident in the staging of the photograph- the camera on one side and the boys on the other indicates that they were told to pose as such, and several different versions were taken. Instead of detracting from the meaning of the photo, I find it adds to it. It shows the viewer that Miyatake and the boys comprehended the imprisonment they were in and recognized their emotions of longing for home. They were asked to contrive this scene, but they were able to do so. Miyatake labored to capture the camp’s narrative in a compelling, encompassing fashion. While this is art, this is also a medium of history (Matsumoto).

Children’s Interment Poetry


My heart is proud,
My soul is glorious and free.
You, young Nisei, are fighting for
our lives, our country, future,
and everything we stand for.

We are right behind you.
You are proving that we are loyal
in Italy and wherever you go.
You will come back victorious and free,
and we will be waiting for you
in this land of liberty.

Yukio Ota

Be Like the Cactus

Let not harsh tongues, that wag
in vain,
Discourage you. In spite of
Be like the cactus, which through
And storm, and thunder, can
remain.Kimii Nagata

My Plea

Oh God, I pray that I may bear a cross
To set my people free,
That I may help to take good-will across
An understanding sea.

Oh, God, I pray that someday every race
May stand on equal plane
And prejudice will find no dwelling place
In a peace that all may gain.

Mary Matsuzawa

These poems were written by children that were in the Japanese Internment camps. I find their use of language to be astounding, though I am not sure how old one is classifying a child in this source. The first poem is incredible in that it invokes upon the Nisei (Japanese children who are born in the new country- second generation,) to fight for US freedom. The writer is emphatic in expressing loyalty to a country that has her/him imprisoned. One of the reasons that we chose the banner for this page was to express the same irony- that those who were interned did not generally waver in their faith of The United States. They pledged their allegiance to a country that denied them basic liberties. The poem is is simplistic but its spirit is mature. The second poem is less enthusiastic but still does not offer resistance to the child’s situation. The use of a cactus that stands still in the desert is emblematic of the large Japanese sentiment. It is an object that is in a arid, desolate place (symbolic to the camps’ locations) that survives not by acting, but by standing. It is beautiful in its simplicity as an image, but complex in its implication that if one holds their head high they will weather any challenges. The last poem is the most divergent of the poetry that I have read. It actually has a narrator that wants to act to move forward. The use of religion is interesting here because it emphasizes that there was at least some faith in a higher power’s intervention. What results is a wish for equality. These poems combined convey that the children understood that they were facing hardship, but this did not create a hate or a rebellious desire. The feelings were largely a desire to just be treated as equals (Friedler, “Children”).

Tojo Suyemoto Kawakami Internment Poetry

Barracks Home

This is our barracks, squatting on the ground,
Tar papered shacks, partitioned into rooms
By sheetrock walls, transmitting every sound
Of neighbor’s gossip or the sweep of brooms
The open door welcomes the refugees,
And now at least there is no need to roam
Afar: here space enlarges memories
Beyond the bounds of camp and this new home.
The floor is carpeted with dust, wind-borne
Dry alkalai, patterned with insect feet,
What peace can such a place as this impart?
We can but sense, bewildered and forlorn,
That time, disrupted by the war from neat
Routines, must now adjust within the heart.

Tojo Suyemoto Kawakami

Tapaz, Utah

The desert must have claimed its own
Now that the wayfarers are gone,
And silence has replaced voices
Except for intermittent noises,
Like windy footsteps through the dust,
Or gliding of a snake that must
Escape the sun or sage rustling,
Or soft brush or a quickened wrong
Against the air, -Stillness is change
For this abandoned place, where strange
and foreign tongues had routed peace
Until the refugee’s release
Restored calm to the wilderness,
And prairie dogs no longer fear
When shadows shift and disappear
The crows fly straight through setting dusk,
The desert like an empty husk
Holding the small swift sounds that run
To cover when the day is done.

Tojo Suyemoto Kawakami

Camp Memories

I have dredged up
Hard fragments lost
I thought in years
Of whirlwind dust.

Exposed to light,
Silently rough
And broken shards
Confront belief.

Tojo Suyemoto Kawakami

The author of these poems is Tojo Suyemoto Kawakami, though it is unclear through various sources if her first name was actually Toyo. She was an adult woman with a husband and a son when she was interned in Central Utah Relocation Center (Topaz) for three years. Of particular interest to me, is the masters degree in library sciences she earned at the University of Michigan after she left the camp. She eventually went to work at the Ohio State University of Libraries for 21 years and left as an Associate Professor.  The above are three poems that she wrote during her time in the Topaz internment camp.

The first is particularly striking in its emotional contemplation of home. There is no sense of being able to return to the life that she had. The imagery of the barracks conveys the desolate qualities of the people living conditions and the particular use of “dust” really impresses that it is not in their capacity to satisfactorily fix their abode. One can not simply work to improve their surroundings, it is their inherent condition that will render them incapable of being made comfortable. It is about adjusting rather than working, protesting, or fighting the lot given. The second poem echos the sentiment of the vapid, barbaric atmosphere. The rhyme scheme in the poem is essential to note, because it means that the poem was originally written in English and therefore can be looked at more critically in terms of syntax and precise word meaning. In this poem she continues her employment of “refugees” which is shocking as it implies by definition the choice to flee. Instead of using captives or prisoners, she confers a sense of decision upon herself and the people in the camps. The last poem continues to emphasize the dust. It is a powerful image, because again, it is something that seeps through cracks and is moved by the wind. They cannot shield themselves against it because they are not even given that basic of a shelter. I thought the last poem was important because it ends with the word belief and it does not illuminate what was being questioned. It leaves the reader questioning what she held true before she entered the camp (Friedler, “Adult”).

Executive Order 9066


February 19, 1942   

Whereas, the successful prosecution of the war requires every possible protection against espionage and against sabotage to national-defense material, national-defense premises and national defense utilities as defined in Section 4, Act of April 20, 1918, 40 Stat. 533, as amended by the Act of November 30, 1940, 54 Stat. 1220. and the Act of August 21, 1941, 55 Stat. 655 (U.S.C.01 Title 50, Sec. 104):

Now therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me as President of the United States, and Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, I hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of War, and the Military Commanders whom he may from time to time designate, whenever he or any designated Commander deems such action to be necessary or desirable, to prescribe military areas in such places and of such extent as he or the appropriate Military Commander may determine, from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any persons to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restriction the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion.

The Secretary of War is hereby authorized to provide for residents of any such area who are excluded therefrom, such transportation, food, shelter, and other accommodations as may be necessary, in the judgment of the Secretary of War or the said Military Commander, and until other arrangements are made, to accomplish the purpose of this order. The designation of military areas in any region or locality shall supersede designations of prohibited and restricted areas by the Attorney General under the Proclamation of December 7 and 8, 1941, and shall supercede the responsibility and authority of the Attorney General under the said Proclamations in respect of such prohibited and restricted areas.

I hereby further authorize and direct the Secretary of War and the said Military Commanders to take such other steps as he or the appropriate Military Commander may deem advisable to enforce compliance with the restrictions applicable to each military area herein above authorized to be designated, including the use of Federal troops and other Federal Agencies, with authority to accept assistance of state and local agencies.

I hereby further authorize and direct all Executive Departments, independent establishments and other Federal Agencies, to assist the Secretary of War or the said Military Commanders in carrying out this Executive Order, including the furnishing of medical aid, hospitalization, food, clothing, transportation, use of land, shelter, and other supplies, equipment, utilities, facilities and services.

This order shall not be construed as modifying or limiting in any way the authority heretofore granted under Executive Order No. 8972, dated December 12, 1941, nor shall it be construed as limiting or modifying the duty and responsibility of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with respect to the investigations of alleged acts of sabotage or the duty and responsibility of the Attorney General and the Department of Justice under the Proclamations of December 7 and 8, 1941, prescribing regulations for the conduct and control of alien enemies, except as such duty and responsibility is superseded by the designation of military areas hereunder.


Franklin D. Roosevelt 
The White House

February 19, 1942   

Timeline of Japanese Internment

August 18, 1941 
In a letter to President Roosevelt, Representative John Dingell of Michigan suggests incarcerating 10,000 Hawaiian Japanese Americans as hostages to ensure “good behavior” on the part of Japan.

December 7, 1941 
The attack on Pearl Harbor. Local authorities and the F.B.I. begin to round up the leadership of the Japanese American communities. Within 48 hours, 1,291 are in custody. These men are held under no formal charges and family members are forbidden from seeing them. Most would spend the war years in enemy alien internment camps run by the Justice Department.

February 19, 1942 
President Roosevelt signs Executive Order 9066 which allows military authorities to exclude anyone from anywhere without trial or hearings. Though the subject of only limited interest at the time, this order set the stage for the entire forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans.

February 27, 1942 Idaho Governor Chase Clark tells a congressional committee in Seattle that Japanese would be welcome in Idaho only if they were in “concentration camps under military guard.” Some credit Clark with the conception of what was to become a true scenario.

March 2, 1942
 Gen. John L. DeWitt issues Public Proclamation No. 1 which creates Military Areas Nos. 1 and 2. Military Area No. 1 includes the western portion of California, Oregon and Washington, and part of Arizona while Military Area No. 2 includes the rest of these states. The proclamation also hints that people might be excluded from Military Area No. 1.

March 18, 1942
 The president signs Executive Order 9102 establishing the War Relocation Authority (WRA) with Milton Eisenhower as director. It is allocated $5.5 million.

March 24, 1942
 The first Civilian Exclusion Order issued by the Army is issued for the Bainbridge Island area near Seattle. The forty-five families there are given one week to prepare. By the end of October, 108 exclusion orders would be issued, and all Japanese Americans in Military Area No. 1 and the California portion of No. 2 would be incarcerated.

May 13, 1942
 Forty-five-year-old Ichiro Shimoda, a Los Angeles gardener, is shot to death by guards while trying to escape from Fort Still (Oklahoma) internment camp. The victim was seriously mentally ill, having attempted suicide twice since being picked up on December 7. He is shot despite the guards’ knowledge of his mental state.

May 16, 1942
 Hikoji Takeuchi, a Nisei, is shot by a guard at Manzanar. The guard claims that he shouted at Takeuchi and that Takeuchi began to run away from him. Takeuchi claims he was collecting scrap lumber and didn’t hear the guard shout. His wounds indicate that he was shot in the front. Though seriously injured, he eventually recovered.

June 1942
 The movie “Little Tokyo, U.S.A.” is released by Twentieth Century Fox. In it, the Japanese American community is portrayed as a “vast army of volunteer spies” and “blind worshippers of their Emperor, ” as described in the film’s voice-over prologue.

June 17, 1942
 Milton Eisenhower resigns as WRA director. Dillon Myer is appointed to replace him.

August 10, 1942 The first inmates arrive at Minidoka, Idaho.

August 12, 1942 The first 292 inmates arrive at Heart Mountain, Wyoming.

August 27, 1942 The first inmates arrive at Granada, or Amache, Colorado.

September 11, 1942 The first inmates arrive at Central Utah, or Topaz.

September 18, 1942 The first inmates arrive at Rohwer, Arkansas.

October 20, 1942
 President Roosevelt calls the “relocation centers” “concentration camps” at a press conference. The WRA had consistently denied that the term “concentration camps” accurately described the camps.

November 14, 1942 
An attack on a man widely perceived as an informer results in the arrest of two popular inmates at Poston. This incident soon mushrooms into a mass strike.

December 10, 1942 
The WRA establishes a prison at Moab, Utah for recalcitrant inmates.

February 1, 1943 
The 442nd Regimental Combat Team is activated, made up entirely of Japanese Americans.

April 11, 1943 
James Hatsuki Wakasa, a sixty-three-year-old chef, is shot to death by a sentry at Heart Mountain camp while allegedly trying to escape through a fence. It is later determined that Wakasa had been inside the fence and facing the sentry when shot. The sentry would stand a general court-martial on April 28 at Fort Douglas, Utah and be found “not guilty.”

April 13, 1943
 “A Jap’s a Jap. There is no way to determine their loyalty.. This coast is too vulnerable. No Jap should come back to this coast except on a permit from my office.” Gereral John L. DeWitt, head, Western Defense Command; before the House Naval Affairs Subcommittee.

September 13, 1943
 The realignment of Tule Lake as a camp for “dissenters” begins. After the loyalty questionnaire episode, “loyal” internees begin to depart to other camps. Five days later, “disloyal” internees from other camps begin to arrive at Tule Lake.

 March 20, 1944
 Forty-three Japanese American soldiers are arrested for refusing to participate in combat training at Fort McClellan, Alabama, as a protest of treatment of their families in U.S. camps. Eventually, 106 are arrested for their refusal. Twenty-one are convicted and serve prison time before being paroled in 1946.

June 30, 1944
 Jerome becomes the first camp to close when the last inmates are transferred to Rohwer. 

October 27-30, 1944
 The 442nd Regimental Combat Team rescues an American battalion which had been cut off and surrounded by the enemy. Eight hundred casualties are suffered by the 442nd to rescue 211 men. After this rescue, the 442nd is ordered to keep advancing in the forest; they would push ahead without relief or rest until November 9.

January 2, 1945
 Restrictions preventing resettlement on the West Coast are removed, although many exceptions continue to exist. A few carefully screened Japanese Americans had returned to the coast in late 1944.

May 7, 1945
 The surrender of Germany ends the war in Europe.

August 6, 1945
 The atomic bomb is dropped on Hiroshima. Three days later, a second bomb is dropped on Nagasaki. The war in the Pacific would end on August 14.

March 20, 1946
 Tule Lake closes, culminating “an incrediblle mass evacuation in reverse.” In the month prior to the closing, some 5,000 internees had to be moved, many of whom were elderly, impoverished, or mentally ill and with no place to go.

July 15, 1946
 The 442nd Regimental Combat Team is received on the White House lawn by President Truman. “You fought not only the enemy but you fought prejudice — and you have won,” remarks the president.

July 2, 1948
 President Truman signs the Japanese American Evacuation Claims Act, a measure to compensate Japanese Americans for certain economic losses attributable to their forced evacuation. Although some $28 million was to be paid out through provision of the act, it would be largely ineffective even on the limited scope in which it operated.

July 10, 1970
 A resolution is announced by the Japanese American Citizen League’s Northern California-Western Nevada District Council calling for reparations for the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans. This resolution would have the JACL seek a bill in Congress awarding individual compensation on a per diem basis, tax-free.

July 14, 1981
 The Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) holds a public hearing in Washington, D.C. as part of its investigation into the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Similar hearings would be held in many other cities throughout the rest of 1981. The emotional testimony by more than 750 Japanese American witnesses about their wartime experiences would prove cathartic for the community and a turning point in the redress movement.

June 16, 1983
 The CWRIC issues its formal recommendations to Congress concerning redress for Japanese Americans interned during World War II. They include the call for individual payments of $20,000 to each of those who spent time in the concentration camps and are still alive.

August 10, 1988
 H.R. 442 is signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. It provides for individual payments of $20,000 to each surviving internee and a $1.25 billion education fund among other provisions.

October 9, 1990
 The first nine redress payments are made at a Washington, D.C. ceremony. One-hundred-seven-year-old Rev. Mamoru Eto of Los Angeles is the first to receive his check.