Japanese Internment, 1942

With its combative attitudes towards Muslims and refuges, America mislearns from her young history. 

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As America debates over accepting Syrian refuges, opposing voices have grown louder in recent weeks. A politician was quoted as wistfully referring back to the internment of Japanese Americans. Joining that fray more recently was Donald Trump, a boorish tycoon who was improbably a front-runner for Republican nomination, who wants to ban all Muslims from the US. The Congress overwhelmingly passed a law rolling back visa-waivers to foreigners who have visited troubled Middle-Eastern spots.

As lights of tolerance slowly dimmed across the country, it is instructive to look back at the Japanese-American internment itself, now considered a dark chapter in the country’s history. Then though, in the wake of Pearl Harbour, politicians were enthusiastic to herd off Japanese Americans to internment camps. Creeping terror was unmistakable: firstly, only those who were in sensitive areas (military bases, strategic sites) were relocated, but eventually 120,000 Japanese Americans altogether were removed from their homes. Their property was confiscated, and in a thoroughly capitalist form of state violence, trademarks, copyrights, and patents they held were stripped off.

Terror was all the greater for full support it received. Sons and Daughters of the Golden West, an organisation of Californian elites who were descended from the original settlers of the state, supported it, as did the state’s Attorney General Earl Warren, later to be a liberal Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  American Legion was in favour, as were businessmen who viewed it as easy ways to get rid of their competitors. The media, which broadly endorsed the camps, covered them as if the Japanese Americans have been shipped off to a picnic. In an April 1942 article tellingly titled “Coast Japs Are Interned in Mountain Camp,” Life magazine used the term “concentration camp” but described the internees as “enchanted by scenic surroundings”.

Authorities also perpetuated this atmosphere by not allowing photographers to take pictures of the camps’ barbed wires or guard towers. All the photos also had to be approved by the War Relocation Authority, the body responsible for the internment. Only in the 1970s and the 1980s did reassessment of camps (via photographs taken by Dorothea Lange, Ansel Adams and Life’s Carl Mydans) take place. Adams did capture some barbed wires in his sprawling vistas of the camp, but he himself viewed the camps as basically harmless: “the acrid splendor of the desert, ringed with towering mountains, has strengthened the spirit of the [internees],” he wrote.

As such one of the most iconic photos of the internment was taken in March 1942, when Fumiko Hayashida became one of the first Japanese American to be relocated. In the photo, 31-year old Hayashida holds her sleeping 10-month-old daughter, Natalie, while waiting to board a ferry from Bainbridge Island, Washington State which would take her to the internment camps. The photo was printed in The Seattle Post Intelligencer, one of the few papers which gave space to anti-internment editorials, but Hayashida wasn’t named. She was only as “Mystery Lady” until the 1990s, when the Smithsonian Institution tracked her down. {She died only last year}.

The internment lasted until December 1944, when the Supreme Court ruled that the internment had been unconstitutional. However, the Court however ruled that evictions had been legal. Bitter atmosphere surrounded the court before and after the rulings with many a legal mind proposing an amendment to the United States constitution which would revoke the American citizenship of all Japanese to make internment constitutional. Internees who returned home were harassed and even killed. A formal apology was not issued until 1988.

31 thoughts on “Japanese Internment, 1942

  1. My Dear Komrades,

    Comparing This to the current situation is like comparing Apples to Oranges…both are fruit, true but vastly different. Muslims need to be banned from farther immigration until we can figure out a way to screen out the bad apples (Or oranges).

    I’m not at all surprised at how some people fail to see the precarious situation that we are in. We are dealing with a generational (Since Biblical times) hatred for us (Jews and Christians) that qualifies as insanity. Try to deal with this situation as if we are dealing with juvenile delinquents and we are going to lose. I’m not sayin that we need to kick out the ones that are already here…lets just close the tap on the ones that want to come here until we get our Intel people up to speed. Now that’s both fair and prudent.

    Your Obt. Svt.
    Col Korn,
    Chief O’ Mayhem in the Great WW-2 (And the Cold War)
    Now Chief O’ Security, Sanitation (And the Complaint Dept.)
    OXOjamm Studios.

    • with all due respect i would like to point out to u that muslims christians jews and whatever brand u give are people none are “rotten/ bad” as u point out in ur comment situtations make them….. and as far as people displaced searching for refuge is concerned…. stop making wars up, failed foreign policies of the so called world super powers, oil wars …….. and “Muslims” is not a country nor is it an ethinicity so be careful when u generalize…. certain countries are at war…. get Information right first..

  2. Great post. The only thing I would say is that most Americans are DISGUSTED with Trump’s comments and don’t agree with his racist, xenophobic calls. He will never win. We won’t let him.

  3. How arrogant, self-absorbed, and self-righteous to piously whine that ‘most americans’ – which is really just the small group of liberal friends you have. Did you know that recent polls have shown that MAJORITY of Americans, of a variety of races, Agree with Trump. (Who is misquoted as wanting to ‘ban all muslims from USA’) I really have loved the iconic photos website over the past few years. However, I didn’t appreciate the unnecessary left-wing jabs at Trump. I will miss seeing the updates and photos. Buh-bye.

  4. While it’s an expedient Prog talking point if you’re going to twist the truth at least get your facts straight. Syrian refugees have nothing in common with Japanese interment victims. The Japanese were American citizens who FDR imprisoned with zero due process. Those knocking on the door from Syria do not remotely have the same circumstances. The US is totally withing their rights to do as they please with non-citizens wanting to immigrate.

    • Exactly…the writer of this article is quite honestly completely ignorant about the differences in WW 2 and Islam that we are facing today!! Shocking stupidity and look at how many stunned people on this thread are applauding her/his stupid moral relativism……

  5. Terribly stupid moral relativism….does the person who wrote this article know anything about Islam’s bloody 1400 year history?? Do they know anything about Muhammed’s brutal teachings? Have they ever talked to those legions of growing ex muslims out there that are trying to warn the western world about the dangers of Islam in our midst? You modern leftists are absolutely deranged and ignorant…..how dare you try to lie about the dangers that we are facing from Islam…just because we were wrong about WW 2 and the Japanese, does not make it so this time

  6. Trump doesn`t want to ban all Muslims from USA. Thats untrue. He wanted to issue a temporary ban. There was even a group named Muslims for Trump who supported his election. As much someone dislikes him there is no need to invent things.

  7. As can be expected from a blog in the 2010s, this article features a predictable smattering of anti-Trump , anti-capitalist, and anti-American talking points. America is a morally bankrupt cesspool of racism, misogyny etc. and the only solution is to flood the country with as many foreigners as possible to dilute the American identity to the point of meaninglessness. Heard it before, thanks.

    Yet for all the teeth-sucking and head-shaking the author seems to conveniently forget that big-bad White America didn’t just wake up and arbitrarily decide to be extra racist that day. The events the precipitated Japanese Internment was the calculated sneak-attack that murdered of more than 3,000 Americans, only after which the Japanese Empire declared war on the USA for no other reason than to prevent her interference in Japan’s colonization of Southeast Asia. The same Japanese Empire, I remind you, that ethnically cleansed Koreans and Manchus in an attempt to literally erase their ancient cultures and supplant them with Japanese culture; who enslaved millions of men, working between 200,000 and 815,000 to death in a span of 5 years, and hundreds of thousands of Korean women as sex slaves; who were responsible for some of the most abhorrent war crimes of the 20th century, including live human experimentation on captured American soldiers, competitions to behead 100 Chinese as fast as possible, and other acts of sheer barbarity.

    If you travel to San Diego, California, and visit the naval gun emplacement overlooking Coronado Island, you will see how hastily-made and unprepared our defenses were against the third strongest military force on the planet at that time. Though hindsight allows us to forget that uncertainty, at the time a Japanese invasion of the American West Coast was a very real threat. And it is not beyond imagination to believe that some 1st and 2nd generation Japanese living in America might feel sympathetic to their motherland, and be tempted to provide critical pieces of intelligence to an enemy how was looking for anyway to shatter the American Pacific Fleet, such as troop movements, shipments of fuel and equipment, and so forth.

    Also note that at the end of the war, this internment was stopped, and Japanese Americans are now one of the highest-performing ethnic groups in America, occupying positions in Congress, consistently scoring best or near-best academic results, out-earning most other ethnic groups including some ethnic Europeans, and enjoying a exceedingly low crime and incarceration rate. Hardly the fate of a systematically oppressed peoples, wouldn’t you say?

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