Japanese Internment

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Social Studies
World War II

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Japanese Internment


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This musical selection is entitled Cold Heaven. It represents the conditionsof the Japanese InternmentCamps because it is reflectiveof how the residents felt, in thesense that there seemed to beno chance of salvation.

LIVING CONDITIONS: One of the most abysmal aspects of the internment experience was the housing or living conditions. American citizens of Japanese descent and Japanese aliens alike were sent to an assortment of concentration camps, all patterned on military facilities. The living quarters were often hastily built with tarpaper walls and no amenities. It was especially hot in the summertime and terribly cold in the winter, and the conditions did not meet minimal standards for military housing. It was noted that prisoners in federal penitentiaries were better housed. In one instance, the winter brought about worse conditions, such as wet hair becoming frozen or fingers that stuck to the metal doorknobs that opened up to the barracks. Another characteristic of the internment camps was the lack of privacy. There were incomplete partitions of the latrine stalls and in some cases, just sheets dividing one family’s living space from another. The families could hear each other talk, argue, cry, snore, etc. Worse than that, the sewage systems were poor and the stench was reported to be revolting. This was a common feature in many of the internment camps (Jones). At the Tanforan Racetrack camp in California, people were forced to live in 9 x 20 foot horse stalls littered with manure. These quarters had no ceilings, were surrounded with army style barracks, and the mattresses were cloth sacks filled with hay. The nearest bathroom was a long walk away from the stalls and residents had to stand in lengthy lines to wait for toilets, laundry, and food. There were, however, Sears catalogs for clothing that people could order from with the little money they possessed. At another internment camp in Topaz, California, the quarters were 20 x 24 foot areas, much cleaner than the Tanforan shelters. Topaz was located in a desert location where it was very hot and windy with little shade. In each section of the camp, there was one light bulb hanging from the ceiling and a pot-bellied corner stove. Communal bathrooms were available with six toilets and no doors, and there were no chairs or tables. Whichever camp a Japanese person might have been staying at, there were no doubt guards also patrolling the area. These military sentries watched from towers over the camp and shot anyone who wandered outside the fence of the barracks. Each internment camp had its own unique qualities in relation to the living conditions for the Japanese residents, though they were atrocious no matter which area it was located (Carnes 97-98).ACTIVITIES: During the time of their internment, the Japanese Americans and aliens found activities to do and things to keep themselves busy, as well as try to live as much of a normal life as possible. While staying in the camps, the residents formed civil associations, religious observances, Boy Scout troops, Parent/Teacher Associations, dances, small theatre companies, and athletic competitions. Common hobbies for the residents were ping-pong, badminton, cards, basketball, tennis, golf, football, and baseball. Each camp functioned as a school district, teaching first grade through high school, with white teachers and administrators as well as a few qualified residents. The schools were not properly supplied though. There was a lack of appropriate books and teaching materials for reading, writing, and arithmetic, and typing classes with no typewriters. Art classes were conducted using any materials they could find (Jones). Many people crafted furniture out of materials found in construction sites. Some adults were encouraged to work in the camp, operating farms, carpentry, roofing, sponsoring self-help programs, working as dieticians, or reservoir crews. The internment camp administration offices also employed residents. An agricultural worker could make $12 a month for 48-hour weeks, while a physician, dentist, or other professional worker made $19 a month, with fluctuating hours. Though the Japanese internment was an awful experience in itself, the residents of the camps did all they could do in the attempts to lead ordinary lives (Carnes 99).

The Best I Never Had: Japanese Internment

FOOD: Other than the inexcusable housing, the Japanese populace was degraded in what they ate too. It was an unsuitable diet for anyone, though some meals were better than others were. In some internment camps, the food was particularly undesirable. Residents were fed beef brains, tongues, kidneys, livers, and chitterlings of various animals (Jones). Other servings included over boiled Swiss chard, discolored cold cuts, and moldy bread. In desert camps, it was reported that there was always sand in the food. Citizens eventually got used to eating the grains of sand in their meals. The best food a person could get in these conditions was rice, macaroni, and potato for dinner. A majority of the meals hardly seemed edible, yet this is what the residents had to survive on for years (Carnes 99).

'“I’m for catching every Japanese in America, Alaska, and Hawaii now and putting them in concentration camps… Damn them! Let’s get rid of them now.”- Congressman John Rankin, 12/15/1941. Ethnic tensions were high after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. People of Asian descent had often been discriminated against in the United States but combined with the notion of Japanese treachery and racist wartime propaganda, the American mindset was a recipe for disaster. Any American citizen with Japanese ancestry had to be officially registered as such (Jones).The San Francisco school board had isolated all Japanese, Chinese, and Korean children into a separate Oriental school by 1906, which would only be reserved under the conditions that Japan agreed to only allow professional of certain trades emigrate to the United States. In 1913, a law was passed which denied anyone who was not eligible to become a U.S. citizen the right to own American land. However, the federal Naturalization Act of 1790 stated that only white immigrants were permitted to become naturalized citizens, excluding Asians. In February of 1942, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 (E.O. 9066), dividing the West Coast into military areas from which groups of individuals were limited in where they could go and what activities they could do. When Colonel Karl R. Bendetsen was appointed as director of the Wartime Civil Control Administration (WCCA), he ordered the supervised removal of all Japanese Americans from the areas that were not monitored within the West Coast. About a week later, Roosevelt signed Public Law 503, which made violation of military orders under E.O. 9066 a federal offense. In the days that followed, Exclusion Order Number 1 ordered any and all people of Japanese heritage to be removed from Bainbridge Island, Seattle, Washington. The WCCA then divided the West Coast into a total of 108 exclusion areas, with roughly 1000 Japanese citizens in each. These residents were instructed to report to a central point in their neighborhoods so that they could be evacuated to an “approved destination”. The occupants were only allowed to take the possessions they could carry with them along for departure, and most citizens ended up selling their other assets and properties for extremely low prices in order to attempt to make a profit before they left. The average worth of the properties that were sold was at a $1.3 billion loss. It was leaving day by May 9th, 1942 and the living situations of the Japanese citizens before this day would never compare to the conditions of the internment camps (Jones).

On December 17th, 1944, Public Proclamation Number 21 ended the imprisonment of the abused Japanese citizens. In an attempt to compensate for the years of cruelty and discrimination, each individual received a $25 payment, as well as transportation tickets at the time of their release. Upon leaving the camps, many people discovered that their pre-internment homes and communities had vanished. This lead to a post-war housing shortage, stiff competition for jobs with returning veterans, and the inevitable lingering bigotry of Japanese Americans across the country. There were some occasions in which West Coast communities tried to welcome their old neighbors home, though it was more often than not that others had threatened and vandalized the areas that the Japanese were staying in (Jones). Granting that the U.S. government did try to atone for the prolonged brutality against the Japanese internment residents, prejudice had never completely left the average American mind, and still remains in some people today. A hasty clean-up after the concentration of the Japanese did little to remove the blemish of mistreatment that stains the American dream now, and forever.

The beating wings across the title are a symbolic representation of how the Japanese residents of the internment camps were stripped of their basic rights and freedoms, in a sense that "their wings were clipped". The wings are in flight now because the Japanese men and women today are free of these cruel and degrading treatments.


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