Friday, March 19, 2010

Internment 101

A recent action of the Texas Board of Education gives me an opportunity to discuss a topic that confuses some people.

On March 12, 2010, the Texas Board of Education approved a social studies curriculum stressing that Germans and Italians as well as Japanese were interned in the United States during World War II, to counter the idea that the internment of Japanese was motivated by racism.

It is true that approximately 12,000 Germans, 3,000 Italians and 17,000 Japanese were interned. These individuals were predominantly foreign nationals who were suspected of being potentially subversive and detained under the Alien Enemies Act of 1918. While there were no doubt miscarriages of justice, there was a legal precedent for arresting “enemy aliens.”

The important historical and civics point the Texas Board of Education misses is that an additional 110,000 individuals of Japanese ancestry, two-thirds of them U.S. citizens, were placed in concentration camps without any hearings. This incarceration happened under military orders that were authorized by President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 and did not affect German Americans or Italian Americans.

Today, confusion happens because the government action under EO 9066 is also often labeled “internment.” Technically, “internment” should be used for the individuals detained under the Alien Enemies Act. At Densho we use the term Japanese American “incarceration” for individuals put into concentration camps under EO 9066.

Anti-Japanese racism existed before and during World War II, and can easily be detected in government newsreels and propaganda posters. How racism played a role in the removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans can be seen in the words of Lt. General John DeWitt, a key player.

General DeWitt, in charge of the Western Defense Command, recommended that the president sign Executive Order 9066 for reasons of military necessity. After it was signed, DeWitt designated the west coast as an Exclusion Zone and ordered the mass removal and incarceration of all people of Japanese ancestry. During testimony to Congress, General DeWitt stated:

A Jap’s a Jap…There is no way to determine their loyalty…It makes no difference whether he is an American citizen; theoretically he is still a Japanese and you can’t change him.

To Secretary of War Henry Stimson, DeWitt stated:

The Japanese race is an enemy race and while many second and third generation Japanese born on United States soil, possessed of United States citizenship, have become “Americanized,” the racial strains are undiluted.

Many years after World War II, classified documents about what the government knew became available. In the 1980s, a U.S. congressional commission uncovered evidence from the 1940s proving that there had been no military necessity for the unequal, unjust treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II. The commission reported that the causes of the incarceration were rooted in “race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership."

Acting upon the recommendations of the commission, Congress passed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, and President Ronald Reagan signed it into law. This law required payment and apology to survivors of the incarceration caused by Executive Order 9066.

It is pretty common when I am speaking for someone to raise the point that Germans and Italians were also interned. It is during these times I get the opportunity to explain the differences between enemy alien internment and Japanese American incarceration.

Tom Ikeda
Executive Director, Densho


Ursula said...

Dear Tom Ikeda---
Thank you for your succinct explanation of "internment" as compared to "incarceration". I agree that the mass incarceration of Japanese/American citizens under Executive Order 9066 was unprecedented as far as human rights violations in the U.S. However, you are wrong when you state that no German/Americans or Italian Americans were affected by this. Japanese were incarcerated enmasse under 9066, but there were also individual exclusions issued to cover German & Italian American citizens. This category of citizens was asked to relocate, causing great hardship to many families. How many people this actually affected is not specifically known---as are many such facts dating from this time and having to do with this subject.
Also, you seem to dismiss as probably OK the internment of "foreign nationals" under The Alien Enemies Act of 1918. The hearings you mention were conducted "unconstitutionally" with no legal counsel afforded the detainee and no discovery giving the detainee the opportunity to face accusers and answer any accusations.
Additionally, you fail to mention the ethnic Japanese and Germans who were kidnapped from their homes in South America and brought here for "internment" with NO hearings at all afforded to them.
Yes, the incarceration of thousands of Japanese-Americans was a terrible miscarriage of justice, but so was the internment of thousands of Japanese, Germans, and Italians, whom you call enemy aliens, almost all of whom were legal residents of the U.S. and posed no threat to the security of this country.
Ursula Potter

Tom Ikeda said...

Dear Ursula,

Thank you for the insightful response. My blog post was primarily in response to the Texas Board of Education stressing that racism was not part of the decision to incarcerate Japanese Americans under EO 9066.

I totally agree with you that the internment process also had its injustices. The criteria most widely used during this time was guilt by association, and not guilt through evidence or action.

What I wanted to do in my blog post was to distinguish between the internment process from what I call the Japanese American incarceration process which was a mass removal based solely on race.

I am interested in information you have about the individual exclusions of German and Italian Americans. Were these military orders made possible under EO 9066?

Tom Ikeda

Ken Mortlnad said...

Tom: Well written posting. I, too, am concerned about the new "social studies" content passed by the Texas Board. I'm waiting to see a more comprehensive document, as the one available on the internet from the Texas Board of Education is the set of expectations that will be set aside, when these new expectations are approved. If you know of an internet source that would allow me to see the proposed language in its entirety, please let me know.

Patricia said...

Hi Ken,

According to this press release, the proposed changes to the social studies curriculum will be posted to the Texas school board website by mid-April:

Patricia Kiyono

Ursula said...

Hi Tom---
Briefly, here is some of what I know about ethnic German and Italian exclusions as mandated by 9066.
Unlike the West Coast Japanese group exclusion, hearings were required for individual exclusions. These hearings were similar to internment hearings in that there was very limited due process. The government was particularly suspicious of naturalized citizens of enemy ethnicity and since citizens were not supposed to be interned, the military threatened those deemed dangerous with exclusion. If an exclusion order was issued after a hearing, excludees were given very little time to move, causing great emotional and economic distress and even the break-up of some families. Added to this, FBI agents followed them to new communities. Police as well as potential new employers were advised that these were "dangerous people", so finding or keeping a job was almost impossible.
We know for sure that several hundred exclusion orders were issued, but, here again, this is such "foggy history" that the actual number of ethnic Germans and Italians affected by 9066 is obscure.

Mitsu said...

Dear Tom,

The Texas Board of Education misses the most important social studies lesson when they deny that racism played a part in the mass removal of persons of Japanese ancesty from the West Coast during World War II..

There was a world of difference between the mass removal of the Japanese nationals and Japanese Americans under Executive Order 9066 and the "exclusion of certain individual" German and Italian Americans. No doubt those German and Italian families also suffered "great hardship" but there was no mass removal of German Americans, no mass removal of Italian Americans. Executive Order 9066 applied only to Japanese aliens and American citizens of Japanese ancestry. Signs were posted in public places decreeing that "all persons of Japanese ancestry, both aliens and non-aliens" will be removed from the area, referring to American citizens as "non-aliens," a clever linguistic trick lest the general public become aware of the illegality of their decision.

Today almost seven decades later, we are more aware of our own human rights, and it is hoped that well-informed students as well as a alert public will not allow

Mitsuye Yamada