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

Monday, March 8, 2010

Japanese American Women Remember the World War II Incarceration

In honor of International Women's Day, we invite you to read Densho's latest article, on female memories of the incarceration, featuring selections from our digital archive of interviews, photos, and documents.

"We were asserting ourselves, letting the broader community know that we're not going to be just meek, intimidated." -- Lillian Nakano

In exploring the theme of power and the historical record, this month's "From the Archive" article concerns the marginalization of Japanese American women's voices in the archive. Japanese American history, with its emphasis on military service and, recently, draft resistance, leaves little room for the stories and experiences of women. Based on a series of oral history interviews, this article explores how memories of the incarceration shaped the lives of four Japanese American women in the years following World War II, illuminating the central, though largely unacknowledged, role of women in postwar Japanese American history. Far from silent, these women, in various ways, all drew on their experiences as a source of empowerment and means for enacting social change.

Read more of this article.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Seattle's Local Hero

The Densho staff sends congratulations to Seattle's local hero Apolo Anton Ohno for a successful 2010 Winter Olympics. What an impressive athlete and gracious young man he is. We had the pleasure of meeting Apolo back in spring 2007 at a banquet held in his honor. Since we had to stand in line for our photo opp with the Dancing with the Stars winner, we're using this excuse to republish the picture. Congratulations to Apolo. He is an asset to the Japanese American community of Seattle.