Friday, 1 May 2015

Were the Japanese-American internment camps justified?

A Plan of the investigation
This investigation will examine whether the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans during World War II was justified or not. This essay will look at both sides of the argument of the establishment of the Japanese-American camps during World War II. The source of evidence that I will be assessing is a sections from a letter written by an eyewitness who has experienced the camps. I will be assessing its origin, purpose, strengths and weaknesses, the author, and reliability. I will point out that the most important reason the Japanese-American camps were not justified was because many of the Japanese-Americans were innocent and had not done anything wrong.

B Evaluation of source
‘We saw all these people behind the fence, looking out, hanging onto the wire, and looking out because they were anxious to know who was coming in. But I will never forget the shocking feeling that human beings were behind this fence like animals [crying]. And we were going to also lose our freedom and walk inside of that gate and find ourselves…cooped up there…when the gates were shut, we knew that we had lost something that was very precious; that we were no longer free.’

- Mary Tsukamoto, 1942 

This source is useful to answer the investigation as this is a first-hand witness account of a prisoner who lived in the internment camps. This is a first-hand account eyewitness by Mary Tsukamoto, a Japanese prisoner who was imprisoned in one of the Japanese-American internment camps during World War II. Her family was sent to one of the temporary camps in Florin, California for six months. From there, they were then sent to another camp in Jerome, Arkansas. She was aged 27 when she was put into the internment camp. The source is taken from a personal letter and was written in 1942. Its purpose was to tell people how it was living inside the camps.

In the witness account, Mary Tsukamoto talks of the appearance and restrictions of the internment camps itself. Tsukamoto said that the people in the camps were constantly looking out through barbed wires, nervous to know who was coming into the camp. The other prisoners were crying and wailing behind the fences like animals and they knew they had lost everything they had; even their freedom. She was able to express the feelings and thoughts of being a prisoner inside the camp.

This is quite a strong source as this is a first-hand account and likely to be reliable because it is not a rumor passed on by other people. It was written in a personal letter which is more likely to include actual information.

Even though she is speaking in the perspective of a Japanese prisoner, this source would still contain limitations and weaknesses as it might possibly be biased and untrustable because Tsukamoto might want to mock the Americans so that shame would fall upon the future generations of US citizens. She might also be exaggerating the situation so that she could gain more fame and thus, earn more money. Furthermore, we are not certain of Mary’s mental and physical health when she was writing the letter. She might have been very ill and the information would not have been accurate.

I feel that this source is useful for this investigation as it is more likely to be truthful and not biased because this source was taken from a letter which was supposed to be sent to the people who were not situated in the camps. This is from Mary Tsukamoto’s perspective of the situation at the time.
C Analysis

Many Americans argue that the imprisonment of the Japanese-Americans was correct and, ultimately, justifiable. Dr. Samuel Ichiye Hayakawa, who was a former US Senator from California, sent a letter to the White House justifying the confinement of the Japanese-Americans. In his letter, he wrote that the Japanese and Japanese-Americans were relocated for ‘their own safety’ and that the relocations were ‘in no way punitive’. Furthermore, Hayakawa believed that the internment camps were used to protect the Japanese-Americans from ‘what might happen to them if a hostile Japanese invasion force was to land on our shores’. He clearly affirms that the camps were established to ‘protect’ the Japanese all along. Here is one section from the letter:

‘Japanese and Japanese-Americans in the Western states were relocated
during World War II for their own safety at a time when the U.S. and
Japan were at war. The relocation was in no way punitive. It was to
remove the Japanese from the coastal areas for fear of what might happen
to them if a hostile Japanese invasion force was to land on our shores.’

This means that the relocations were acted as a protection for the Japanese-Americans from the danger of further Japanese invasions and were in no way used as a punishment for them.

Moreover, the internment of the Japanese-Americans was justified because it was to guarantee safety for American and to prevent sabotages by the Japanese living in the US area. The government had to make sure that no confidential military plans were to be leaked out to the Japanese. They had to get rid of anyone who could possibly be a Japanese spy. If they didn’t, it would potentially cause the country to lose. The US citizens believed that moving the Japanese away from critical areas would prevent them from seeing any movement of Americans ships and plans. These areas included naval air bases, shipyards, and oil wells. These camps were located in California, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, Canada, and Arkansas. Rumors started to spread, mostly due to racial prejudice, that the Japanese-Americans were coming together to form a sabotage plan to destroy the United States. This proves that the evacuation was necessary for the victory of USA because no one could be certain that the Japanese would not act as spies for Japan.

The Japanese, in a way, admitted that they were unwilling to be loyal to the United States by not taking the oath of loyalty. The oath of loyalty was a questionnaire which was offered to the Japanese as a chance to volunteer in the segregated U.S. Army unit and leave the camps. They required all those who were 17 or older to answer this questionnaire which would later be known as the ‘loyalty questionnaire’. Two questions were posed: ‘Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty, wherever ordered?’ and ‘Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States of America from any and all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance to the Japanese Emperor or any other foreign government, power, or organisation?’ These two questions were used to put apart the internees who were ‘loyal’ and ‘disloyal’ to America.

As a result, a large number of people answered ‘no to both questions. Many of whom were still loyal to Japan and some children who were forced to answer ‘no’ or else they would be separated from their parents. Those who answered ‘no’ would then be sent to the worst camps in America and looked down upon in the American society. This is able to prove that the Japanese were not loyal to the US and this is shown through their response to the questionnaire.

To add to this, the government eventually decided to provide the internees a chance to leave the camps if they enlisted for the U.S. Army. Only 3,600 did so. This validates the fact that the US government was not harsh to their prisoners and offered them a chance to leave, but they did not take the offer and wished to rather stay in the camps.

On top of this, the internment the Japanese-Americans were justified because the Japanese were actually known for they clever plan in spying and coding. The breaking of the the Japanese’s military code, MAGIC, affirms this point. ‘MAGIC’ was the codename for the breaking of the Japanese’s military secret code. During that time, the ‘Combat Intelligence Unit’ was the most significant US Navy group to break the code. The name ‘JN-25’ was given to the name of the code by codebreakers. JN-25 was quite easy to break, taking in the fact that the Japanese only changed their code systems once every few months, meaning that they would be reused. John Rochefort, the commander of the unit, led his team to create a code decipher table to break the JN-25. They broke the Japanese Foreign Office’s top secret code and was alarmed of their plans. The information obtained from the code revealed that the Japanese were planning an attack on Port Moresby. So the breaking of JN-25 was able to prove that the Japanese were skilled at coding and could lead of the possibility of having put Japanese spies in the US.

Although this may be true, a multitude of the people believed that the camps were not justified. Mostly this would be that most of the Japanese who were put in the internment camps were innocent civilians. They might not even have been to Japan in their entire life. So, they would have been more loyal to the US than to Japan as many were born and grew up in Japan. Their life would have been devoted to the United States and obviously would have no connection or contact with Japan. The chances of them risking their lives to become spies for Japan was unlikely.

As a matter of fact, there were no acts of sabotage or any evidence showing disloyalty committed by the Japanese during the war. Only ten spies were suspect of being potential informants, all of whom were Caucasians. This shows that none of the Japanese had ever thought of being spies for Japan and none were caught in the act of it either. They should not have been put in the camps.

Linking back to the loyalty oath, another point is that the prisoners should have been released if they swore loyalty to the US. This is shown when even though not many people said ‘yes’ to both questions, some still did so. The Japanese-Americans should have been released from the camps if they said ‘yes’ to the oath and return to their homes. This proves their loyalty to the United States of America and should have been given back the freedom that they lost.

Along with this, the poor conditions in the camp itself were unfair for the prisoners living inside the internment camps. The camps were overcrowded and unsanitary. Food was scarce and rationed out at an expense of 48 cents per person with a diet of around 600 calories per day. They were expected to work side by side to build a 260 mile railroad by hand, with ten days on and one day off. Prisoners constantly suffered from malnutrition, ulcers, and cholera. Around 61,000 prisoners were put to work on the railroad construction and 13,000 of those died. This is inhuman treatment for all internees and should not have been like this.

Many families were even assigned to live in one barrack, living together with no privacy at all. This shows that there was absolutely no respect or attention paid to the prisoners to be comfortable living in the camps. The United States of America did not care about their internees and this is wrong.

In fact, the imprisonment of these guilt-free citizens was illegal. The plain act of forcing the Japanese out of their homes violated the 4th amendment, which is the right against search and seizure. The Japanese were bruntly pull out of their homes, which was totally against their will. Federal agents also ransacked their homes, in an attempt to look for evidence for possible spies. This was illegal and against the law and hence, wrong.

Another key point to acknowledge was that the American Government later recognized that they had done the wrong thing and attempted to atone for the things that they did. In 1988, which is approximately 40 years after the Japanese-Americans’ imprisonment, the US Congress awarded restitution payments of USD$20,000 for each survivor of the camps and provided an apology for each of the internees who were still alive. This means that the US Congress eventually realized that what they had done to the Japanese-Americans was wrong and paid the compensation to the Japanese for the violation of their liberty rights.
D Conclusion 

All things considered, I believe that the camps were, after all, not justified because the Japanese-Americans who were put into the internment camps were proven to be completely innocent. It was not fair towards these citizens; they were merely forced into these camps because of they were Japanese. They had to very little time to pack, which means that they had to leave behind many things that they owned to thieves and other people who would take the items to the market to sell. The Japanese-Americans were taken out of their lives and placed into an entirely new area, with people they have never met or spoken to before and separated from family and friends. Even though the US Congress eventually rewarded the prisoners who were still surviving with USD$20,000, the treatment of the internees were still not acceptable.
E Bibliography

Ann Gravells. “Assessment methods and activities: strengths and limitations”. PDF.

Children in History. “World War II: Country Code Breaking Efforts- The United States”. 11 March 2015. Web.

Darl Bravo and Tyler Hirohata. HD Japanese Internment. “Japanese Internment Camp”. 11 March 2015. Web.

David Rojas and Andrew Eppes. “Participant Accounts”. 18 March 2015. Web. “Should Japanese Americans have been released from internment camps during World War II if they swore a loyalty oath?”. 11 March 2015. Web. “Were the Japanese-American internment camps morally right?”. 26 February 2015. Web.

Densho and The Board of Trustees of The Leland Stanford Junior University. “The Japanese American Legacy Project”. 11 March 2015. Web.

Eric Foner and John A. Garrty. “Japanese-American Relocation”. 5 March 2015. Web.

Greg Goebel. “[7.0] US Codebreakers In World War II”. 11 March 2015. Web.

History on the Net. “World War Two- Japanese Internment Camps in the USA”. 4 March 2015. Web.

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