Wednesday, November 10, 2004
Japanese Internment, 1941-1948:
So we all know about the European ghettos, right? Where people of Jewish, Gypsy, and other backgrounds were taken to and forced to live? And it was good that we were able to free them because it was horrible . . . definitely something we would never do, right? Well . . . . .
After the attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941, suspicion of Japanese-Americans and Canadians skyrocketed. Fear of espionage, fear of loyalty, and fear of what was happening overseas cemented the belief that there was too great a danger along the western coast of North America. Throughout the following year, Japanese families living on the coast of North America were forced to relocate to internment camps further inland. In some cases particular euphemisms were used such as "Civilian Assembly Centers" or "Relocation Centers" - for others, "Concentration Camp" seems more suiting . . .
In The United States, several Acts were passed throughout the war; one required the registration and fingerprinting of all "aliens" over the age of 14; another required a report of a change of address within 5 days; a presidential proclamation in January, 1942 ordered that all changes of employment, address, or name by "enemy aliens" had to be made with the FBI/DOJ on pain of arrest, detention and internment for the rest of the war". In Canada, via the War Measures Act several "prohibited areas" came about, also on the pain of internment. Nevertheless, in both countries hundreds of thousands of Japanese families were relocated to various camps, their possessions and homes confiscated and warehoused. Within the camps, families lived in cramped quarters, often with about ten other familes. A lot of times there weren't enough houses built in the camps and families had to live in tents during the winters, though most of the houses had very little insulation and were built with very thin walls anyway. Other stories include things like barbed wire, and machine-guns pointed in towards the camps . . . either way, it was not a safe or habitable way to live.
After the war, Japanese families slowly moved back into their homes if they could, though oftentimes even that didn't work out due to the process of warehousing/cataloguing or whatnot. Also, many Japanese farmers lost their farms because rather than having them warehoused they were forced to sell them at ridiculous prices. As a final note for the problems with getting people back into regular life, the internment camps didn't close and the final families weren't released until 1948 - three years after the end of the war.
Perhaps the most disconcerting things about the whole ordeal was that the Japanese being interned were American and Canadian citizens - indeed, about 75% of the Japanese interned in Canada were Canadian citizens, many who were born in the country. Not only was it an outright moment of intense racism, but it was also one of broken rights. Trust in the government was heavily strained, and many Japanese-Americans and Canadians had little faith in the system anymore. One of the ironies of the incident is that according to the Geneva Convention, prisoners of war are not required to pay for their internment . . . relocated Japanese families, on the other hand . . .
Though the entire ordeal is a horrendous stain in the histories of both countries, measures have been taken since, and many reparations and apologies have been made since. Clinton even went back to search the old records to award 21 more Japanese-American soldiers the Medal of Honor for events that were passed over in the '40s. Also, though there was much resentment towards the countries, many still went on to fight in the European Theater of operations. The US 442nd Regiment - a Japanese-American regiment fighting in Europe - became the most decorated unit of the war with over 18,000 personal decorations, 22 Medals of Honor, and 8 presidential citations!
That final bit about the 442nd is a little out of context, I know. The problem is, as I researched for this post, I continued to learn more and more about this particular moment of the war which I apparently didn't know too well after all . . . and it's sad that I didn't start these sooner, because there really are so many stories that need to be heard . . .
But yes, speaking as a Chinese-Canadian, I honestly do feel that this story is an important one. That a war could strain relations among neighbours like so is a truly worrying thing . . . as for how it relates to today? Well . . . . . I'll let you decide whether this is still a modern issue or not . . .
(A notice that was posted through much of British Columbia, Canada during the war [*note: I live in the city of New Westminster, which is just off from Vancouver proper].)