AsianAmericans and concentration camps in WWII




In the early 1940’s, there was evidence of Japanese-American loyalty and innocence, but the information was not always well known. This, coupled with the factors of war hysteria led to the legal upholding of concentration camps in Korematsu v. U.S. (1944). The injustice was clouded, most immediately by the war, and indirectly by racism at home.
The sneak attack on Pearl Harbor left a permanent indent on the way Americans viewed the Japanese. Indeed, it was this one act which thrust the isolationist U.S. into the middle of the world’s biggest war. The brutal attack, so close to home, was viewed as sneaky and underhanded. This, added to the fact that the Japanese were rumored to have an amazingly effective spy system on Hawaii and the West Coast, led the Japanese-Americans to become highly suspected individuals. They were even a more immediate threat than communists, since they required an eventual takeover, and Germans, since they were preoccupied by numerous enemies. In addition, the Japanese-Americans were concentrated on the Western Coast and could thus organize better. There is also the chasm of culture; ignorance is the key to racism, and the average American knew very little of the lifestyle and customs of the Far East. This led to more suspicion.
There were also facts going against the Japanese-Americans. According to the Munson Report, 98% of Japanese-Americans were loyal to the U.S. This is an impressive number; however, in times of war, 2% sabotaging on mainland America was a major threat. A more startling fact that tarnished the Japanese-American reputation was the fact that Japan was rumored to have an extremely effective spy system on the West Coast. There were even some conspiracy theorists that rationalized that the sneaky Japanese were merely waiting for the right time to strike, as they did at Pearl Harbor. The people were scared of the Japanese, and in a democracy, the people have a voice.
The Japanese-Americans also had a decent reputation in general, but people were too occupied with the war to worry about it. 112,000 Japanese-Americans—60% of which were U.S. citizens born on U.S. soil—were sent off to concentration camps. There were Japanese loyally fighting in the American army. They even went quietly to the concentration camps, having faith in the American system. But, who cared about the numbers then? We were at war with the Japanese, and the Japanese-Americans were a threat. According to the government, it had to be handled, no matter how small the threat.
In short, there were facts, but the overwhelming war mania pertaining to the encompassing war caused a protective hysteria. It is ironic that a country fighting for Democracy could demean it’s own citizens in this manner, but at that time national safety was more important. There was prejudice against the Japanese-Americans, but this was slightly understandable since the U.S. was fighting Japanese homeland and the people were unsure of where the Japanese-Americans’ loyalties were. The job of the political leadership of the time was national defense. In that view, it was better to contain a possible problem now, before the possible problem got out of control.




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