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There are lessons that can be learned from history, and sometimes those lessons can be painful. The ideals of liberty, and all men are created equal are worthy ideas and should be practiced, but they are dependent upon good men and women. Human beings are flawed, so at times liberty and equality is for us and not for them.
During WWII it was not just the Germans, and the Russians that instituted concentration camps. The United States and Canada did as well. There are some interesting parallels between the criteria of the German and the American criteria on who should be interned, and relocated to the camps. There is an important distinction between the fate of those that were interned in Germany, and America. There is however no escaping the fact that the internment, and relocation into the camps of American citizens of Japanese descent was due to racial animus. Sixty percent of the Japanese interned were American citizens.
Major Karl Bendetsen and Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt, head of the Western Command, each questioned Japanese American loyalty. DeWitt, who administered the internment program, repeatedly told newspapers that “A Jap’s a Jap” and testified to Congress,
I don’t want any of them [persons of Japanese ancestry] here. They are a dangerous element. There is no way to determine their loyalty… It makes no difference whether he is an American citizen, he is still a Japanese. American citizenship does not necessarily determine loyalty… But we must worry about the Japanese all the time until he is wiped off the map.
On January 2, the Joint Immigration Committee of the California Legislature sent a manifesto to California newspapers which attacked “the ethnic Japanese,” who it alleged were “totally unassimilable. This manifesto further argued that all people of Japanese heritage were loyal subjects of the Emperor of Japan; Japanese language schools, furthermore, according to the manifesto, were bastions of racism which advanced doctrines of Japanese racial superiority.
The manifesto was backed by the Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West and the California Department of the American Legion, which in January demanded that all Japanese with dual citizenship be placed in concentration camps. Internment was not limited to those who had been to Japan, but included a small number of German and Italian enemy aliens. By February, Earl Warren, the Attorney General of California, had begun his efforts to persuade the federal government to remove all people of Japanese heritage from the West Coast.
March 27, 1942: General DeWitt’s Proclamation No. 4 prohibited all those of Japanese ancestry from leaving “Military Area No. 1” for “any purpose until and to the extent that a future proclamation or order of this headquarters shall so permit or direct.”
May 3, 1942: General DeWitt issued Civilian Exclusion Order No. 34, ordering all people of Japanese ancestry, whether citizens or non-citizens, who were still living in “Military Area No. 1” to report to assembly centers, where they would live until being moved to permanent “Relocation Centers.”
These edicts included persons of part-Japanese ancestry as well. Anyone with at least one-sixteenth (equivalent to having one great-great grandparent).
Internment was popular among many white farmers who resented the Japanese American farmers. “White American farmers admitted that their self-interest required removal of the Japanese.”These individuals saw internment as a convenient means of uprooting their Japanese American competitors. Austin E. Anson, managing secretary of the Salinas Vegetable Grower-Shipper Association, told the Saturday Evening Post in 1942:
“We’re charged with wanting to get rid of the Japs for selfish reasons. We do. It’s a question of whether the white man lives on the Pacific Coast or the brown men. They came into this valley to work, and they stayed to take over… If all the Japs were removed tomorrow, we’d never miss them in two weeks, because the white farmers can take over and produce everything the Jap grows. And we do not want them back when the war ends, either.”
The Roberts Commission Report, prepared at President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s request, has been cited as an example of the fear and prejudice informing the thinking behind the internment program. The Report sought to link Japanese Americans with espionage activity, and to associate them with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Columnist Henry McLemore reflected growing public sentiment fueled by this report:
“I am for the immediate removal of every Japanese on the West Coast to a point deep in the interior. I don’t mean a nice part of the interior either. Herd ’em up, pack ’em off and give ’em the inside room in the badlands… Personally, I hate the Japanese. And that goes for all of them.”
The lesson to be learned is racial prejudice, and racial purity determinations were used to confiscate property, and to intern American citizens, and the US government went further by reaching out to South American countries to deport their Japanese, German, and Italian citizens to the United States so they could be placed in the camps, and some did.
It can happen here, and it did happen here.
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