Few Americans today are aware that Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 in 1942 which resulted in the incarceration of over 110,000 Americans of Japanese descent in internment camps for 3 1/2 years, based on the fact that we were at war with the Japanese and these persons were regarded as potential threats to the nation.
It is important to know that the first-generation immigrant group of Japanese are called Issei. Second-generation persons of Japanese descent are called Nisei. The third generation is referred to as Sansei and the fourth generation is called Yonsei. The term Nikkei emcompasses all of the world's Japanese immigrants across all generations. Issei were prohibited from becoming citizens, but their children, the Nisei, born in the United States, were American citizens by birth.
Japanese Internment Detainees
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, it was quickly determined that all Japanese Americans were to be confined to internment camps for their own protection and for the safety of American citizens. Families were uprooted, their lives were disrupted, their loyalty was questioned, and their careers were put on hold. This was not true, however, of persons of German or Italian descent in the United States, whose fatherland was also at war with the country. It had been easier for Europeans to be assimilated into the population without the Asian facial characteristics which gave instant recognition to their origin.
Erica Harth, an American Caucasian, was the daughter of a counselor with the War Relocation Authority, resulting in their living in the Manzanar, California internment camp. Her father, stationed at a Naval Base close by, lived with them on the weekends. Erica went to school in Manzanar with the Japanese children, giving her insight into the lives of the internees. She has documented her interviews of several of these "last witnesses" from Manzanar along with former internees from Poston, Arizona; Tule Lake, California; Topaz, Utah; and Heart Mountain, Wyoming. The young children spent happy days in the camps, attending school and making new friends, but the adults suffered greatly from the incarceration and were unable to speak of their experiences for many decades.
Japanese Internment Camp
Many of these Japanese Americans, through voluntary military service in World War II, were judged to have proven their loyalty. In particular, the all-Nisei 442nd Regimental Combat Team performed so heroically in battle that it became the most decorated unit of the war. They succeeded in liberating the town of Bruyeres, France where a monument stands in recognition of their heroic deeds. Veterans of the 442nd have had several reunions in Bruyeres where the citizens fete them when they arrive.
Erica Harth, along with several former internees, wishes to keep these memories alive in the hope that it may never happen again. Fortunately, in 1976 President Gerald Ford rescinded Roosevelt's order and in 1988, all who were incarcerated received $20,000 for their wrongful imprisonment.
Many stories, both fiction and non-fiction, have been written about the Japanese internment during World War II. One in particular is David Guterson's "Snow Falling on Cedars" which was also made into a motion picture.
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