Removal and "Relocation"
In America, we’re lucky enough to have unalienable rights which were called “God-given” by our founders. Many Americans, including myself, believe staunchly that these rights can never be revoked or denied to us as long as we remain citizens of The United States of America. However, most of us are quick to overlook an event that proves that no American is ever truly free and we won’t always be endowed with rights.
On December 7th, 1941, planes under the flag of Imperial Japan swooped in for a surprise assault upon America’s pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Similar to the recent 9/11 attacks, the aerial raid shocked the nation, leaving 2,437 killed, and nearly half that wounded. In addition, over 300 aircraft were destroyed and nearly 20 warships were sunk. The American idea of isolationism shattered as the nation declared war upon Japan on December 8th, 1941. Just as many Americans today fear or resent Middle Eastern Islamists, many Americans in the 1940’s grew to fear and hate all people of Japanese ancestry, even Japanese-American citizens.
This prejudice culminated in Executive Order 9066, which ordered the forced removal and relocation of over 110,000 Japanese Americans from the West Coast. 62% of those interned were American citizens, shattering any façade of loyalty to the constitution. Executive order 9066 allowed local military commanders to designate “military areas” from which “any or all persons may be excluded”. Because of this, all people of Japanese Ancestry could be legally excluded from the entire Pacific Coast. The Japanese sued, buy in 1944 the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the exclusion orders. The United States Census Bureau assisted the removal of Japanese-Americans by providing confidential information about housing and population numbers.
In the camps, the Japanese were basically treated like prisoners. Most of these camps/residences were placed on Native American land, and conditions were poor. Internees were housed in “tar paper-covered barracks of simple frame construction without plumbing or cooking facilities of any kind” – War Relocation Authority 1943 report. Armed guards were posted at each camp, were in desolate, remote areas that were far away from population centers and cities. There are documented instances of guards shooting internees who broke the strict camp rules.
On January 2, 1945, the exclusion order was rescinded in full. The internees were free to leave, but many had nowhere to go. In their absence, whites had looted and destroyed their homes. For compensation, the Japanese were given $25.00 USD and a train ticket home. The United States government finally reimbursed the inmates, totaling $37 million of the $148 million worth of property damage that had been sustained. In 1988, U.S. President Ronald Reagan signed the civil liberties act of 1988, which formally apologized for the illegal actions of the government during the war. As part of the act, every living Japanese-American interned received $20,000. On January 30, 2011, California observed the first annual “Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution”, out of respect for those interned.