Irrigator, who, with 595 persons of Japanese ancestry, is leaving this rural district this morning for an assembly center under Civilian Exclusion Order Number 34. Centerville, CA, 1942, Dorothea Lange
Text by Caleb Foote, Photographs by Dorothea Lange
The Tyranny of a Word
Shortly after Pearl Harbor, the San Francisco Chronicle said of the persons of Japanese ancestry in the state, “Americans called them Japanese, though the great majority of them had every right to be called Americans.”
Here was a peculiar thing. American citizens were labeling certain other American citizens with the name that they also applied to their enemies. No newspaper or politician referred to citizens of German ancestry as “Germans,” but almost every newspaper or politician used the word “Japs” when speaking of American citizens whose ancestors came from Japan.
The President of the University of Arizona, speaking of these American citizens, said, “We are at war, and these people are our enemies.” A United States district attorney talked about loading up “our 127,000 Japs and shipping them back to Japan.” Since Pearl Harbor, in the public mind, the word “Jap” had become synonymous with “enemy.” Thus American citizens of Japanese ancestry had two strikes against them from the start. People no longer thought of them as the Americans they are. They have been victims of the tyranny of a word.
Biography of a People
Persons of Japanese ancestry in the United States form a tiny minority. There are about a thousand of the rest of us to each one of them. Most of them were concentrated on the Pacific Coast, where some 112,000 had been living before the war, but even there they formed only about one per cent. of the Pacific Coast states’ population. About two-thirds of them were American citizens, and of the Japanese aliens, who are aliens because we have denied them citizenship, two-thirds have been here at least seventeen years. One-quarter of the entire group are children under fifteen years of age. On the West Coast they had an extremely low delinquency rate, very few persons on relief, and a birth rate slightly lower than the average for the population as a whole.
The first Japanese to come to our shores, in the middle of the last century, were shipwrecked sailors or occasional stowaways. Aside from them, almost none came prior to 1884, as emigration from Japan was prohibited before that year. Hawaiian sugar interests were instrumental in starting the stream of Japanese across the Pacific, and between 1890 and 1910 their number in the United States rose from 2,039 to 72,157.
Arriving in California, these immigrants stepped almost immediately into anti-Oriental prejudice. The Chinese had preceded them, and had been subject to violent persecution both before and after passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act, in 1882. An attack upon fifteen Japanese cobblers in San Francisco in 1890 marked the beginning of an anti-Japanese prejudice that has been present in the life of the West ever since. By 1900 mass meetings were urging their exclusion and an attempt was made to segregate Japanese-American school children in San Francisco. The California legislature had before it seventeen anti-Japanese bills in 1909, some of which failed only after Theodore Roosevelt’s direct intervention. The Japanese Exclusion League and the economically motivated Anti-Jap Laundry League fanned race prejudice and obtained discriminatory “alien land laws” that prevented alien Japanese from owning or operating agricultural land. Although only 185 Japanese a year would have been admitted under the quota system, race-conscious Americans forced passage in 1924 of a clause barring any Japanese immigrants. The ambassadors of both nations resigned in protest against this action.
Feeling against those of Japanese ancestry did not die after the exclusion. In the thirties, mobs in Oregon and Arizona forced them out of homes and jobs; a “Committee of 1,000” in Southern California worked to boycott all things Japanese; the Hearst press blamed the nation’s slow recovery from the depression on the Orientals. Like the Negro, Chinese, and Jew, the young Japanese-American has always had to buck irrational race prejudice, and it is against this sordid background that the unprecedented discrimination of the last two years has been brought about.
Reasons for the Evacuation
Four explanations have been advanced for the evacuation: military necessity, the protection of those evacuated, political and economic pressures, and racial prejudice. While the war continues, it will be impossible to give final evaluation of the relative significance of these explanations, for many of the facts necessary for such evaluation are either unavailable or have not been uncovered due to lack of adequate research. Nonetheless, there is already sufficient evidence to back up Roger Baldwin’s assertion that “military necessity had less to do with their unprecedented treatment than race prejudice” — Asia, September, 1942.
Briefly, the justification of the evacuation as military necessity is as follows: the Pacific Coast Congressional delegation on February 13, 1942, recommended to the President “the immediate evacuation of all persons of Japanese lineage, and all others, aliens or citizens alike, whose presence shall be deemed dangerous or inimical to the defense of the United States, from all strategic areas.” The wording is significant, suggesting immediate removal of those of Japanese lineage as a racial group, but asking treatment of others on the basis of danger. Six days later the President authorized military commanders designated by the secretary of war to establish military areas “from which any or all persons may be excluded.” The result of this Executive Order was group exclusion of Americans of Japanese ancestry and, subsequently, a few Caucasian-American citizens, but the latter have been given individual hearings and have not been interned.
Many news photographers were present for the first contingent of evacuation, San Francisco, CA, Dorothea Lange, 04/06/1942
Protection against sabotage and fifth-columnism were the announced military reasons for the exclusion of those of Japanese ancestry. But there is cause to believe that these reasons did not give the total picture. Colonel Karl R. Bendetson, Western Defense Command assistant chief of staff, who directed the removal, in a San Francisco speech on May 20, 1942, said:
“The Japanese community presented a group with a high potential for action against the national interest.” This statement shows the tendency of both Army and political groups incorrectly to label a group two-thirds of whom are American citizens as “Japanese,” and to refer to a racial group as a “community,” without regard for individual differences within that group. Such thinking is the basis of race prejudice. Furthermore, the statement itself is open to serious question. Bendetson never mentioned the experience in Hawaii, a more dangerous spot than the West Coast, with a far higher proportion of persons of Japanese ancestry. Instead of displaying a “high potential for action” against us, the Hawaiians of Japanese descent have, in the words of Lieutenant General Delos C. Emmons, Army commander there, “added materially to the strength of the Hawaiian area” and “have behaved themselves admirably under most trying conditions.”
On April 13, 1943, Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt, the man who ordered the evacuation, told a House Committee: “It makes no difference whether the Japanese is theoretically a citizen. He is still a Japanese. Giving him a scrap of paper won’t change him. I don’t care what they do with the Japs so long as they don’t send them back here. A Jap is a Jap.”
Such statements lead clearly to the conclusion that racial prejudice played a large part in determining the “military necessity” of the evacuation. Racial thinking of this kind not only is inaccurate and unscientific, but it runs directly counter to President Roosevelt’s statement, referring to Japanese-Americans, that “Americanism is a matter of the mind and heart; Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race or ancestry.”
No one denies the need to protect the West Coast against unlawful acts of sabotage and fifth-columnism. Nor does anyone deny that this is primarily the responsibility of the Army. But if, as the evidence indicates, the Army acted because of racial prejudice, democracy loving Americans have the right and obligation to challenge that action.
December 7, 1941—Pearl Harbor.
December 8, 1941—Attorney-General Biddle calls for tolerance in dealings with many Japanese here “of unquestioned loyalty.”
December 27, 1941—Japanese-Filipino trouble in Stockton, Calif.
January 22, 1942 — Congressman Ford (Calif.) urges total evacuation of all persons of Japanese ancestry.
February 13, 1942—Pacific Coast Congressional group recommends evacuation.
February 15, 1942—Fall of Singapore.
February 19, 1942—President Roosevelt authorizes evacuation from military zones.
February 23, 1942—Submarine shells California coast.
March 2, 1942—General DeWitt orders evacuation from most of California, western Oregon and Washington, and southern Arizona. A few Germans, Italians, and other Caucasians were evacuated, but only the people of Japanese ancestry were moved en masse.
March 18, 1942—War Relocation Authority established.
March 24, 1942—First exclusion order under which those of Japanese ancestry were evacuated from a specific locality. Followed by 108 subsequent orders.
March 29, 1942—”Voluntary evacuation” of people of Japanese ancestry from Pacific Coast area prohibited. Before this date 10,231 moved out of restricted area on their own initiative after Army and newspapers requested this.
June 5, 1942—First evacuation completed. Subsequently the remaining parts of California were evacuated, this being completed August 7, 1942.
Summer-Fall, 1942 — Transfer of people from temporary, Army-controlled Assembly Centers to ten permanent inland Relocation Centers in seven Western states, under control of the WRA.
How the Demand for Evacuation Developed
Two months before Pearl Harbor a significant statement was made by Jim Marshall in an article in the October 11, 1941, issue of Collier’s. In case of war, he pointed out, there would be some demand in California for concentration camps for those of Japanese ancestry, but the Army, Navy, and FBI “opinion, based on intensive and continuous investigation, is that the situation is not dangerous and that, whatever happens, there is not likely to be any trouble. With this opinion
West Coast newspapermen, in touch with the problem for years, agree almost unanimously.”
Contrary to widely held beliefs, this attitude of calmness and tolerance dominated the early weeks of the war. The day after Pearl Harbor, Attorney-General Biddle declared:
“There are in the United States many persons of Japanese extraction whose loyalty to the country, even in the present emergency, is unquestioned. It would therefore be a serious mistake to take any action against these people”—San Francisco Chronicle, December 9, 1941.
Near San Jose, California, This farm owner of Japanese ancestry has just completed arrangements for leasing his acreage, buildings, and equipment for the duration of his evacuation to a War Relocation Authority center. His sisters can be seen in the background, 1942, Dorothea Lange
Such pleas for tolerance were echoed by Governor Olson of California, General David P. Barrows, the presidents of the University of California, Stanford University, and Mills College, defense authorities, national and local churchmen, state government officials, and San Francisco’s police chief.
The feeling back of this tolerance was not complacency, but a confidence in the ability of public officials, especially the FBI, to handle the situation. Thus by December 21, 1941, the FBI had taken into custody 1,460 Japanese aliens, with a three-man board being set up to hear the cases. (They also arrested 1,204 Germans and twenty-two Italians in this period.) Restrictions on aliens were slowly tightened as time went on. Early in January, 1942, their right to travel was restricted, and about the middle of the month all Axis aliens were ordered to register. At the end of the month, the Department of Justice ordered Axis aliens out of vital West Coast areas, the FBI to handle the removal. These early restrictions applied to all Axis aliens; none applied to citizens of American birth.
Thus during the first weeks of the war the dominant tenor of news stories was for fairness and tolerance, restrictions applied equally to all enemy aliens, and there was no mention of total evacuation! If the military had sound reasons for it, they were not apparent nor put forward in the weeks immediately following Pearl Harbor. The first vehicle of anti-Japanese-American propaganda was the fifth-column rumor. In late December evacuees from Pearl Harbor were quoted in the press, telling the familiar fifth-column stories. These were given apparent authenticity by Navy Secretary Frank Knox’s statement on December 30 that the attack was aided by the “most effective fifth-column activity since Norway.” Despite Hawaiian Delegate King’s denial on January 27, these slanderous stories ran unchecked until after the evacuation was ordered. Then official denials were made. Why Knox helped circulate these untrue rumors and why the government did not officially deny them earlier has never been explained.
Stories about mainland Japanese-Americans were also widespread. One in particular, quoted in Herb Caen’s Chronicle column early in January, described the Japanese gardener who “snarls” to his white employer: “After the war you’ll be cutting the lawn for me.” Variations of this story ran up and down the Coast, and, typical of such tales, details and locations changed. (I heard it as a true incident occurring in Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Barbara, Beverley Hills, and Los Angeles.) But the basic story was always the same, and the Japanese always “snarled.”
On January 22, 1942, Congressman Leland Ford of California launched the campaign “to move all Japanese, native born and alien, to concentration camps.” It was quickly taken up, and pressures against these people increased. Los Angeles County dismissed its Japanese-American civil service employees, and the County Board of Supervisors urged evacuation. Hearst columnist Henry McLemore wrote on January 29:
Why treat the Japs well here? They take the parking positions. They get ahead of you in the stamp line at the post office. They have their share of seats on the bus and streetcar lines… I am for 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… Let ’em be pinched, hurt, hungry, and dead up against it… Personally I hate the Japanese. And that goes for all of them.”
Following these leads, demands for evacuation of this tiny group of defenseless people spread like wildfire among political groups. During the last three days in January demands for evacuation came from the Los Angeles American Legion, the Alameda and Fresno County Boards of Supervisors, the Seattle American Legion, California “agricultural officials,” and Pacific Coast congressmen. This continued in increasing volume until on February 16 the San Francisco Chronicle reported “a tidal wave of demands” for evacuation. But a Chronicle editorial also pointed out on February 6, 1942:
“The supposed ‘hysteria’ over enemy aliens and their descendants scarcely exists among the people themselves… the excitement is visible almost entirely in political and journalistic quarters… They are seeking to capitalize on the supposed excitement of others, which is mostly a figment of their own imaginations.”
Southern congressmen like Senator Stewart (Tenn.) and Representatives Rankin (Miss.) and Dies (Tex.) joined West Coast political groups in this campaign. Thus the same coalition of Western and Southern political pressure which for more than 60 years has been violently anti-Oriental was responsible for the rising “demand” for evacuation. For them it was the logical culmination of decades of anti-Chinese and anti-Japanese agitation and legislation. With the willing help of some newspapers and radio commentators, they played upon the public fears that accompanied the fall of Bataan, Malaya, and Sinapore by making the 112,000 Japanese-Americans their scapegoat.
The “Protection” Reason for Evacuation
Floyd Schmoe, recently of the University of Washington,has pointed out the perversion of American justice involved in this idea of “protective custody”:
“The reason for evacuation considered most valid by many persons is that of ‘protective custody’–the Japanese must be taken into camps and guarded for their own protection. But what a breakdown of the Anglo-Saxon conception of justice in a democracy such thinking betokens… The very words ‘protective custody’ (Schutzhaft) were ‘made in Germany,’ not here. How could it accord with American justice that if a man were dangerous to his neighbors they should be put into custody rather than he?” –Fellowship, July, 1942.
Moreover, the danger of violence to these people appears to have been greatly exaggerated. The study of every story on the subject in two San Francisco newspapers reveals only seven instances but the amount in any case is remarkably low considering a Japanese-American population of 112,000. The evidence indicates that most of the few murders were motivated by causes having nothing to do with the war.
Economic Pressures as a Cause of Evacuation
Racial prejudice and political pressure were dominant causes of evacuation, and Carey McWilliams, an authority on California economics, says that the pressures for evacuation “cut across ordinary economic alignments.” Nonetheless, economic greed played a part. The Japanese-American group in California alone controlled farm acreage valued at some $72,000,000; played a part in fishing; owned and operated many hotels, laundries, and restaurants; dominated Los Angeles fresh fruit and vegetable distribution, and captured some of the best bazaar trade in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Their commercial interests along the Coast were valued at from $55,000,000 to $75,000,000.
It is known that economic groups which would gain by removal of this Japanese-American competition urged evacuation, and they probably were back of much of the political pressure.The Salinas Vegetable Grower’s Association, for example, is composed of white farmers and shippers in a valley where there was much Japanese-American farming. Its managing secretary, Austin E. Anson, was quoted in the Saturday Evening Post as declaring:
“We’re charged with wanting to get rid of the Japs for selfish reasons. We might as well be honest. We do. It’s a question of whether the white man lives on the Pacific Coast or the brown man…and we don’t want them back when the war ends, either.”
Reliable evidence on this phase of the evacuation is still not available.But it is estimated that the Japanese-Americans suffered a total loss of at least one-half of their resources on the Coast, and the total may be much higher. The groups who have inherited their farms, homes, and businesses, create a special problem that will require careful handling as the urgent resettlement of Japanese-Americans outside the Centers progresses.
The Press and Evacuation
Newspaper pressure for evacuation increased steadily after January 24. Inflammatory headlines aroused the public, but they did not put in an appearance until more than six weeks after Pearl Harbor. A study of the demands for evacuation appearing in two San Francisco papers shows the significant fact that there was no mention of evacuation in December, and only two demands (both letters to the editor) before January 22.The real pressure came in February, most of it from political groups that have always been anti-oriental. According to the San Francisco Chronicle and trained observers like Louis Fischer and Richard Neuberger, ace West Coast newspapermen, the public at large was not aroused. From church and school quarters, where the Japanese-Americans were known best, not one demand for evacuation was recorded by these newspapers.
What Are the Relocation Centers Like?
THE Granada Relocation Center at Amache, Colo., is typical of the ten camps in seven Western states in which evacuated Japanese-Americans are living. The Centers are managed by a civilian agency, the War Relocation Authority, appointed by the President for this job. A company of military police is stationed at each Center to control entrance and exits. The total cost of maintenance of the evacuees in the Centers and administration of the Centers is borne by the Federal Government.
The buildings are of a temporary type of construction described as “so very cheap that, frankly, if it stands up for the duration we are going to be lucky.” They are grouped in blocks, each composed of twelve residential barracks, a recreation hall (usually used for offices), and two large community buildings containing latrines, laundry, showers, kitchen, and mess hall. Thirty or more such blocks make up a Center, usually surrounded by a barbed-wire fence, with military guard towers at intervals.
Residential barracks are 120 by 20 feet, divided up into six one-room apartments, ranging in size from 16 by 20 feet to 20 by 24 feet, with from two to seven people housed in each room. They come equipped only with bed, blankets, and stove. Population at the Granada Center, smallest of the ten, was 7,620 in April, 1943, of whom more than two-thirds are American citizens—born and reared in this country. Most of the 2,123 aliens came here as laborers and merchants in the early 1900’s, and have not been allowed to become citizens. About half the population came from rural areas, the other half is urban, and their occupations before evacuation embraced practically every phase of American life.
Mountain View, California. Henry Mitarai, age 36, successful large-scale farm operator with his family on the steps of their ranch home, about six weeks before evacuation. This family, along with others of Japanese ancestry, will spend the duration at War Relocation Authority centers, 1942, Dorothea Lange
School children make up one-quarter of the population, with 1,909 persons registered from nursery school through high school. Classes taught by both Caucasian and Japanese-American teachers are held in barracks, with meager equipment. School buildings are now going up at some Centers.
Food is served in community mess halls, cafeteria style. Cost of meals for all Relocation Centers has averaged not more than forty-five cents per person, and there is rationing just as there is outside. Describing the food in one Center, a California newsman wrote: “It is substantial, healthy, and not very appetizing. It is a combination of American and Japanese dishes, and tastes like something bought for about thirty-eight cents a day—which is what it happens to cost. They have no butter, but apparently plenty of margarine, and enough tea to serve it twice a day. Meatless days come at least three times a week.”
Employment is offered about half of Granada’s population in twenty-five different departments, and the pay ranges from $12 to $19 a month even for the highest skills, with the government bearing the brunt of maintenance. There are farms at all the Centers, employing many people. This typical Relocation Center has a 150-bed hospital, a biweekly newspaper, fire and police departments, and an elected community council to handle minor governmental functions. Cooperative stores, with 2,387 members, gross more than $40,000 per month.
For What Are These Centers Planned?
Set up to receive people evacuated from Pacific Coast areas, the ten Relocation Centers were to have been self-supporting paternalistic democracies. As nearly half of the evacuees of working age had agricultural experience, it was hoped that they would raise all their own food and a surplus as well, with some industries thrown in to make the communities as self-sufficient as possible. Plans were formulated for limited self-government, for schools under advanced educational methods, for stores cooperatively operated by and for the community. In short, far-sighted War Relocation Authority policy sought to undo as much of the harm caused by the evacuation as possible.
Actual practice has fallen short of these ideals. The inhospitable locations of the Relocation Centers, the low wage scale, the rising demand for resettlement outside the Centers, the paradox of a theoretical liberty denied in practice, political pressures against the WRA, and deep psychological factors have all worked to modify original plans and ideals. It is now realized that no matter how well planned and administered, a camp in which one racial group is segregated is an un-American and unhealthy thing. Thus the WRA is now bending its policy toward resettlement outside the Centers.
Location of the Centers
The location of the Centers alone has been enough to deny any possibility that they might speedily become self-supporting. The Hearst columnist who in the early days of the war wanted these people moved into the interior — “and I don’t mean a nice part of the interior, either” — certainly got his wish. At Poston, Ariz., site of the largest Center (population 20,000), the three sections of the camp were nicknamed Roaston, Toaston, and Duston, and the names tell the truth about most of the Centers, where desert heat and dust are bywords in summer. The camps have the hardships of the typical frontier community — mud, inadequate housing, physical hardship, and subjugation of desert land, but without the zest and self-interest of voluntary pioneering.
Factors beyond control of the War Relocation Authority probably forced these locations, for a Center had to be away from military zones but near adequate transportation and power, had to have agricultural possibilities on land owned or controlled by the government (to prevent speculation), but could not displace already existing white settlers. Coupled with these restrictions was vigorous local opposition wherever the War Relocation Authority went. Typical of the ignorant prejudice of every Western state was Idaho Governor Clark’s statement: “Japs live like rats, breed like rats, and act like rats. We don’t want them buying or leasing land and becoming permanently located in our state.” The result was that with limited exceptions the Relocation Centers were established where nobody else wanted to live: Western desert, arid Great Plains, or cut-over parts of Arkansas.
What About Low Wage Standards?
Resentment at the low wage scales is another factor that has disrupted Relocation Center life. The evacuees employed at the Centers receive $19 a month for skilled or professional labor, $12 for “apprentices,” with the great majority getting $16 a month. In addition, all those in the Centers receive meals costing not over forty-five cents a day and minimum housing. It is natural that American citizens and aliens convicted of no crime should resent such sub-standard pay. This feeling is accentuated because Caucasians working within the Centers receive standard pay. Thus many white school teachers receive in the neighborhood of $2,000 a year, but an accredited Japanese-American teacher, doing the same job, will get but $19 a month. These low wage scales mean that many families are using up their reserves and that many others face destitution. The drabness of much of the work, coupled with these small allowances, offers no individual incentive, and many persons find time hanging heavily on their hands.
What Are These Outcasts Thinking?
In the early days of detention, a little girl saw a dog trying to climb through the barbed-wire fence into an Assembly Center. “Don’t come in here, little dog,” she cried. “You won’t be able to go back to America.” That thought more than anything else explains the failure of the Relocation Center as a way of life. Evacuation has created or accentuated psychological and mental attitudes that do far more harm than physical suffering or hardship. “It seems that we are alone against a world of persecution,” a Japanese-American student wrote. “It is evident that the average American has such prejudice against those of yellow skin that we can never hope to be placed on a parity with the so-called fellow Americans. But we are loyal in spite of being deprived of friendship and tolerance.”
Evacuation effectively smashed the hopes and dreams of both old and young. The older, alien Japanese, although themselves denied the right to become American citizens, have helped build America and have sacrificed their lives so that their children might enjoy the fruits of American citizenship. Evacuation has meant for them a bitter realization of failure. The discrimination against their children has caused them intense suffering; and for themselves, separated from the homes and jobs of a lifetime, they know they are too old to start again.
For the younger American citizen of Japanese ancestry the disappointment has been as sharp. These Nisei had the lowest delinquency of any racial group, oversubscribed their quotas to community chests, made outstanding records in both school and college, and formed a Japanese-American Citizens League to ease their participation in normal American life. In the evacuation they see the negation of much of this effort. As Rep. Clifton A. Woodrum of Virginia observed, “there has been a terrific dislocation for those who are American citizens. They were picked up body and baggage and moved out, and I imagine it would have a severe psychological effect upon a man who was really a loyal American citizen.”
“What Will Happen to Us?”
The insecurity of not knowing what will happen next is the most pronounced characteristic of both aliens and citizens in the Relocation Centers. Property losses before and during the evacuation, the sense of constantly being pushed about, changes of official policy, government promises freely given and freely broken — all these have bred a fear and a cynicism that bodes no good for the future. There is ample basis for this insecurity. A young American-born farmer who lived on the California coast was urged by the Army to move voluntarily out of the zone that was to be evacuated. He moved to an inland part of the state, bought a farm, put in his crops, and sent for his family. Then the Army changed its mind, the remaining part of California was frozen, and he was evacuated. “I figure we’ve lost that boy,” a War Relocation Authority official observed. “He was a good American when the war started. He hated Japan. Now he still hates Japan, but he hates us, too.” Many thousands like this young man moved in accordance with requests only to be caught by later changes of policy.
Manzanar Relocation Center, Manzanar, California. View of barrack homes at this War Relocation Authority center, showing outside entrances. Dorothea Lange, 1942
Scores of American citizens received a form letter from the Western Defense Command beginning: “Certain Japanese persons are currently being considered for repatriation to Japan. You, and those members of your family listed above, are being so considered.” The recipients of this letter, many of them boys and girls born here who had never set foot in Japan, were justly perplexed. “What do they mean, Japanese persons?” they asked. “Doesn’t being born and brought up here make us Americans? And that phrase, `repatriation to Japan.’ The only country we could be repatriated to is the United States of America! To send us to Japan would be to expatriate us!” These Americans wondered if the government were deliberately trying to force them into the arms of Japan, and their minds ran again on that thing they most fear: deportation to Japan after the war.
What About the Future of the Camps?
“I don’t like Relocation Centers.” That statement came from Dillon S. Myer, director of the War Relocation Authority, in a speech in which he also said that “the major emphasis now in the War Relocation Authority is the relocation of people outside of the Centers.” Thus the best future for the Relocation Centers would be their abolition. Myer points out that “serious damage could be done if they went on for very long,” and thus the faster these innocent people can be brought back into normal life the better. Two programs are now under way to effect this. One is enlistment in the Army; the other releasing individuals on “indefinite leave,” which amounts to permanent resettlement in everyday life. While difficulties are being encountered, owing to the segregation of the men into “combat units” of the Army and difficulties in the housing and job situations in many cities, considerable progress is being made, although a great deal depends on the public’s response and action.
The alternative to such resettlement is the continuation of these camps into the indefinite future. An observer in one Center points out that they are “far from being typical American communities. The children hear more Japanese and less English than they ever have in their lives before, and with every month their Japanese improves and their English deteriorates. The tide in the Centers inevitably will turn increasingly toward the older cultural pattern. For the first time in their lives these independent people are learning to accept government aid. This is a habit easily acquired and not easily lost. Thirty thousand boys and girls are growing up in a situation of government dependency which undermines family solidarity and destroys initiative, ambition, and self-respect. To call the Centers de-Americanizing institutions is not criticism of the very excellent work of the WRA. It is simply to point out the end inherent in the system of mass segregation and dependency.”
The cry of one of the children in the camps, “Mother, I don’t like Japan. Let’s go back to America,” needs to be answered. The following pages show why it should be answered, because of the loyalty and assimilation of the people, and because of the future well-being of American democracy and the relations between the white and colored peoples.
Are Japanese-Americans Racially Different?
People are divided into many races by their physical differences. Some have white skins, some black; more brown or yellow. Americans of Oriental ancestry, though with different skin, different noses, different eyes from most Americans, think, feel, and act about the same way. Scientists have proved beyond question that underneath these physical differences all humans are basically the same. Yet the myth that Japanese-Americans, because they look different, are different, is believed by many people. They are, according to Rodney Brink, Christian Science Monitor reporter, “members of a race whose loyalties to the United States have not been fully established.” Al Dingeman, campaigning for Congress in California, told his constituents that Japanese-Americans “have proved to be treacherous and untrustworthy as a race.” The United States Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco was told early this year that “dishonesty, deceit, and hypocrisy are racial characteristics.” This was given as a reason why residents of Japanese ancestry should be denied United States citizenship.
Adolf Hitler also believes that people are basically different according to race. Much of the horror he has inflicted on the world is because of his ignorance on this question. In 1932 he told the Dusseldorf Industry Club: “It is beyond question that certain traits of character, certain virtues, and certain vices always recur in people so long as their inner nature—their blood-conditioned com;position—has not essentially altered.”
Hitler and those Americans who have adopted similar race doctrines are wrong. Men inherit physical characteristics from their parents, but cultural traits such as honesty, loyalty, integrity, and bravery are not inherited. They are acquired through environment and education. Thus many whites brought up in American homes and educated in our schools are honest, love democracy, and hate war. But other people brought up in Germany—or America—who are also white, may think dishonesty necessary, despise democracy, and call war noble.
Ruth Benedict, of Columbia University, points out that “all over the world, since the beginning of human history, it can be shown that peoples have been able to adopt the culture of people of another blood. There is nothing in the biological structure of man that makes it even difficult.” And Lawrence Guy Brown, in his exhaustive study, Immigration, says, “An individual of any race has the capacity to acquire the culture of any group if the process of socialization begins early enough.”
In times of stress and crisis, it is easy to be swept away by the delusion that people are different because they look different. But this ignorance is our greatest danger. As Supreme Court Justice James F. Byrnes said in 1942, Americans must avoid this “Hitler-like contempt for other groups and creeds and races.” A Naval Intelligence officer who studied the whole question of Americans of Japanese ancestry reported: “The entire `Japanese problem’ has been magnified out of its true proportion, largely because of the physical characteristics of the people. It should be handled on the basis of the individual, regardless of citizenship, and not on a racial basis.”
Have the Japanese-Americans Been Assimilated?
The strongest practical evidence that Japanese are not different as a race is the remarkable degree to which children born in this country have been assimilated into the American way of life. That this is so true is convincing evidence of the strength of American democracy. Milton S. Eisenhower, as first director of the War Relocation Authority, had access to information that makes him uniquely able to judge how well they have been assimilated. He told a Congressional committee that the second generation born in this country “have attended only American schools with other American children. They have learned the democratic way. They know no other way. Many of them are in the American Army. . . . Most of them can speak no other language but ours. They are thoroughly Americanized.”
Paying tribute to the degree of social assimilation that had taken place, Carey McWilliams, in his new book, Brothers Under the Skin, points out that “they showed, from the outset, great eagerness to adopt American ways. . . . In every way they tried to deport themselves in a creditable manner. There was no crime problem among them (nor has there ever been one); and they paid their debts. Even during depressions, they were never dependent upon public relief or assistance.”
Ignorance of this fact has been in good measure responsible for the evacuation. There have been many statements, some from high government sources, asserting that Japanese-Americans have not been assimilated. Colonel Bendetsen, for example, in outlining the reasons for the military necessity of the evacuation, included Japanese-Americans as part of a “national group almost wholly unassimilated and which has preserved in large measure to itself its customs and traditions.” Colonel Bendetsen, like the many others who make such assertions, must be unaware of the facts.
Oakland, California. Following evacuation orders, this store, at 13th and Franklin Streets, was closed. The owner, a University of California graduate of Japanese descent, placed the “I AM AN AMERICAN” sign on the store front on Dec. 8, the day after Pearl Harbor. Evacuees of Japanese ancestry will be housed in War Relocation Authority centers for the duration. Dorothea Lange, 1942.
Research on this problem was carried on for many years at Stanford University under Professor E. K. Strong, following a Carnegie grant in 1929. Here are a few of his findings:
“Mentally and morally the Japanese-Americans are similar to whites. . . . Morally, the Japanese-Americans are possibly superior to the whites; at least their record in delinquency and crime is better. . . .
“The vocational interests of Japanese and whites are very similar.
“There is little or nothing in the data in this section to warrant the statement that Japanese as a class are tricky, deceitful, and dishonest. Their credit ratings are so nearly equal to those of the whites as to warrant the belief that they behave in practically the same way as their white competitors.
“On the basis of an adaptation of Voelker’s honesty test, twelve-year-old Japanese children obtained an almost perfect score (99.9), with Chinese second (87), in comparison with the score of 50 for Anglo-Saxons.”
Assimilation is a process of give and take. Thus many Japanese-Americans have adopted our main religious pattern, the Stanford study finding that “the United States born second generation are predominantly Christian.” Those who remained Buddhists have westernized that religion. And like other national groups new to America, they have contributed much to our way of life. In agriculture their industry, thrift, and efficiency helped make possible a continuous supply of fresh vegetables; they improved or introduced our techniques of cultivation, drainage, fertilization, and cooperative marketing. Their methods resulted in higher standards for our vegetable markets, in improved quality and artistic display of merchandise, in courtesy, and in sanitary precautions.
So strong was their Americanization that when members of the American born and raised second generation visited Japan, they found themselves in a strange land, unhappy and unwelcome. A Japanese manufacturer indicated his disgust for them in these words:
“They’re too individualistic. They can’t learn filial piety and loyalty to the Emperor. I do not hire Nisei. The food doesn’t suit them. The winter doesn’t suit them, they expect central heating. And they don’t suit me. My employees must do only what they’re literally told to do. Nisei want to learn everything that’s going on and make suggestions about what they think they’ve learned in the States. They may look Japanese to you. They don’t to me”—Randau and Zugsmith, The Setting Sun of Japan, Random House, 1942, p. 99.
The feeling was mutual. Japanese-Americans in Japan wrote back to America that “the customs and manners of these people are very peculiar,” or, “I feel out of place in Japan. Everything seems too strange to me.” This deep chasm between Japan and Americans of Japanese ancestry shows how far the latter had been Americanized.
Assimilation was not complete. It never is with any second generation. Children of immigrants have to be the bridge between their parents and America, an experience not only of the Japanese-Americans but common to second-generation Americans of Italian, French, Irish and many other backgrounds. Thus Japanese-Americans lived with their parents, adding the best of that culture to our rich life, and taking American life and ideas into the Japanese environment.
But the most powerful force slowing up the Americanization of these people stemmed from us; it was the economic and social discrimination to which the Japanese-Americans were subjected on the Pacific Coast. Because many jobs, many residential areas, many social contacts were denied them, they were forced back again and again into the first-generation environment. But despite home environment and outside discrimination, assimilation had proceeded so rapidly that, in the words of the Naval Intelligence officer mentioned above, “in another ten or fifteen years there would have been no Japanese problem, for the Issei (Japanese-born first generation) would have passed on, and the Nisei (American-born second generation) taken their place naturally in American community and national life.”
Are Japanese-Americans Loyal?
Pick at random any cross section of 110,000 people in the United States. You will find men, women, and children of varying kinds and occupations, some aliens, most citizens, the greatest majority loyal, some lukewarm, a few actively disloyal. Those of Japanese ancestry in the United States are such a group. No one doubts some of them may be passively or actively pro-Japanese. The Department of Justice has interned 1,974 such suspected individuals for the duration, along with 1,448 Germans and 210 Italians.
But for the group as a whole, “the loyalty of the overwhelming majority . . . has not been seriously questioned by informed persons.” So stated the director of the Alien Enemy Control Unit of the Department of Justice. The Congressional Committee Investigating National Defense Migrations, chaired by Rep. John Tolan, after hearing all sides, corroborated this: “We cannot doubt, and everyone is agreed, that the majority of Japanese citizens and aliens are loyal to this country.” The War Relocation Authority’s former director, Milton S. Eisenhower, brother of the United Nations’ commander in North Africa, reported on June 15, 1942: “I would say that from 80 to 85 per cent. of the Nisei, who are American-born citizens of Japanese descent and who have never been out of the United States, are loyal to the United States.” Of course, persons such as Congressmen Martin Dies, Leland Ford, and John Rankin have questioned the loyalty of the Americans of Japanese descent. So have many sincere citizens misled by racial propaganda. But against this ill-informed opinion is the word of President Roosevelt, Secretary of War Stimson, the War Relocation Authority’s present director, Dillon S. Myer; James C. Baker, bishop of the Methodist Church for the California area; Lieutenant General Delos C. Emmons, commanding general, Hawaiian Department, United States Army; Ray Lyman Wilbur, chancellor of Stanford University; W. C. Sawyer, former national vice-commander of the American Legion; August Vollmer, noted criminologist and professor of police administration at the Universities of Chicago and California; Monroe E. Deutsch, vice-president and provost of the University of California; John Dewey, philosopher; Professor Reinhold Niebuhr, of Union Theological Seminary; Chester Rowell, distinguished San Francisco newspaperman; Frederick J. Koster, chairman, San Francisco Chapter of the Red Cross. All these and many more testify to the loyalty of the typical Japanese-American.
San Francisco, California. A young evacuee looks out the window of bus before it starts for Tanforan Assembly center. Dorothea Lange, 1942
A number of these Japanese-Americans are working in war industries, including two in factories making bombsights and others in airplane plants. As volunteer farm workers last fall, nine thousand of them harvested enough sugar beets for some 260,000,000 pounds of sugar. Thousands are in the armed forces, the commander of a battalion of Japanese-Americans reporting, “I’ve never had more whole-hearted, serious-minded co-operation from any troops.” This statement is typical, according to a War Department release, which adds: “Americans of Japanese blood . . . are wanted because the government and the Army are convinced of their loyalty.”
Can We Separate the Loyal from the Disloyal?
In most cases we certainly can, but only if we give up the misleading habit of judging men wholesale on the basis of race or color. Instead, we must deal with them individually on the basis of their past records and by means of objective, carefully prepared tests. It is not the American way to assume that a man is guilty until he is so proved beyond reasonable doubt. The alleged danger of subversive activity does not stand up against the statement of the director of WRA that not a single act of sabotage or other subversive conduct has been charged against any of the 14,000 evacuees so far released from the Centers to resettle or take short-term jobs (June 1, 1943). The United States Army has accepted some thousands of Japanese-Americans and the FBI has been engaged for months in checking up the records of the evacuees. The present WRA program calls for the removal from all the camps to a single center of all evacuees whose loyalty is questioned by the governmental authorities. Such a plan will need to be administered very carefully to guard against injustice to individuals, but the authorities are confident that such separation is feasible.
The War Relocation Authority has discovered how difficult it is to undo a great wrong or to make good come out of evil. It is honestly and intelligently trying, against the opposition of crackpots, sensationalists, racists, and the Dies Committee school of patriots, to resettle Japanese-Americans as normal citizens anywhere in this country except on the Pacific Coast from which they have come. It is making some progress, about 9,000 persons having been more or less permanently resettled, but rapid progress is blocked in part by the argument, “If these people are dangerous in California, why aren’t they dangerous in Iowa or Illinois?” It has also been blocked by the attitude of many of the evacuees themselves who, under the impact of fear and discouragement, are willing to accept the low order of security of the Relocation Centers. Their fears are exaggerated, but not groundless, because of the discriminatory laws enacted in some states against them and the constant talk, especially on the Pacific Coast, of their deportation to Japan, or at least of the complete and permanent removal of the rights of citizens from them.
There has been a great deal of deliberate falsehood told about the number of Japanese-Americans who are “disloyal,” and who proved disloyalty by their answers to the WRA questionnaire asking if they would forswear allegiance to the Emperor of Japan. Some thought the question an insult. Some were afraid that to answer in the affirmative might mean death for them after their deportation to Japan. Some may be actively disloyal. It is profoundly to be hoped that any tests of disloyalty will be much more fair and far more searching than those of the Dies Committee and the Hearst press, and that every individual will receive a careful hearing as an individual.
Treatment of enemy aliens on an individual rather than a group basis is an American tradition. To treat the whole group as disloyal because of a few disloyal ones does tremendous injustice, and is inconsistent with democracy. Justice Hugo L. Black, speaking for a unanimous Supreme Court decision, said:
“The policy of severity toward alien enemies was clearly impossible for a country whose life blood came from an immigrant stream. . . . Harshness toward immigrants was inconsistent with that national knowledge, present then as now, of the contributions made in peace and war of immigrants who have learned to love the country of their adoption more than the country of their birth”—Kawato Case, 1942.
Did Japanese-Americans Engage in Fifth-Column Activities?
Three days after Pearl Harbor, Attorney-General Biddle declared that “there has been absolutely no evidence of fifth-column or sabotage activities.” A month later Hawaiian Delegate King reported that “despite statements to the contrary, I am assured . . . that no fifth-column activities have taken place.” This statement was given nation-wide coverage in the Washington Merry-Go-Round column.
Nonetheless, the untruth, first started by returning civilians from Honolulu, that there had been fifth columnism and sabotage gained such wide credence that Time reported early in January, “The Jap fifth column had done its job fiendishly well—and had not yet been stamped out.” Even the liberal Nation was sucked in, an article by Howard Costigan in the February 14 issue carrying the two most popular stories: that roads were blocked by stalled trucks and that “directing arrows were discovered cut in the sugar cane.”
How these tales got going will be one of the best stories of the post-war era. Robert J. Casey, of the Chicago Daily News, arriving in Honolulu with other reporters a week after the attack, was still on the dock when he heard the one about the Japanese pilots who were shot down wearing Hawaiian high-school rings and carrying Honolulu streetcar tokens. The reporters were skeptical.
“What did they want the tokens for?” one wanted to know. “Did they figure on taking the bus in from Pearl Harbor?” So they looked up the Navy surgeon in charge of all enemy wounded and who had examined some eight Japanese corpses taken from plane wreckage. “I’ve heard that story,” he said. “But I never saw any rings. I never saw any streetcar tokens. None of the pilots had much of anything in his pockets. None wore any jewelry. Only one had a watch.”
The tales of radio transmitters in milk cans, of maids and cooks who failed to show up for work the morning of December 7 (it was always somebody else’s maid, the reporters found) were equally baseless. Here is some of the unpublicized truth:
“You can say without fear of contradiction that there has not been a single act of sabotage” — Hawaii Chief Agent of the FBI to Blake Clark, summer of 1942.
“Mr. John Edgar Hoover, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, has informed me that there was no sabotage committed there (Hawaii) prior to December 7, on December 7, or subsequent to that time” — Assistant Attorney-General Rowe, April 20, 1942.
“. . . We have had no sabotage and no fifth-column activities in this state (California) since the beginning of the war”—California Attorney-General Warren, February 21, 1942.
Why Were People of Japanese Ancestry Living Near West Coast Defense Areas?
“Many Japanese had taken up residence adjacent to highly important defense plants,” the Dies Committee reported, reflecting the sentiment of many people. The statement is correct except for its order; it should read: “Many important defense plants were established in areas where Japanese already were living. Most major defense installations on the Pacific Coast are comparatively new; the Japanese settlement dates back over decades.”
The major reason for the coincidence is eco nomic. Because of discrimination, first-generation Japanese were driven into agriculture, and many of them took up truck gardening. Truck gardening in turn meant that they came as close to city markets as possible. The defense industries that usually followed them also were drawn to the city to get labor supply, so the conjunction of the two was natural.
What About Other Minority Groups?
The same type of political and newspaper pressure groups that trumpeted for evacuation and now oppose resettlement outside the Centers have in the past led the fight for discriminatory legislation against all Orientals. They used every kind of illegal and violent methods to frighten “Dust Bowl migrants” out of California in the middle of the last decade. They are the same people who lead in maintaining an elaborate caste system to keep Mexican-Americans “in their place.” They use the adjective “alarming” as they view the rapidly increasing Negro population in California. In large part they are opposing present efforts to repeal Chinese exclusion legislation.
The most vocal of these groups, the Joint Immigration Committee, has stated openly that its purpose is “the determination of the Caucasians to keep their blood white.” This group feels that “a grave mistake was the granting of citizenship to the Negroes after the Civil War.” In Brothers Under the Skin, Carey McWilliams shows that anti-Japanese feeling on the Pacific Coast was but one part of a racial prejudice that opposed every non-white group that tried to come into the area. McWilliams links this prejudice with discrimination against the Negro in the South, and points out that “without exception these (anti-Chinese) measures were passed by the vote of representatives from the Pacific Coast and the Deep South. Again and again, Southern senators and congressmen lined up with representatives of the Pacific Coast . . .”
The implication of what is happening has not been lost upon Negroes. George Schuyler, outstanding Negro newspaperman, writing in the Pittsburgh Courier, said:
“The drive to take away the citizenship of native-born Americans simply because of `race’ is in full swing. . . . There is talk of sending these citizens back to Japan (where most of them have never been) after the war. This is exactly what Senator Bilbo has been contending for the Afro-American citizens. We should get out of our heads immediately the idea that this program cannot and will not be carried out. . . . Once the precedent is established with 70,000 Japanese-American citizens, it will be easy to denationalize millions of Afro-American citizens. So whether or not we care anything about the fate of the Japanese-American citizens, we must champion their cause as ours.”
Manzanar, California. Dust storm at this War Relocation Authority center where evacuees of Japanese ancestry are spending the duration. Dorothea Lange, 1942.
The Cost Is Too High
The cost in money and manpower has been high. The first year of evacuation cost some $210,000,000, plus the services of many soldiers and thousands of workers, including skilled administrators, needed elsewhere in a time of manpower shortage. In addition, close to 50,000 of those evacuated had been employed at useful labor, nearly half of them in agriculture, where they are so desperately needed today.
But more serious is the long-run cost of this policy; its effect on the ideals for which America stands. On January 2, 1942, President Roosevelt said that discrimination against aliens “engenders the very distrust and disunity on which our enemies are counting to defeat us. Remember the Nazi technique: `pit race against race, religion against religion, prejudice against prejudice. Divide and conquer.’ We must not let that happen here. We must remember what we are defending: liberty, decency, justice.”
Continued discrimination against Japanese-Americans by holding them in Relocation Centers or keeping them off the Pacific Coast or out of other states does pit race against race, and does divide by creating suspicions among Negroes, Chinese, and Jews that treatment like this may one day be meted out to them. Liberty and justice are menaced for all of us in imprisoning American citizens without trial or charge of misconduct, and in denying them the right to live in any state they choose!
Prof. Paul Taylor, of the University of California, noted that “we may wish to resolve our attitudes . . . with some long thoughts for our grandchildren.” He was referring to the plain common sense that says that discrimination against colored peoples is a luxury we cannot afford. In the United States, colored minorities number about 17,000,000; in the Western Hemisphere, where we talk so much about being “good neighbors,” colored and “mixed breed” peoples probably outnumber the whites, and in the world as a whole there is no doubt whatever that the whites are in the minority, comprising not more than thirty-five per cent. (probably less) of the total world population.
Will China, Burma, Africa, Latin America—all watching our attitude toward colored people—believe our lofty statements about democracy and freedom if actions like discrimination against Japanese-American belie them? For the sake of the future we had best mend our ways. Besides, at this moment the Axis war propaganda is using our discrimination to try to show other races that America’s talk of racial justice (as in the Atlantic Charter) is insincere. The Japanese radio has publicized the evacuation as “the most dastardly act ever carried out by a so-called Christian nation.”
The Present Policy of Resettlement
Loyal persons of Japanese ancestry are being individually resettled in increasing numbers outside of Relocation Centers. Over a period of a year regulations have been simplified, and persons who in a registration last winter indicated loyalty to this country, against whom the FBI has no record, and who have been assured a job outside may now get a leave clearance to go to points in the interior. In addition, the National Student Relocation Council (1201 Chestnut St., Phila., Pa.) has sent about one thousand students of Japanese ancestry to colleges approved by the government. The latter program is privately operated and financed by a coalition of religious groups. Church groups are also assisting general resettlement by establishing hostels to which persons may go directly from a Relocation Center to get a job.
The reaction to this program in the areas to which persons of Japanese ancestry are going can be summed up by two incidents. In March a member of the Iowa legislature opposed the relocation of Japanese-American students in colleges and universities in that state. Answering this attack, the Grinnell College student paper said:
“The Japanese students in Grinnell have become an integral valuable, enjoyable part of our student body. Semester grades came out a month ago. Every one of our Japanese students was on the president’s list of honor students. They live in our dorms and we like them. They are part of our social life and we don’t want to lose them.”
This was typical of the attitude in the nearly three hundred colleges and universities where Japanese-Americans went. The second incident occurred in Marengo, Ill., a city of some two thousand population northwest of Chicago. The Curtiss Candy Company planned to use Japanese-American labor on its farms there, and three young men, all former University of California students, were sent there as truck farmers. Late in April, following execution of American airmen in Japan, resentment grew and the three men were withdrawn. The City Council called a special meeting on the subject. The Protestant ministers in the town supported the proposed resettlement, and the Kiwanis Club declared, “All citizens of this country are entitled to the privileges of citizenship without respect to color, creed, or antecedents.” It was pointed out that the laborers were American citizens who had nothing to do with Japan’s war policies. The special citizens’ meeting voted 62 to 21 to allow Japanese-Americans to work and live in the community.
Who Is Supporting this Resettlement Program?
Christian church groups have been the most active supporters of individual resettlement of those of Japanese ancestry in both word and deed. At the time of the evacuation, the Tolan Committee found that “every spokesman for religious organizations who testified on the West Coast advocated individual treatment of the Japanese.” This belief has been translated into support of resettlement. Three of the largest interdenominational groups of the country, The Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America, the Home Missions Council of North America, and the Foreign Missions Conference of North America, have jointly sponsored the Committee on Resettlement of Japanese-Americans, which is actively at work in a number of ways. Particular denominations are also working. Thus the Presbyterian General Assembly on May 31, 1943, declared “its active support of the government’s program for the resettlement of American citizens of Japanese parentage and for their reabsorption into the normal processes of American community life; and that for this purpose General Assembly calls upon the people of our churches to sponsor in their communities those of Japanese parentage who are certified by the government.”
On the West Coast, where religious groups were closely acquainted with those of Japanese ancestry, there is similar support. A group of San Francisco clergymen, in a statement to the press, recommended that “American citizens of Japanese ancestry be reestablished in normal community life” and “that church members begin building an attitude of public fairness.” W. Bertrand Stevens, Episcopal bishop of Los Angeles, James C. Baker, Methodist bishop of California, Rabbis Edgar E. Magnin and Irving H. Reichert, and Fathers Joseph P. Mulkern and Edward J. Whelan, Roman Catholics, are among the clergy on a West Coast committee that urges resettlement. The Baptists, Friends, and Church of the Brethren are among those who are operating hostels in the Middle West, where Japanese-Americans can live while obtaining jobs and housing.
San Francisco, California. On a brick wall beside air raid shelter poster, exclusion orders were posted at First and Front Streets directing removal of persons of Japanese ancestry from first San Francisco section to be affected by evacuation. The order was issued April 1, 1942, by Lieutenant General J.L. DeWitt, and directed evacuation from this section by noon on April 7, 1942. Dorothea Lange, 1942.
Both the Department of Justice and the War Department have examined and approved methods of resettlement that are being carried out by the War Relocation Authority, and Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy recently said, “I feel confident that there is a place in California and elsewhere for loyal Japanese” — Los Angeles Times, May 3, 1943.
Chairman Paul McNutt of the War Manpower Commission feels that the resettlement program “should have the dual effect of benefiting the evacuees, many of whom are American citizens, and of making available to the country several thousand people for employment on farms and in industry.” A Senate subcommittee of the Military Affairs Committee, with Senator Albert B. Chandler of Kentucky as chairman, has likewise advocated that Japanese-Americans who are loyal be allowed to leave Centers for jobs and to serve in the armed forces. Dillon Myer, director of the WRA, has stated: “Detention within a relocation center . . . is not intended to be more than a temporary stage in the process of relocating the evacuees into new homes and jobs.” Thus there is full government support for a resettlement program of a broad and extensive kind.
There has been such widely publicized opposition to any better treatment of Japanese-Americans from some California politicians and patriotic groups that it is important to realize that also from California has come much support for a resettlement program. In addition to the leading West Coast clergymen listed above, an eminently distinguished group of California citizens supports government policy for resettlement. Some of the members of the Pacific Coast Committee on American Principles and Fair Play are President Robert Gordon Sproul of the University of California; General David P. Barrows; Ray Lyman Wilbur, former secretary of the interior and chancellor of Stanford University; President Robert A. Millikan of the California Institute of Technology; President Aurelia Henry Reinhardt of Mills College; President Tully C. Knowles of the College of the Pacific; Maurice E. Harrison, former chairman of the Democratic State Committee; Former Governor C. C. Young; famed police authority August Vollmer, and many others.
What About the Future?
Two courses are open. One is to continue and expand the individual resettlement program already started, with the end of getting all those who are loyal out of Relocation Centers and back into American life. It would involve eventual return of some of the people to the Pacific Coast as soon as the military considers that safe, but for economic reasons most of the people probably will not return to the Coast. Such a resettlement policy, coupled with adequate government protection and the economic means to start life again, would be a fair and sensible solution to the problem. The net result would be the distribution of this tiny minority of one-tenth of one per cent. of our population throughout the country, where reabsorption into American life would be rapidly completed.
The alternative is seen in the vigorous anti-Japanese campaign now in full swing in California and its repercussions, which are being felt throughout the country. This movement has three objectives: (1) to return control of Japanese-Americans from the WRA to the Army, apparently with the hope that Americans of Japanese parentage can then be used as forced labor gangs at low cost; (2) to deprive American citizens of Japanese ancestry of their citizenship; (3) to prevent Japanese-Americans from reentering California. It is generally recognized that the last two are unconstitutional, and would thus require constitutional amendment.
The consequences of success for this anti-Japanese-American effort for those people would be catastrophic both for the Japanese-Americans and for Americans generally. Former Governor Carr of Colorado has accurately described the situation in these words:
“If we do not extend humanity’s kindness and understanding to these people [the evacuees], if we deny them the protection of the Bill of Rights, if we say they may be denied the privilege of living in any of the forty-eight states, and force them into concentration camps without hearing or charge of misconduct, then we are tearing down the whole American system. If these people are not to be accorded all the rights and privileges which the Constitution gives them, then those same rights and privileges may be denied to you and me six months from now for another just as poor reason as the one which is now offered against the Japanese.”
They Know the Japanese-Americans
“I have known intimately many Japanese-American citizens. I am proud of them as fellow citizens and should count it a privilege to have them as my neighbors. They are persons of character and are devoted to the ideals of American democracy.”—JAMES C. BAKER, Bishop, Methodist Church, California area.
“I have had considerable experience with the Japanese, both foreign and native born, during the past fifty years. . . . I have found these students dependable, reasonable, always willing to abide by the regulations and the laws, industrious, loyal to the United States, and having as much university spirit or public spirit as their fellow students.”—RAY LYMAN WILBUR, chancellor of Stanford University, and former secretary of the interior (September 22, 1942).
“Most of the native-born persons of Japanese parentage are undoubtedly good citizens and will not give the government any trouble if released.”—AUGUST VOLLMER, professor of police administration, University of California (October 12, 1942).
Law and Liberty
The President’s order of February 19, 1942, which initiated the evacuation, should be carefully pondered by all good Americans. It read:
“Now, therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me as President of the United States and Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, I hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of War and the military commanders whom he may from time to time designate, whenever he or any designated commander deems such action necessary or desirable, to prescribe military areas, in such places and of such extent as he or the appropriate military commander may determine, from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which the right of any person to enter, remain in or leave, shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate military commander may impose in his discretion.”
This order of the President, the subsequent orders of Lieutenant General DeWitt, commander of the West Coast area, under the authority granted by it, and various court actions culminating in the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States, June 21, 1943, in the case of Gordon Hirabayashi, constitute a record of complete reversal of the slow evolution of the Anglo-American law in the direction of justice to each individual on the basis of his deeds, in favor of the totalitarian concept. That concept is that the interest of the state, as interpreted by the Executive, is the first and last commandment. The record in the case of the Japanese-Americans, together with the rapid drift of the country toward total conscription, refutes the optimistic conclusion that civil liberties have been very much better protected in this war than in the First World War. Some are, but in that war there was no parallel to the legal treatment of the Japanese-Americans and, what is worse, to the way in which that treatment has been ignored or actually supported by public opinion, including the opinion of many so-called liberals.
The hysteria based on false reports of what happened in Hawaii, the race feeling on the Pacific Coast, general conviction of danger of invasion and fifth-column activity, politicians capitalizing on public bias, greed for land made fertile by labor of the Japanese, and pressure by the Army led the President to issue his proclamation, for which it was reported that neither the FBI nor the Department of Justice was, to put it mildly, enthusiastic.
The result was the evacuation process that we have described, and the continuing existence of ten concentration camps called Relocation Centers. It is true that first the Army, and later the War Relocation Authority, have acted “humanely.” But the essence of tyranny and slavery has never been the cruelty which very often accompanies them. It is the denial of justice that is the basic wrong, and the destruction of liberty.
The immediate sufferers from the program inaugurated by the Presidential order of February 19 were, of course, the Japanese and the Japanese-Americans. American citizens whose skins were “yellow” instead of “white” were treated far worse than Italian or German aliens. But it did not take long for the logic of the Presidential proclamation to be extended to Caucasians. Several scores of them, all of them American citizens, have now been removed by Army order from their homes and businesses on the East and West Coasts after secret hearings before Army boards—a reversion to the Star Chamber trials of the Stuart kings. As this is written, there comes the welcome news that the United States District Court for Eastern Pennsylvania has voided such an order against Olga Schueller, a naturalized American of Philadelphia. Judge Ganey ruled that the Presidential order upon which the military exclusion of Mrs. Schueller was based cannot interfere with a citizen’s liberty or property, or abridge constitutional guarantees of freedom unless the danger to the government is “real, impending, and imminent.” The court held that Mrs. Schueller’s continued residence in Philadelphia constituted no such danger. If this decision can be upheld on appeal, some brake will have been set on our rapid descent to totalitarian “justice.” It will be interesting to see what the Supreme Court will say when the victim is a Causasian.
For the plain truth is that the court decision in the Hirabayashi case smacked of racism. Gordon Hirabayashi, an American citizen of Japanese ancestry, was an outstanding student in the senior class of the University of Washington when he chose to challenge, first, the Army curfew order as discriminating between citizens and therefore unconstitutional; and secondly, the whole evacuation order which came later. His was the particular case of several that had been brought to challenge the law, which finally became the outstanding test case before the Supreme Court. The court unanimously held that Mr. Hirabayashi had been properly convicted for disobeying the curfew order. It did not pass on the evacuation matter, but its reasoning would seem to sustain it.
San Francisco, California. Husband of these two women are being held as dangerous enemy aliens. Wives and children were evacuated with other persons of Japanese ancestry to War Relocation Authority centers for the duration. Dorothea Lange, 1942.
In non-technical language, Mr. Hirabayashi’s lawyers held that the Presidential order itself was an unconstitutional exercise of power, and that the Army orders under it were certainly unconstitutional because they discriminated between American citizens on the grounds of race. The American Civil Liberties Union, which refused to support the first point, supported the second in a brief amicus curiæ. The court’s decision was cautious. Through Chief Justice Stone it said that it had “no occasion to consider whether the President, acting alone, could lawfully have made the curfew order in question.” It was able thus to rule because Congress, on March 21, 1942, passed a blanket law, itself, as Senator Taft argued, of doubtful constitutionality—and more doubtful wisdom—making disobedience to all military orders a crime. The court went on to say that it “did not now attempt to define the ultimate boundaries of war power,” but that there were reasonable grounds for the Army’s judgment of military necessity, and that “in time of war” citizens of certain “ethnic affiliations” may be “a greater source of danger than others.” (That is where the dangerous racism comes in.)
Justices Douglas, Rutledge, and Murphy were enough worried by the case to file concurring opinions to emphasize their belief that there may be judicial restraint on the exercise of this enormous emergency power. Mr. Justice Murphy said: “Today is the first time, so far as I am aware, that we have sustained a substantial restriction on liberty of persons of the United States upon the accident of race or ancestry.” He found in the special ban “a melancholy resemblance to treatment accorded members of the Jewish race in Germany and other parts of Europe.” And he added that “in my opinion, this goes to the very brink of constitutional power.”
That a court as able and liberal as this Supreme Court should thus have ruled shows two things: (1) our constitutional protections in time of total war are very weak against an insistent demand from the Army—we must get rid of the war system if we are to keep true freedom; (2) the doctrine of racism which inspires mob action and Jim Crow laws in America and Nazi race laws in Europe has infected even our highest court when on such weak evidence it can enunciate its doctrine of ethnic affiliations as a basis for discrimination in America.
This opinion of the court went almost unnoticed. It now seems doubtful that any legal case involving Japanese-Americans can successfully be brought. The government can avoid a further test that it does not want by the simple process of discharging the person who brings it from the Relocation Center so that, in legal terminology, the case will become “moot,” and will not be considered by the court. The best chance of further judicial decision concerning the absolute power of the President to permit his military agents to order any of us out of our homes may have to come in connection with the Schueller case or some other case brought by a Caucasian. Any rectification of the injustice done to the Japanese-Americans probably will require legislative action, such as the repeal of the Congressional act of March 21, 1942, compelling absolute obedience to all Army orders, or a grant of some compensation to the evacuees for the enormous property losses that they have sustained.
Meanwhile, the anti-Semitic demagogue, along with the defender of Jim Crow laws, has high legal precedent for discrimination. To the anti-Semite, the Jew is as dangerous as the Japanese-Americans seem to General DeWitt, and it can hardly be said that General DeWitt’s evidence was very much better than the evidence of the anti-Semitic demagogue. Some day a government will hold that there can be a domestic emergency as grave as an emergency of war. Then a Supreme Court that would resist such totalitarianism as the Presidential order of February 19 involves will be handicapped by the precedent this court has set in admitting that the military, at their discretion, can distinguish between citizens, not on any basis of any individual acts, but only their ethnic affiliations. What is freedom but an empty word if this sort of thing is possible?
Norman Thomas, writing a year before the Supreme Court decision, concluded his pamphlet on Democracy and Japanese-Americans (Post-War World Council) with these words: “For all of us there is a task of educating American public opinion and the American Government on the significance of the issues raised by the evacuation of citizens into concentration camps. The greatest victim of our procedure against the Japanese is not the Japanese themselves; it is our whole concept of liberty, our standards of justice, and the appeal which American democracy ought to be making to the oppressed peoples of the world.” The events of the year have fully borne out this statement. The Japanese Government has used our evacuation policy in propaganda against us in Asia. On several occasions, Chinese-Americans have gone out of their way to express sympathy with the evacuees. They realize the issues involved. When will the rest of us learn them in the interest of justice and freedom and peace? It is good that so many Americans are awakening to the importance of cooperating with the War Relocation Authority in relocating the evacuees. But that, of itself, will not be enough. Our liberties and the sincerity of our repudiation of the monstrous doctrine of a master race depends upon our success in removing from our legal system the possibility that under any circumstances any Executive can have the awful power asserted by the President in the order of February 19, 1942, a power intended to be used against the members of one particular race, but nonetheless applicable in stormy years to any unpopular minority. That way lies death to our democracy.
For More Information
Brothers Under the Skin, by Carey McWilliams( Little, Brown, 1943, $3.00) is an invaluable study of racial minorities in the United States. Discussing Indians, Chinese, Mexicans, Japanese, and Negroes in the United States, he points out the long history of racial prejudice on the West Coast out of which the evacuation came, shows how this prejudice hurts the war effort, jeopardizes our future. The best popular book on racial minorities.
Democracy and Japanese-Americans, by Norman Thomas ( Post-War World Council, 112 East 19th Street, New York, N. Y.).
The Pacific Citizen, weekly newspaper (published at 415 Beason Building, 25 East Second South Street, Salt Lake City, Utah) is best source of current news about Japanese-Americans.
Magazine Articles. Outstanding among hundreds of articles published on the subject are the following:
Series of four articles by Galen M. Fisher in Christian Century, August 18 and 25, September 1 and 8, 1943.
Our 100,000 New Boarders, in Reader’s Digest, March, 1943.
U. S. Soldiers with Japanese Faces, Reader’s Digest, February, 1943.
A Program for Action
1. Welcome and resettle Japanese-Americans throughout the land.
The evacuation was authorized by one man, the President; but he cannot by a reverse fiat restore these outcasts to their homes. Only the American people, or a considerable part of them, can restore to the evacuees the opportunity to live among us as the Constitution and our democratic liberties provide. It is now the government’s policy that this be done, but it cannot empty the Relocation Centers if the residents have no place to go. To resettle all loyal individuals and families in homes and jobs throughout the land requires the voluntary active cooperation of good neighbors everywhere. Information and assistance can be obtained from one or more of the following agencies:
War Relocation Offices:
Chicago, Ill. 226 West Jackson Boulevard
Cleveland, Ohio Union Commerce Building
Denver, Colo. Midland Savings Building
Salt Lake City, Utah 318 Atlas Building
Kansas City, Mo. 1509 Fidelity Building
Little Rock, Ark. Pyramid Building
New York, N. Y. 350 Fifth Ave.
Washington, D. C. Barr Building
Committee on Resettlement of Japanese-Americans, 297 Fourth Avenue, New York 10, N. Y.
American Friends Service Committee, 20 South 12th Street, Philadelphia 7, Pa. Fellowship of Reconciliation, 2929 Broadway, New York 25, N. Y.
2. Prevent further discrimination against Japanese-Americans.
There is popular agitation, particularly in the West, to prevent American citizens of Japanese ancestry from having equal rights in ownership of land, in job opportunities, in civil service posts, and in citizenship. Watch for these attempts in your state or community and defeat them.
3. Obtain government protection of rights of person of Japanese ancestry.
Persons of Japanese ancestry who are resettled can and must be given adequate protection from possible mob violence. As many have lost most of their economic resources through no fault of their own by evacuation and detention, the government has the moral obligation to give them the means with which to start again. We should therefore press the government to make restitution for the severe property losses suffered by evacuees as a direct consequence of the President’s evacuation order.
4. Pending complete resettlement, preserve the War Relocation Authority.
As soon as possible the Relocation Centers should be abolished with their inhabitants returned to normal, everyday life. But it will necessarily take some time to do this and, in the meantime, control of the Centers should remain in the hands of the War Relocation Authority. To return them to Army control would be a long step backward, one which the Army itself has publicly opposed. The welfare of these men, women, and children is a civilian and not a military concern.
5. Help those who remain in the Centers.
Ask the American Friends Service Committee or one of the other organizations listed above for information about how you can help. The AFSC folder, Dispossessed, tells of the physical needs of these people. Also urge the WRA to pay adequate wages to Japanese-Americans in the Centers, bringing their pay up to the level of that given Caucasians. Also to eliminate the practice of racial segregation in the dining halls and throughout the Centers.
6. Educate the American public.
The misinformation that is being actively circulated by groups opposed to the Japanese-Americans, as well as general race prejudice, must be countered with truth. Use literature, such as this pamphlet, to inform your neighbors and friends. Get informed discussion going in your church, labor union, club, or other groups. Write letters to your local newspaper or go to see the editor and try to enlist his help. Education and the practice of truthfulness, tolerance, and fair play for all minorities form the foundation stone of our republic.
“The War Relocation Authority proposes now to redouble its efforts to accomplish the relocation into normal homes and jobs in communities throughout the United States, but outside the evacuated areas, of those Americans of Japanese ancestry whose loyalty to this country has remained unshaken through the hardships of the evacuation which military necessity made unavoidable. We shall restore to the loyal evacuees the right to return to the evacuated areas as soon as the military situation will make such restoration feasible. Americans of Japanese ancestry, like those of many other ancestries, have shown that they can, and want to, accept our institutions and work loyally with the rest of us, making their own valuable contribution to the national wealth and well-being. In vindication of the very ideals for which we are fighting this war it is important to us to maintain a high standard of fair, considerate, and equal treatment for the people of this minority as of all other minorities.”
in a Message to the U. S. Senate,
September 14, 1943.
FELLOWSHIP OF RECONCILIATION
New York 25, N. Y.
(ASX Editors Note: The Dorothea Lange photographs did not originally accompany this text)
ASX CHANNEL: DOROTHEA LANGE