305. Relocation – or not

Mostly, A Writing Life is a look at science fiction and writing in general. However, I am an American, and my country did something seventy-five years ago that needs to be remembered.

I have been aware of the relocation of the Japanese for a very long time, but in preparing these posts, I put on my historian’s hat and did my research. The final word (or as close to a final word as ever exists in history) comes from the government commission empaneled to investigate the matter in 1980. Their report, Personal Justice Denied, is available on line at https://www.archives.gov/research/japanese-americans/justice-denied

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Executive Order 9066 began with these words:

Whereas the successful prosecution of the war requires every possible protection against espionage and against sabotage to national-defense material, national-defense premises, and national-defense utilities . . .

Certainly, no one could argue with that. The devil was in the details of how Executive Order 9066 was carried out.

There were four groups of American residents who were affected by this order, in two categories – Japanese, German, Italian, and Aleut. The Aleuts were living in a war zone on distant Alaskan islands and had to be removed for their own safety. Their story is not a happy one, but their removal was necessary.

Our concern is with the other three groups, residents and citizen descendants from the three countries against which America was at war.

Italians were dismissed by the government and military as of no danger. They were so little regarded, that it almost seems embarrassing in retrospect. FDR called them “a lot of opera singers” and they were quickly removed from the category of “aliens of enemy nationality.” Whatever distrust individual citizens may have had, the government did not move against them, even though Executive Order 9066 allowed it to do so.

Germans were also treated differently than the Japanese in spite of the powerful pro-Nazi movement among German Americans before the war. The Bund rally for Hitler in New York in 1939 drew 20,00 people, and Bund membership nationwide was more than 200,000.

Of course, mass exclusion of Germans and Italians would have required dealing with a million detainees. And they were white, which Japanese were not, by the standards of the day.

Nevertheless, German and Italian individuals were at risk. Military commanders used their powers to exclude many individual citizens of German or Italian ancestry from the areas under their command. Many non-citizens were arrested and brought before INS hearings, where they were not allowed lawyers and could not object to the questions put to them. Any issues of loyalty were decided in favor of the government. By three months after Pearl Harbor, 1393 Germans and 264 Italians had been incarcerated by this system

Everyone knows that Japanese were relocated en masse, but there is a twist to the story. Not all Japanese were treated equally, either. Japanese from the west coast were the ones relocated. That means mostly California, Oregon, and Washington – Hawaii was only a territory at that time.

The Japanese in Hawaii were not relocated. Why? There is no single, simple answer. At least part of the reason lies in the fact that Hawaii was tightly under martial law. Part of the reason lies in the personalities of the regional generals, Emmons in Hawaii and DeWitt on the west coast. Part of the answer lies in sheer numbers. In 1942, 35% of the population of Hawaii was of Japanese ancestry.

However, most of the reason lies in years of racism in the western part of America. We will look at that tomorrow.

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