Tag Archives: Japanese relocation

306. White Men Only

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. See also Monday’s and Tuesday’s posts.

The Naturalization Act of 1790 stated that citizenship was available to “any alien, being a free white person”. That set the tone for the future. When the law was amended after the Civil War, it’s new iteration was taken to mean that Chinese were not eligible for citizenship.

Economic reality brought them to America anyway, where their children became citizens by birth, even though their parents could not be naturalized. The Chinese importance to the transcontinental railroad is well known. When the golden spike was driven, Chinese by the thousand were thrown out of work, and in the years that followed, downturns in the American economy were blamed on cheap Chinese labor. By 1882, Chinese were forbidden entry into the United States, a condition that continued until the 1940s.

In 1880, only 148 Japanese were living in the United States. Between 1885 and 1894, the need for cheap labor in Hawaii coupled with economic difficulties in Japan led 25,000 Japanese to emigrate to Hawaii. Many of those later moved on to the mainland.

During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, particularly during the Alaskan gold rush, there was a need for cheap labor all over the American west. Chinese were prohibited from entering the US, but Japanese were not. The result was predictable; between 1901 and 1908, 127,000 Japanese entered the United States. Many entered the fishing industry. Many were skilled in a kind of small scale, intensive agriculture that was new to the United States. All came from a culture that emphasized the entrepreneurial spirit.

Like the Chinese before them, the Japanese immigrants were denied citizenship, but their children became citizens at birth.

Most of these Japanese settled in California, where they formed a tiny minority. By 1941, only a small minority of that minority were both native born and of voting age, leaving the Japanese politically voiceless.

Throughout the half century before Pearl Harbor, the Japanese, especially in California, were subject to virulent racism. Repeatedly, the California legislature made it illegal for Japanese to lease or own land, but these were poorly conceived laws that were universally evaded. Japanese children were segregated out of public education.

It is a familiar pattern. Most ethnic groups endured it when they first came to America – then used the same tactics against whoever came after them. Like hazing at West Point, it is a long-standing American tradition.

Then came Pearl Harbor. Unfounded fears of the Japanese led to Executive Order 9066, and in 1942 the American military moved 120,000 Americans from their homes and incarcerated them thousands of miles away in “relocation centers”. I call them Americans because they were either actual citizens or long time residents who intended to live out their lives in their new country, but were prevented from receiving citizenship because of their race.

Much is made of the harshness of the centers, but that is not the point. Tens of thousands of GIs lived in barracks identical to those that made up the relocation centers. There was one difference, however, that does matter. The GI barracks were not surrounded by barbed wire fences, with guard towers manned by soldiers with guns.

And those GIs who made it back from the war, returned to their homes. The homes, farms and businesses of the Japanese were largely taken by the neighbors who had sent them away.

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I said in the beginning that I would not shove conclusions down your throat. I will, however, leave you with this quotation from Personal Justice Denied, p. 28:

(Japanese relocation) is the bitter history of an original mistake, a failure of America’s faith in its citizens’ devotion to their country’s cause and their right to liberty, when there was no evidence or proof of wrongdoing.

For me, 2017 is beginning to look a lot like 1942. Decide for yourself.

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


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.

304. Another Day In Infamy

Seventy-five years ago yesterday, FDR signed Executive Order 9066 which allowed the Army to remove tens of thousands of American citizens from their homes and place them in relocation camps. America has long recognized the error of this action. Now, more than ever, we need to look at how it came about – not only because of the anniversary, but because of what is happening in our country today.

First, however, an aside. This is not a reaction to Donald Trump and his travel ban or his planned expulsion of undocumented residents. I’ve been planning this series of posts for over a year. I announced them in early December (See 266. The Other War), and I would be writing the same series of posts if Donald Trump had never existed.

Nevertheless, these posts do shine a sidelight on his policies.  You can make the comparisons for yourself.

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Executive orders are neither good nor bad, as a class of action. They are just the way legislation gets fine tuned and enforced. There are times when a president oversteps his authority and gets slapped down by the courts. There are times when a president should act, but does not. It would be easy to find citizens who applauded Obama’s executive orders and hate Trump’s – and just as easy to find the reverse.

Every executive order has to be seen on its own merits, even executive orders by the same president. Although Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 will receive harsh criticism here, we should also remember his Executive Order 8802, which prohibited racial discrimination in the defense industry. There are very few full time villains, and probably no full time heroes. That’s why, in a democracy, we choose our leaders carefully, and watch them just as carefully after they are in office – no matter who they are.

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The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. On December 8, America declared war. On December 12, FDR issued Executive Order 8972 which ordered military guards and patrols within the US to protect national defense areas. The justification was protection of America from domestic sabotage by internal enemies. That would also be the justification for Japanese removal.

On February 19, 1942, FDR issued an additional executive order, number 9066, toward the same end, but this time he called on the military to exclude “any or all persons” from areas of military importance, with wide discretion to decide who this meant and what constituted an area of military importance.

I have placed links to full versions of both orders at the bottom of this post. Here is a cut-down version of EO 9066, for those who don’t care to see the full text:

. . . 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 . . . to prescribe military areas . . . to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War . . . may impose in his discretion (and) to provide for residents of any such area who are excluded therefrom, such transportation, food, shelter, and other accommodations as may be necessary . . . I hereby further authorize and direct the Secretary of War . . . to take such other steps as he . . . may deem advisable to enforce compliance with the restrictions applicable . . .

As you begin reading the full text, at first it seems to be an order to do things like keep spies off Navy bases. But then you come to the part which says that “such transportation, food, shelter, and other accommodations as may be necessary” will be provided, and it becomes clear what is really intended.

They called it exclusion, as in being excluded from a Navy base. Today it is called removal, because it was not a Navy base from which these unnamed people were being excluded. It was the entire west coast of the United States. And the people excluded from their homes, farms, and businesses were Japanese Americans.

I know people who have no problem with this, who say we were at war with Japan and who see all Japanese as one. I know some whose hatred of Japan has never died.

Facts don’t support them. The Japanese, who were not a threat, were incarcerated. The Germans, with whose Fatherland we were also at war, had shown massive support for Hitler, but they were not incarcerated. Why? The details of all this will come in the next two posts.

Executive order 8972 https://fas.org/irp/offdocs/eo/eo-8972.htm

Executive order 9066 https://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?doc=74&page=transcript