Shikata Ga Nai

Monday, February 24, 2014

General DeWitt issued Civilian Exclusion Order No. 1 on March 24, 1942, followed in quick succession by Civilian Exclusion Orders 2 through 108. These orders contained instructions to “all persons of Japanese ancestry, both alien and non-alien.” It seems that General DeWitt couldn’t bring himself to use the word “citizens,” which is what the “non-aliens” were.
No. 5 is a typical exclusion order. It was issued on April 1, 1942 and required Japanese Americans living in San Francisco to present themselves for evacuation (forced removal) by noon on April 7. This gave them six days to pack up and store, lease, or sell everything they owned. Many had little choice but to give in to the vultures who offered less than 10% of the value of furniture and appliances and other household goods. Some women were so incensed at the prices they were offered that they smashed their fine china rather than letting the secondhand dealers have it for unconscionable prices.
The head of the family—or the person forced into that role if the Issei head of the household had been arrested—was required to go to the Civil Control Center in advance to register the family. The family was then given a number. The Civil Control Center also provided baggage tags with the family number and told evacuees to attach them to each member of the family and the luggage they were taking with them. (You can see the tags on the children in the picture at the head of this post.) There were no baggage tags for pets, however, because pets were not allowed.
And how much luggage could the Japanese Americans take? No more than they could carry, which different families interpreted differently. On average, they took two suitcases each plus one duffel bag for the family. There wasn’t room for photo albums or family heirlooms, either, because each family was instructed to pack (1) bedding and linens, (2) toilet articles, (3) extra clothing, (4) knives, forks, spoons, plates, bowls, and cups, and (5) “essential personal effects” (whatever that means) for each member. It was particularly hard to decide what clothes to take since they had no idea where they would be going or what the weather would be like.
So how did the Japanese Americans respond? With anger and hostility? Inwardly maybe, but not outwardly. There was very little resistance, and the battles that did occur were fought in the courts rather than in the streets.
Why did they submit? There were two main reasons. One is summed up in the Japanese phrase that I used as the title for this post: shikata ga nai. It means “it can’t be helped” and was their way of saying that what can’t be cured must be endured. The second reason is that they believed in obeying the laws of their country. If the American government said they must move out of their homes and into prison camps, they would do it. It was a way to show their loyalty.
Of course, the government didn’t call them prison camps. Tune in next week to find out what it did call them.
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The photograph at the top of this post was taken by Dorothea Lange in 1942 as part of her official duties as an employee of the United States government. Because it is a government document, the photo is in the public domain.

Betrayed by Their Country

Monday, February 17, 2014

February 19, 1942 was an evil day for America. That’s the day President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066.

But lets put it in context.

On February 14, 1942, General John L. DeWitt, who was commanding general of the Western Defense Command, sent a memorandum to the Secretary of War recommending that Japanese Americans living on the West Coast be removed from their homes and sent inland. His reasoning went this way:

The Japanese race is an enemy race and while many second and third generation Japanese born on United States soil, possessed of United States citizenship, have become “Americanized,” the racial strains are undiluted. . . . It, therefore, follows that along the vital Pacific Coast over 112,000 potential enemies of Japanese extraction are at large today. There are indications that the very fact that no sabotage has taken place to date is a disturbing and confirming indication that such action will be taken. (Emphasis added.)

By the way, that 112,000 potential enemies included infants and children.

FDR responded to reports like these by issuing Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942. It authorized the Secretary of War and “the Military Commanders whom he may from time to time designate” to create military areas:

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.

The day after FDR signed Executive Order 9066, the Secretary of War designated General DeWitt as the Military Commander for the western states for purposes of carrying out the provisions of that order. General DeWitt quickly drew a line down the middle of Washington, Oregon, and California and across the southern third of Arizona and declared that they were military areas from which all persons of Japanese descent would eventually be removed. He also imposed a curfew on Japanese Americans that required them (except with permission), to stay home from 8:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. And during the daylight hours, they were not allowed to travel more than five miles from their home except when traveling to and from work.

Although Executive Order 9066 did not specifically mention Japanese Americans, that is how it was applied in subsequent orders. And although some provisions of those later orders mentioned German and Italian aliens, none were applied to citizens of German or Italian descent. That “privilege” was reserved for those U.S. citizens with Japanese blood.

How would you have felt if you had been among them?

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The photograph at the top of this post was taken by Abbie Rowe and shows FDR signing the declaration of war against Japan on December 8, 1941. It is an official government photograph, which puts it in the public domain.

Guilty by Association

Monday, February 10, 2014

Hopefully everyone who reads this blog knows what happened at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Japanese-Americans were as shocked and angry as their Caucasian neighbors were. But the government saw only what it wanted to see and reacted quickly to suppress imaginary threats in Hawaii and the continental U.S.

On that same day, December 7, 1941, the FBI began arresting Japanese-Americans who maybe might have possibly had either an opportunity or reason—however slight—to cooperate with Imperial Japan. Most of the people arrested were Issei (first generation in America) men, but some were women and there may have been a few Nisei (second generation) as well.

How could the FBI act so quickly? Paranoia about the threat from Japan had begun months and even years earlier, and the government already had a list of those Japanese-American aliens (the Issei) who maybe might have possibly had either an opportunity or reason—however slight—to cooperate with Imperial Japan. Most had emigrated to America decades earlier and would have applied for citizenship if the law had allowed it.

The arrest list included:

  • commercial fishermen (because they had short-wave radios and could theoretically make contact with submarines off the coast),
  • community leaders and journalists (who might have influence in the Japanese-American community),
  • Buddhist priests and Japanese-language teachers (i.e., those who worked to maintain Japanese religion, tradition, and culture),
  • Issei employed by U.S. branches of Japanese businesses, and
  • those who had visited Japan within the last few years.
Although many people were rounded up that first day, the arrests continued for several weeks. All of those arrested were sent to prison without a trial. Some of them were “released” after months or a year to join their families in incarceration camps, but many were not released until the war ended. And none of them were ever proved to be disloyal to the U.S.

You can imagine the effect this had on innocent men and their families. Many households were now fatherless, and some were even parentless. In the Kikuchi family, for example, a teenager was left to care for her four siblings, ranging in age from eight to twelve, after both her parents were taken away.* And all Issei bank accounts were immediately frozen, leaving many families with neither a wage-earner nor access to their savings.

These arrests occurred in Hawaii as well as in the continental U.S. The military also imposed martial law in Hawaii as part of an earlier plan on what to do if the U.S. was attacked. But most Japanese-Americans living in Hawaii were spared the worst of what was yet to come.

That began with Executive Order 9066, which I will cover next week.


* See page 27 in Dear Miss Breed by Joanne Oppenheim.

Second-Class Citizens

Monday, February 3, 2014

I am currently researching a historical middle-grade novel based on the Japanese-American incarceration during World War II, and I believe it is important for all Americans to understand the appalling things we did to loyal citizens in the name of patriotism. (A subsequent post will explain why I use the word “incarceration.”) Since it will be a while before the book is written and finds a publisher, I have decided to dedicate a number of posts to the subject.

It actually started before Pearl Harbor. First-generation Japanese Americans, called Issei, were not allowed to become U.S. citizens, no matter how loyal they were or how long they had been in this country. In the Pacific states they were also prohibited from owning land, although many got around it by buying the land in their children’s names. Those same states, and some others, also made it illegal for anyone of Japanese ancestry to marry outside their race.

The second generation, called Nisei, had it somewhat better. They were born in the U.S. and became citizens at birth under the terms of the U.S. Constitution. As mentioned above, they were also allowed to own land, but they still couldn’t marry outside their race.

The Nisei (and some of their parents) tended to be well-educated. They spoke English as well as other native-born Americans, and they often had advanced degrees. Getting an education was easier than finding a job, however, and the West Coast was populated with engineers working as dish washers and store clerks.

Why this prejudice? Some of it was undoubtedly economic. The Japanese were accepted in Hawaii, where Japanese labor and Japanese businesses were vital to the island economy. They were largely ignored in the Midwest and on the East Coast, where their numbers were so small that they had little effect on the workforce. But they were often hated on the West Coast, where their hard work and business savvy made them serious competitors to many Caucasians.

Still, it was probably more complicated than that. It takes effort to identify with people who are different than we are, and the Japanese stood out because of their looks as well as their work ethic.

Whatever the reason, the prejudice was felt most strongly by the Issei. The Nisei had Japanese ancestors but considered themselves 100% American. No, they didn’t just consider themselves 100% American. They were 100% American.

That’s why subsequent events hit them so hard.

Next week I’ll write about the reaction to Pearl Harbor.

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If you would like to learn more about the experience of Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast at the start of World War II, here are some books I recommend.
·         Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston;

·         Dear Miss Breed by Joanne Oppenheim;

·         Nisei Daughter by Monica Sone; and

·         The Children of Topaz by Michael O. Tunnell and George W. Chilcoat.

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The photograph at the top of this post was taken by Dorothea Lange in Oakland, California during March 1942. It appears to have been taken as part of her official duties while employed by the United States government, thereby placing it in the public domain.