This is not an anniversary to be celebrated, but certainly one we need to never forget. 74 years ago yesterday, nearly 120,000 people of Japanese descent (62% of whom were American citizens and 30,000 of whom were children, the rest legal permanent alien residents) were forced into internment camps, losing most of their property and stripped of their civil rights because of war hysteria, a fear that they held fierce loyalty to the land of their ancestry, therefore creating a security threat to the United States after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. With Executive Order #9066, Feb. 19, 1942, Franklin Delano Roosevelt ordered their deportation and incarceration, forcing them to leave their communities, their livelihoods, their homes. Their internment lasted four years.
The quality of the camps, which President Roosevelt called “concentration camps,” were cramped and overcrowded. They were built quickly and poorly as military barracks. It was not uncommon that 25 people lived in spaces that were built for 4 without any cooking or restroom facilities. In public restrooms, the toilets were unpartitioned. There was a budget of 45cents a day for food per person. Camps were isolated, most in desert-like areas, and lacked the necessary resources to support the population imprisoned within. The camps were surrounded by armed guards and barbed wire.
In 1980, because of increasing pressure from the Japanese American Citizens League, President Jimmy Carter initiated an investigation to determine whether the government had been justified in this mass incarceration. The commission’s report concluded that the incarceration was the product of racism and that there was no evidence of people of Japanese ancestry posing any threat to national security. The Civil Liberties Act 1988 was signed into law by Reagan and it gave reparations of $20,000 to each survivor of the camps.
In this political year of loud and extreme rhetoric, much of it aimed at specific ethnic groups, we would do well to remember the hysteria and racism that confiscated the civil liberties and property of citizens and legal residents of the United States, that imprisoned these people on American soil with no evidence and against their will. We would do well to remember and make sure with our votes in November, that this will never happen again.