Day of Remembrance

On February 19th of each year, Japanese Americans remember a time in the past when those living on the West Coast were forcibly removed from their homes and sent to several internment camps against their will. Forced to sell their homes and businesses on very short notice for next to nothing, most of them lost everything they owned except what they could carry. In some cases, families were split up and sent to different locations.

From the Smithsonian Institute’s A | More | Perfect | Union website,

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 authorizing military authorities to exclude “any and all persons” from designated areas of the country as necessary for national defense. E.O. 9066 was the first step in a program that uprooted Americans of Japanese ancestry from their West Coast communities and placed them under armed guard for up to four years.

Because people were enraged due to the attack on Pearl Harbor, few were willing to consider the ramifications of dismissing the civil rights of a group of Americans that were suddenly seen as the enemy. Due to their physically recognizable features, Japanese Americans were easier to single out and direct anger against.

The limited official opposition to removal centered in the U.S. Justice Department with officials such as Edward J. Ennis and the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover, who believed it was unconstitutional. Abrogation of the basic constitutional rights of nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans and resident aliens came quickly.

From the Densho Project we have an oral history record of what Masao W. remembers after realizing her freedom had been taken away,

You grow up thinking you’re a citizen, and you want to be a part of this society you’re in, and then the, let’s say the weight of the rejection, is something that was pretty unexpected. But when reality sets in, like the “Camp Harmony” and these little shacks in Minidoka, then the real negative things start coming to your head, you know. “What the hell is this?” And I think it bothered a lot of us tremendously. You try to be a good citizen, you try to do what you’re supposed to be doing, and the rejection is very hard, difficult.

In 1943, every resident in the internment camps was required to complete one of two questionnaires misleadingly entitled “Application for Leave Clearance” to distinguish whether they were “loyal” or “disloyal”. After Pearl Harbor, all citizens of Japanese ancestry had been classified 4-C: “enemy aliens.” On both forms, Question 27 asked if an individual would be willing to serve as a combat soldier, nurse, or in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. This test of loyalty was by no means objective. For internees, military service would mean leaving parents and family behind in the harsh conditions of the camps. Japanese men had also been told they would serve in a segregated combat unit, a prospect many found distasteful. Finally, when the draft came to camp, many believed they should resist the draft as long as their constitutional rights were being violated.

Even though this event happened many years ago, it wasn’t so long ago that our lives aren’t still touched by it. I worked with a man several years ago that spent some time with his family in one of these internment camps. Freedom can so easily be taken away, and then so difficult to obtain again. Our nation has some truly great achievements in its history, but also some failures, like any other. What should separate us from other nations is when we admit our mistakes so that we will not repeat them again.

After the attacks on our nation on September 11, 2001, there were some that were calling for the government to single out Muslims and/or Arabs and remove them from our nation. Thankfully, our nation did not respond again like it had in the past and single out a group of people based on their race (or religion) to have them unlawfully detained or removed from the Country. When one innocent man loses his freedom, so do the rest of us.

The following sites contain a lot of information about Japanese Internment during WWII.

Day of Remembrance
Children of the Camps
A | More | Perfect | Union
Densho Project (Registration required.)

Today is a day we remember those whose freedoms were taken away. We must never forget, or we will be doomed to repeat it again.

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