World War II US Japanese Internment Camps

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During our August trip to Montana, we toured the Heart Mountain World War II Japanese Internment Camp Museum near Cody, Wyoming.  I knew that the US had interned US citizens of Japanese descent during World War II, but never knew the details.  What a shameful mark on our country’s history!

After the Pearl Harbor attack, panic broke out among residents of the US West Coast States that a Japanese invasion of the US West Coast was imminent.  Citizens demanded that the US Government intern all residents of Japanese descent.  President Roosevelt responded and issued an executive order to do so.  If President Roosevelt had conferred with the military Chief of Staff, General Marshall, I’m confident he would have assured him that an invasion was highly unlikely.  The Japanese didn’t try to invade and hold Hawaii, which is much closer, for a reason.  The Japanese admirals knew they didn’t have a sufficient navy force to supply and support their occupying troops.  At Pearl Harbor, we saved all of our aircraft carriers and submarines.  Our carriers and submarines would have destroyed most of the Japanese ships trying to re-supply the troops in Hawaii.  It would have been much harder for Japan to invade the West Coast.

For the Japanese who were born in Japan and spent their childhood in Japan, there might have been some justification to question their loyalty to the US.  During that period, Japanese children were indoctrinated to believe the Emperor was the absolute ruler, god and protector of Japanese culture.  In World War II, Japanese troops fought till killed or disabled.  However, those naturalized Japanese US citizens were only about a third of those interned.  The other two thirds were native born US citizens who never had Japanese Emperor worship indoctrination.

Unfortunately, all US residents of Japanese descent were rounded up on short notice and interned.  Most Japanese were naturalized citizens or native-born US citizens.  Their due process rights guaranteed in the Constitution were ignored.  There was no creditable evidence that any were a security risk.  FBI Director Hoover assured Roosevelt that there was no evidence they were a security risk and the order was issued anyway.

The Japanese were told to either sell or give away their businesses and farms.  On short notice they couldn’t sell them and had to abandon them.  After the war they never recovered their businesses and farms.  More than 120,000 were interned at camps throughout the US.  At its peak, Heart Mountain had about 12,000 residents. Families lived in World War II type barracks with separate family spaces. The internees were not prepared for the severe Wyoming winters.  They were able to cope and survive.

After the war ended each person was given a bus ticket to a city of their choice and $25.  Most resettled and eventually reestablished their lives, but never regained the property they lost.

There was no legal justification to intern the native-born Japanese.  The adult native-born US citizens in each family should have been left free to take over the family farms and business and care for the younger native-born children.  That would have been a fairer and more humane solution.   If their due process rights guaranteed in the constitution can be cancelled by an executive order, are any of us safe from arbitrary imprisonment by our government at anytime for any reason based on false accusations?

Author:  Ralph Coker

Bio:  Ralph Coker is a retired petroleum Refinery plant manager.  He writes on business, economic, military and political topics