Two months after Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt authorized Executive Order 9066. It adopted a drastic policy toward Japanese-American residents, alien and citizen alike. Virtually all of them were forced to abandon their homes and property and live in camps for most of the war. Although it was violating the constitutional rights of Japanese Americans, the government cited national security as justification. Heated by the flames of anti-Japanese suspicion and fear, an overwhelming percentage of Americans supported it.
Like many American baby boomers, I didn’t even hear about this atrocity until the Carter administration. It was never mentioned in my high school and college history classes. In the eighties I saw the documentary photographs that Dorothea Lange took of the camps that were suppressed for years, unlike the breathtaking vistas of the same area that Ansell Adams took. It made me wonder. Did any public figure oppose the Japanese internment? “Probably not,” I answered myself. It would’ve been equivalent to opposing NATO expansion in Eastern Europe today. Do all the research you want and you’ll never find a historical account in a mainstream American newspaper decrying the action.
Recently I became friends with my Japanese-American neighbor, Jamie Szoke. Her parents were living in the United States during World War II, yet they were not interred. “Why not?” I asked her. It turns out that somebody did oppose that policy, only to pay dearly for it. This short video interview with Jamie explains what happened.
5 thoughts on “Did Anyone Oppose Japanese Internment?”
Very interesting story and interview!
Very good comment.
What I liked about the interview, as a history teacher, was the richness of it. It didn’t just cover the mere fact of the internment, but touched lightly on a lot of other information about the Japanese and their skill that they brought over with them at farming particular kinds of land and what happened to certain farms that were lost or turned over and regained or not regained. That’s another interesting set of sidelights into history and into culture. I also found interesting your neighbor’s brief aside that Japanese don’t like to talk about their experiences with the internment. That’s very different from Jews who talk very directly about their experience, the Holocaust, losing property, etc… Maybe there’s a cultural difference there.
Very good observation.
That’s really a fine interview and it underscores the banality of how people react when a minority is excised. They just take it as an opportunity to steal their land. I have a book about my ancestors’ home town of Sochachaw, Poland, 20 miles from Warsaw. When the Germans came in, before the Jews in the town were exterminated, many left, and the townspeople simply took over their property. This is a village that had been a mixture of Jew and Christians since 1300. (The book has 150 pages of unbearable first hand accounts.) But because of events like that, I knew about the Japanese camps for as long as I can remember. My parents made sure I did.
The interview is really so good … she just speaks and it feels very natural.