Race and Ethnicity
Japanese Internment Camps of World War II
To be the enemy, or not to be the enemy, that is the question. After the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, many Americans believed that the Japanese Americans, also called Nikkei, were disloyal and associated with the enemy. There were rumors that they exchanged military information and had hidden connections. None of these claims were ever proven. The U.S. government became increasingly paranoid about this new problem and demanded action. On Thursday, February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt issued the Executive Order 9066, which called for an evacuation of Japanese Americans on the west coast with the excuse of a “military necessity.” The government’s hasty enforcement of Executive Order 9066 in reaction to public hysteria, not only violated the rights of Japanese Americans, but also resulted in unnecessary effort and attention towards the internment camps.
The United States government had no right to intern Japanese Americans because of their ethnic background. People argued that the Japanese aliens in the United States posed as a threat but in reality “more than two-thirds of the Japanese who were interned in the spring of 1942 were citizens of the United States” (Ross). The Nikkei had the same rights as any other American citizen, yet they were still interned. The public skipped to the conclusion that all people of Japanese ancestry were saboteurs which heightened racial prejudices. Furthermore, the accusation of disloyalty among Japanese Americans caused the state department to send Agent Curtis B. Munson to investigate this issue among the Japanese Americans; he concluded “there is no Japanese problem on the west coast…a remarkable, even extraordinary degree of loyalty among this generally suspect ethnic group” (Chronology). Munson’s report stated that there was no military necessity for mass incarceration of these people, yet the government ignored and kept the report a secret. Munson’s report could have also calmed the public’s fears, but since government decided not to release it, the people remained quite neurotic. The public continued to assume that all Nikkei were disloyal because of their racial background. This racial prejudice resulted in the relocation of thousands of innocent people. Public hysteria and racism influenced the government’s actions towards the Japanese Americans since “the general public believed, erroneously, that there were Japanese saboteurs active along the Pacific Coast” (Hata). This fear of sabotage from the Nikkei caused the urge for government to issue Executive Order 9066 to pacify the anti-Japanese public groups, although the Munson report stated to react otherwise. Since the government needed a legitimate excuse rather than discrimination, the order was based on a false claim of military necessity (Hata). If only the government exposed Munson’s report and was not greatly influenced by the public, there would have been no need to evacuate the wrongly-accused Japanese Americans.
The internment of Japanese Americans unlawfully took away their unconditional rights as citizens. In the cases of Hirabayashi and Korematsu v. United States, “the defendants argued that their Fifth Amendment rights were violated by the U.S. government because of their ancestry” (Ross). Their right to “due process of law” had been taken away. The Japanese-American ethnic group was forced out of their homes without a stated crime. In addition, government broke the fourth amendment, the right to a speedy and public trial, when “Japanese Americans were deprived of their liberty and property by being forcibly removed… without the required statement of charges and trial by jury” (LegiSchool). First they were not informed of their misdeed, and then they were not given the right to a trial. The Nikkei’s rights were stripped away at once with no concrete evidence to support their so-called crime. Furthermore, in Article...