American-Japanese Concentration Camps
When Admiral Yamamoto’s forces conducted their mostly successful raid on Pearl Harbor, many Americans panicked over the thought of a follow-up invasion of the west coast.
U.S. Army officers baldly asserted that American-Japanese were all under the control of the Japanese Emperor and therefore consisted of an enemy “fifth column” waiting for the signal to destroy their fellow citizens.
In the weeks after December 7, CIA operative John McCloy and others would convince President Roosevelt to sanction the rounding up of some 110,000 American-Japanese, most of them citizens, and to move them away from the coast where they were imprisoned until the war ended.
Richard Reeves tells the riveting story in Infamy, The Shocking story of the Japanese Internment in WWII.
Reeves has previously authored a wide range of books on Nixon, Reagan, Kennedy and Clinton.
His book on Kennedy, President Kennedy: Profile in Power, is a superb study of the discipline and focus required to be the chief executive and Kennedy’s difficulty in both areas.
The False Profiling of Disloyalty
Many of the Japanese were “Nisei” or second generation Americans who had been born here, American citizens in every sense of the word. Â Their parents may not have been citizens as a 1924 federal law prevented them from gaining citizenship, another racist Catch-22 that would have severe repercussions.
Reeves takes us through the heartrending scenes as they are given 24 hours or less to sell or dispose of their possessions, houses and businesses before being sent to collection centers and then onward to the far-flung camps, located in the middle of nowhere.
As ultimate proof of the false premise of the plan, American-Japanese living in the Hawaiian islands were not interned though one would assume they amounted to a much greater threat as they made up as much as 30% of the population.
The reason, at least in large measure?
There were too many to intern and they were needed to harvest crops, especially sugar cane and pineapple, crops owned by American Corporations.
A Mistake of Awesome Proportions
Reeves writes that it wan’t long until it became clear that the internments were an extraordinary error of epic proportions.
American citizens had been denied due process and other fundamental constitutional rights simply because of their race.
Even after realizing that the prisoners should be freed immediately, Roosevelt kept them in the camps for blatantly political reasons, one of which was to secure his re-election.
Another outcome was the inevitable radicalization, especially of young men, trapped in the camps and judged as traitors to their country for no reason.
They refused to sign phony loyalty oaths.
They formed gangs, refused to either enlist in the military or even register for the draft.
They rioted and some even elected to leave the US for Japan when the war was over.
Many simply forfeited their “citizenship” as it meant nothing in reality, anyway.
The 442 RCT
Amidst this constitutional carnage arose the Phoenix of the 442 Regimental Combat Team and other all Japanese units deployed in the European Theater, especially Italy, after 1943.
Despite the horrible way they had been treated by fellow citizens and the government, thousands of young American-Japanese men enlisted and served with extraordinary bravery.
In fact, the 442 Regimental Combat Team is the most decorated unit per capita in the history of the United States military:
- 21 Medals of Honor
- 53 Distinguished Service Crosses
- 588 Silver Stars
- 5,200 Bronze Stars
- 9,486 Purple Hearts
- 8 Presidential Unit Citations
Infamy is a book to read for many reasons, but especially as a reminder of the horrible blot on our history when we treated citizens and loyal Americans as traitors and reaped the terrible results.