3 Japanese Internment Camp Questions

I know it was a different time, and there were real fears that the Japanese who had already engineered a sneak attack might have spies on the West Coast. Rounding up Japanese Americans back then probably didn’t worry people that much, except, of course, those who were rounded up.

  1. Was there wide spread support for locking up Japanese Americans, for example pressure from Congress to do it, or was this mainly the White House’s idea?

  2. Was there ever talk of rounding up at least some Germans and/or Italians on the East Coast, and if not, why not?

  3. Since some Japanese Americans fought in WWII not all of them were locked up. How did they determine who to lock up and who to allow to fight?

As for #1, I don’t know enough about how it went into effect, but Congress didn’t seem to have any problem implementing the order. It could be that issuing it from the president seemed more expedient than waiting for Congress to address it.

#2: There were Germans and Italians rounded up from other parts of the country, but it only amounted to a small number.

There were also a number of foreign nationals put into the camps. While the policy in theory was only to get ‘suspected spies’, there were likely instances where it was just used to get the ‘undesirables’ out of the neighborhood. This mostly applied to the Italians, as people of German descent made up a larger proportion of the population and were more accepted.

Have a look at this: http://www.archives.gov/research/immigration/enemy-aliens-overview.html

#3: There were “Japanese” already serving in the military (it was only those living in ‘war zones’ who were sent to camps) and they were part of the 442nd. Those who enlisted from the camp were required to sign the loyalty oath*. Signing up was voluntary. It was kind of a touchy subject - sign a piece of paper in order to serve your country, or refuse and be seen as a traitor?

I’m using “Japanese” to mean the same conditions as applied to those sent to the camps - persons of Japanese ancestry. Only Americans served in the military (Japanese aliens had been excluded from becoming citizens for quite a while).

*An oath that required both allegiance to the US and forswearing loyalty to the Japanese emperor. Signing it was required for release from the camp at first. Many in the camps objected to the second part for what it implied, and many who refused it were sent to the more punitive camp, Tule Lake.

Plenty of support, including for reasons other than national security.

It happened:

Internment of Italian Americans
Internment of German Americans

People living in areas declared on an ad-hoc basis as “military exclusion zones” were the ones who were relocated.

nod You can’t lock up everyone with Japanese ancestry in the state of Hawaii - the islands would be damn near empty.

Thanks everyone. Ignorance fought.

Although note that unlike the Japanese internment, with the Germans and Italians it was (with a few minor exceptions) only actual German and Italian citizens getting interned, not US citizens of German and Italian ancestry or birth.

I’ve always thought it was somewhat interesting that the Nazi party actually had some limited success recruiting German-Americans into joining auxiliaries of the party back in the 30’s, but once the war started despite all the hysterics about the Japanese fifth column nobody seemed too concerned about it.

Canada was also worried and took measures.


people in the USA and Canada did move out of the zones included.

This should be amended to say “put into camps”, since these were not the same camps as the ones set up for the Japanese. The link I provided explains it a bit more clearly.

Something else to clarify, though only tangential: the ‘loyalty oath’ was in fact part of a questionnaire specifically designed for military recruitment. It led to much confusion, though, as it was given to everyone, and the questions might still be used to determine loyalty (meaning that women and the very elderly had to say they were willing to serve in the military or risk being considered disloyal).

A decent book that covers the issues of race relations in the US during World War II is Ronald Takaki’s Double Victory. It includes accounts of the Japanese as well as the experiences of some of the Italians who were held prisoner.

  1. Japanese Americans were drafted from the camps to fight in Europe. If they refused to serve, they were sent to prison. Most (including my uncle) actually volunteered to fight in order to “prove their loyalty to America”.

It was a very controversial topic within the camps—many felt that they should not fight for a country that had locked up them & their families. Others felt like my uncle did–that they should fight to prove they were not “enemy aliens”.

The 442nd Infantry Regiment (made up of Japanese Americans, since the troops were segregated) was the most decorated unit in American History.

Nit-pick: Hawaii wasn’t a state back then.

IIRC, there were just about zero “US citizens who were Japanese by birth” due to discriminatory legislation at the time.

Correct. Japanese immigrants were not allowed to become US citizens at the time, nor were they allowed to own land. My grandparents, who immigrated to the US in 1921 were not able to naturalize until the late 1950s, due to the discriminatory legislation that was not reversed until a decade+ after the war was over.

Thankfully the Japanese never even considered interning American and British nationals within their territory.

In AUS there weren’t many Cultural Japanese to round up – AUS had a restrictive immagration policies, and had had a successful deportation policy earlier. Where it had more effect was on Cultural Italians.

First they rounded up the Italians. Then they rounded up the Italian migrants. Then they rounded up the second-generation Italians. Then they rounded up anybody else they could think of.

Once it got going, the whole thing became just a job that some people had: find some one to arrest, put them in camps, rinse and repeat.

As of today, German and Italian ancestry are the #1 and #7 largest in the US. 15.2% and 5.6% respectively (2000). Japanese doesn’t crack the top 15, and 0.2% of the population. The demographics back then weren’t dramatically different. It wouldn’t have been feasible to intern these ethnicities, so only those with close ties to the country were suspect. Meanwhile, in Hawaii, Japanese ancestry was 1/3 the population. The military governor of Hawaii under martial law blocked internment for the majority of the population. It would have been very bad for the economy, in the least. I am not certain, but I believe the few Japanese people who lived farther east would’ve escaped notice?

By the way, the Japanese did attack the west coast, although not with any help stateside. I think just six deaths in one incident.

The oath was two questions:

I know that this is probably a potential woosh, but were there many in Japan proper? Of course, one could make the claim that the majority of internees were in land claimed by Japan but not “really” theirs.

What’s extra ironic (and sad) about it is that I think that from their point of view, their core feeling deep in their hearts was exactly the same as non-Asian Americans. IOW they naturally & immediately wanted to enlist out of a sense of duty and inherent loyalty to their country. Unfortunately, because of their Asian appearance, it wasn’t automatically believed by non-Asians that they unquestionably considered America to be their country! :mad: