Justice and Reconciliation Seattle Pacific University 1942
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Japanese American internment from 1942-1946

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Historical Background about the Japanese American Internment

On December 7, 1941, American citizens watched in horror as their country was attacked on its own soil for the first time in history. When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, it set off a wave of racism against the Japanese Americans who were currently residing on the West Coast. However, the attack on Pearl Harbor was only the tip of the iceberg. Since the late 1800s, Japanese Immigrants were discriminated against. Especially after World War I, numerous anti-Asian sentiments arose. For instance, in 1922 in the case Ozawa vs. the U.S., the U.S. Supreme court ruled denied citizenship (naturalization) to Japanese Americans because they were not “white.” Only two years later, the Immigration Act was passed that banned the admittance of Asian Immigrants into the United States. It would not be until 1965 until the number of Asian Immigrants increased again.
Nevertheless, the emotions that arose after the attack caused a wild fire of racial discrimination against the Japanese Americans, as all were now seen only as the “enemy.” Only two days after the Pearl Harbor attack, 2,000 Issei (first generation Japanese immigrants) leaders from Hawaii and the mainland United States were arrested and imprisoned by the United States government. Moreover the Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.) warned Japanese Americans against possessing guns, cameras and radios. For the Japanese Americans, many of their jobs were related to fishing, so they needed such materials as two-way radios. Numerous male Issei were arrested for possession of these items and taken from their families without a word about where they were going or when they would see their family members again. Two months after the attack, the American community watched in silence as 120,000 Japanese Americans on the west coast were forced out of their homes and into internment camps for the remainder of the war. According to the Minidoka National Park website, 70% of the interned them were American citizens.1

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1. Burton , J., M. Farrell, F. Lord and R. Lord. “Confinement and Ethnicity: An Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites.” National Park Service: Minidoka Internment. http://www.cr.nps.gov/history/online_books/anthropology74/ce9.htm ( 17 January 2001 ).