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Uncovering Japanese Internment Camps During World War II

The internment of Japanese Americans in the U.S. during World War II is a deeply troubling chapter in American history. In honor of Memorial Day this month, we'd like to highlight and honor the incredible sacrifices and contributions Japanese Americans made for our country during WWII. Both those who were forced into the camps and those brave citizens who fought in the war deserve to be recognized.

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What Are Japanese Internment Camps and Why Did They Exist?

Fear and Prejudice:

  • Following Japan's December 7, 1941 surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, a wave of fear and suspicion swept across the US, particularly on the West Coast, where a significant Japanese American population resided.

  • Attitudes portraying all people of Japanese descent as potential threats fueled this paranoia.

Executive Order 9066:

  • President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 in February 1942, capitalizing on these anxieties. This order authorized the military to designate areas as exclusion zones and remove any people considered threats from those areas.

  • Also this not only applied to Japanese Americans but also to any other ethnicities that took sides in the war.

Flawed Justification:

  • The military argued that Japanese Americans posed a homeland security risk due to their proximity to the Pacific coast and potential ties to Japan. However, there was little evidence to support this claim.

The Scale Of The Camps:

  • Ten Japanese internment camps were established throughout the western interior of the U.S., primarily in desolate regions.

  • Two "relocation centers," as they were known, were located in Arkansas: one in Rohwer and the other in Jerome.

  • Approximately 120,000 people of Japanese descent, including two-thirds who were US citizens, were forcibly uprooted from their homes and businesses and incarcerated in these camps.

Long-Term Impact:

  • The internment camps caused immense suffering, disrupting lives, livelihoods, and education. The psychological trauma continues to resonate within Japanese American families.

  • Many of these families owned successful businesses on the West Coast, most of which were forced to shut down, and all their land or assets were seized.

A Grave Injustice:

  • The internment of Japanese Americans is recognized today as a grave injustice fueled by prejudice and wartime fear. The US government issued a formal apology in 1988 and provided some compensation to survivors.

Japanese Americans' Heroic Role In World War II

Despite tremendous adversity, Japanese Americans. Here are a few of their many contributions:

Japanese American Military Service & Accolades:

  • Over 33,000 Japanese Americans served in the U.S. military, even after the incarceration of their families.

  • The most famous units were the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Infantry Battalion, both highly decorated for their bravery in Europe. They fought with distinction and faced a higher casualty rate than other units.

  • The Military Intelligence Service (MIS) utilized around 6,000 Japanese Americans as translators and interpreters due to their language skills. This proved vital in the Pacific Theater for interrogations, understanding enemy communications, and ultimately shortening the war.

Overcoming Prejudice:

  • Their service was a powerful act of loyalty and patriotism on the United States' war front in the face of such prejudices.

Unwavering Sacrifices:

  • It's important to remember this contribution came despite the internment of roughly 120,000 Japanese Americans in incarceration camps. This sordid chapter in U.S. history underscores the remarkable patriotism of those who served.

  • Between the camps and those who served in the war, over 2,000 Japanese Americans lost their lives.

How We Continue To Honor Japanese Americans Today:

The Agricultural Museum of Scott, Arkansas, held its first Cherry Blossom Festival on March 16, 2024. The festival was dedicated to the area's last remaining Japanese Internment family. A cherry blossom tree was planted as a memorial to the internees.

Also, numerous national memorials now commemorate their heroic efforts. You can visit to learn more about this dark but important part of American history.

  1. Rohwer Memorial Cemetery: In Desha County, Arkansas, the Rohwer Center Cemetery is one of only three Japanese relocation center cemeteries maintained in the United States.

    • Nisei GI Memorial: This monument is situated within the Rohwer Relocation Center site. It specifically honors the Rohwer men who served in the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Unfortunately, the monument's condition is not the best, and efforts have been made to restore it.

  2. National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism During World War II (Washington D.C.): This prominent memorial, located near the U.S. Capitol, honors the Japanese Americans who served in the military and those who endured forced incarceration during the war. The centerpiece is a stirring sculpture by Nina Akamu depicting two cranes breaking free from barbed wire.

  3. Go For Broke Monument (Los Angeles, California): This iconic monument features a bronze statue of a Japanese American soldier with a determined expression, defiantly holding a rifle. It pays homage to the bravery of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a unit with a high percentage of Japanese American soldiers who fought with exceptional valor in Europe.

  4. Japanese American National Museum (Los Angeles, California): This comprehensive museum delves into the history and culture of Japanese Americans, with a significant focus on World War II experiences. Exhibits explore the wartime patriotism and loyalty of Japanese Americans despite facing incarceration.

  5. Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial (Bainbridge Island, Washington): This poignant memorial commemorates the forced removal of Japanese Americans from Bainbridge Island during World War II. It features a haunting bronze sculpture of a family gazing out towards the water, symbolizing the loss of their homes and community.

Overall, Japanese Americans played a crucial role in the war effort, both on the battlefield and through intelligence gathering. Their bravery and dedication in the face of adversity deserve recognition. Meanwhile, their friends and families endured terrible conditions in the Japanese internment camps.

Don't hesitate to contact us regarding classes on special Japanese topics, private cultural events, and more.

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