MASS MEETING OF THE RESIDENTS
Mr. Dillon S. Myer
War Relocation Authority
Minidoka Project Gymnasium
February 19, 1945 at 2:00 p. m.
Folks of Minidoka, I am indeed happy to be here at this time because I relish the opportunity to tell you some things that I think you need to know -- things that I hope you believe and which I think you will in time. Even if you don't believe all of it this afternoon, some of it you are going to find out for yourself.
First I would like to lay a little background, to review a little bit of history before I talk to you about our present day problem. I think it is a good thing once in a while to sit down and think over some of the things that have happened in order to view our present situation in the light of the past. It was just about three years ago that the Executive Order No. 9066, which gave authority to the War Department to carry out the evacuation program, was signed. Just about 10 days later, the first evacuation order was signed. About a month following that the WRA came into existence under Executive Order No. 9102. I was not director in the early part of the program. The program was under way for about three months before I came into the picture.
The year 1942 was very chaotic for all of you. Most of the time from about the 1st of March, the last of March and the end of the summer was spent moving from your homes to assembly centers, from assembly centers to relocation centers. The last people from assembly centers arrived at the Jerome Relocation Center in December 1942. Some of us did not know very much about you at that time. We had to get acquainted. We spent time, a great deal of our time, building staffs, getting them trained, formulating new policies and assisting you in getting established in your apartments. Along about the middle of that summer we started on the first phase of the relocation program. A few folks went out on seasonal leave and a few other people left the centers before the end of the year on indefinite leave, but these were very few.
One of the things that surprised me greatly in the middle of 1942 about July was the fact that certain people on the West Coast began to attack the WRA and you. We had naturally assumed that because of the fact that you folks were leaving the West Coast that there would not be any serious public relations problem out there. We were mistaken. As early as July 1942, public recommendations were made that WRA be turned over to army supervision. A small group of people began to oppose every effort to relocate people outside the centers. They were putting on a campaign to make relocation center[s] similar to internment camps or concentration camps.
Following the turn of the year 1943, just two years ago, we had a very mixed situation. One of the first things that happened early in January 1943, was the announcement by Secretary of War Stimson of plans to organize the
Shortly following that announcement during February and March, the famous registration program was carried out. Later on, the major part of the segregation program took place. Many people moved out of Tule Lake to the other centers, and many people moved into Tule Lake. About December of that year came the Tule Lake incident with its wild publicity. There were more lies put out about that than truth. But caused us a great deal of difficulty.
By the end of 1943 WRA was subject to a great deal of criticism on the West Coast. Offices were opened in Chicago, Salt Lake, Denver, and other places. Throughout 1943 the first year of relocation, WRA assisted in relocating 17,000 people.
WRA was probably the most investigated agency in the Government during 1943. The investigations started out with the Military Affairs Committee. Before they got started, the Dies Committee decided they would do one of their own. The Dies Committee conducted a so-called investigation which was one of the worst smear campaigns I have ever seen. It was carried definitely with that in mind on the part of the people who conducted it. It did turn out we had at least one friend on that committee, who turned in minority reports that were really worthwhile. That campaign was carried on during May and June, and WRA never got a chance to have its hearing until July. At that time it was under way, I did not like it, but I want to say now that I am glad it was carried out. I am glad it was carried out, for without it, we never would quite have understood the pattern of the strategy of the enemy if that program had not been carried through. Furthermore, their investigation and the misinformation they put out was so bad that it was very easy to disprove. Every time they attacked us, there were more people who came over to our side. We had the Dies investigation.
The year 1944 has been an entirely different story. Right after the start of the year, Secretary Stimson made an announcement based on the record of boys out of Minidoka and other centers, that Selective Service would be reinstated for boys of Japanese ancestry. In my judgment this was a major step on the way back. There isn't anybody that I know of, except the war lords, that particularly like wars. We seem to have them in spite of anything, but if we are going to have wars, I am one of those people who believe that every citizen should have the right to fight for his country like everybody else, and if he has that right he should have his other rights. After the announcement of Selective Service, a number of other things happened that are important to you. The news of the job that the 442nd Battalion was doing in Italy started to come in. They were in the process of battling their way up through Italy, and collecting on the way 1,000 Purple Hearts -- which was something most people did not believe. I sent a story through for the Secretary Icke's approval, and he called me back personally on the telephone and asked "Have you checked this figure; have these boys actually earned a thousand Purple Hearts?" And I said, "Yes, Mr. Secretary, it is hard to believe, but they have." He said "That is why I called you back; I could not believe it." As that word began to go out throughout the land, to the West Coast, and as the boys from Minidoka, Heart Mountain, Granada and the other centers who went into the Army began to get into action about the middle of June or thereabouts, and reports began to come back to their home-town papers in Washington, Oregon, and California, as well as other parts of the country, the situation began to change pretty fast.
The people who had [been] pouring on the poison, the misinformation, the misrepresentation for the rest of the country about you folks, had based their whole program for the past forty years or more on a number of things that they had the rest of the country for a while pretty well believing. One of those was: Once an Oriental, always an Oriental; once a Japanese, always a Japanese. Another was that you people could not assimilate into our economy, and so on and so on. The the 13,000 or more boys who have already volunteered or come through the selective service process into the American Army have given the most dramatic and tangible proof that ever has been provided that their program was based on sand, and would not stand up. A lot of good people who had been misled and who had looked upon that group of experts began to feel sheepish about having been misled. Again they began to roll up their sleeves and do something about it. You and I and the whole country are indebted to these boys. They are making a contribution beyond what other soldiers can make. They are not only fighting for their country as they should and they are doing it well, but they are also fighting for you and your opportunity to continue to exist in this country. I am sure you appreciate that.
The boys are doing the kind of job that you and I can be proud of, and I am. 1944 has been an entirely different year than the previous year. In addition to the fact that over 13,000 boys were in the army, there have been somewhere around 35 or 36 thousand people that have relocated throughout rest of the United States. I have believed all along the relocation program was essential for several reasons, but one reason above every other was the fact that the rest of the country needed to know you, needed to know your sons and daughters, needed to be better acquainted. For year after year after year they have accepted the story put out by that small group of people on the coast who have been your enemies, and who, although they do not realize it, have been the enemies of the United States, and who have developed all those old clichés and statements people have believed in the past, some of which I have already repeated. They told about how you ruined the land. They said you could never fit yourselves into American culture and so on and so on and so on. You know what the answers are.
The folks throughout the United States generally don't believe that any more. The boys and girls and older people from the centers who have relocated in the various states have made a contribution to the country and to you. There was a time when I was worried -- that was back in 1942 -- that there might be a possibility of some legislation being passed at the instigation of that group or something similar to concentration or internment camps and it might provide the basis for alienating a lot of you people from the country. That did not happen.
I mentioned a while ago that I couldn't figure out at one time what our enemies were trying to do in blocking the relocation program. It looked logical to me that folks who did not want to compete with you in Washington, Oregon, and California would be happy to have you relocate elsewhere. I found out that what they wanted was to maintain relocation centers for the duration of the war, with the hope that they could work up emotion during that period to have you all shipped out some place. I repeat they failed. It hasn't happened, but it still could happen if our program failed. I don't believe it will. I give the credit to those 35,000 people who have gone out; I give the major part of the credit to the 13,000 boys in the Army, and some of it to the good people throughout the United States, who, once they understand our problem, are willing to do something about it and who will help us to do something about it. We have had support from every angle. I have made the statement many times that I did not know there were quite so many people of ill-will in the world, but I am delighted to find there are as many of good-will, and perhaps more. While they are a little slow in acting sometimes, they are more intelligent, more understanding, more tenacious, and they really do something about it when they get started. We have gotten help from church people, American Principles of Fair Play Committee members and a lot of other organizations of people who now have some knowledge of what your problems are. So, instead of having a few Congressmen and Senators from a few states who were at one time supposed to have all the knowledge about Japanese-Americans, we now have well-informed people in almost every State in the union. That protects you better than anything else that could happen. I want you to understand that. There never has been a time in history in my judgment when the residents of this center and the other centers were as well accepted in this country as you are today, even on the West Coast -- I know some of you may think I am exaggerating when I make that kind of statement, when you think of some of the things we have been reading.
Let me tell you why I think so. There are hundreds and hundreds of good people up and down the Coast who have pledged to us that they will help with the problem of assisting you in making your adjustments. We have had the support of most of the law-enforcement officials of the Government. Some of them have said things they should not have said, but they are going to be all right. We have had outside help wherever we have had a problem arise. The folks out there, your friends and mine, are better organized than they have ever been. They are simply waiting to help you, just as they are throughout the rest of the country. When we first established our relocation offices in Chicago, Cleveland, and other cities, we thought public acceptance was going to be the major problem in relocation. It has been one of our minor problems, for the reason that once we find folks really have the facts and understand the picture they are going to insist on fair play. While here will always be a few people who don't understand, the majority of the folks are going to help us get the job done. If there is any message that I want you to take home with you, it is this: There has never been a time in history when you were as well understood and accepted as you are today, in spite of the fact that there is a war going on.
Why is the Hood River paper running Anti-Japanese advertisements? I will tell you why: Today a few people who have an economic interest in running your business or businesses you formerly ran are putting on the biggest bluffing campaign they can in an attempt to scare you. They don't want your competition for the time being. They are making a great deal of money. Consequently they are telling you it is not safe to come back for the duration. They are telling you you ought to sell your land. They are telling you if you do come back they will boycott you. That is nothing but lies; just pure lies. Some will try it for a little while; but it won't work. It never happens. They tell you there is going to be violence. There may be a little of it, but nothing compared with what your boys are experiencing overseas, where shells are exploding all around them. There will be very little violence. There has been very little anywhere. In relocating 35,000 people, there have been twelve or fifteen incidents, on the part of misinformed people, and we are getting a few incidents up and down the Coast, which is all part of the campaign. And when you get this started, there are a few kids who will go out and do things they should not do.
Just as soon as a reasonable number of you folks who decide you want to go back home, go back there and get settled, that campaign will drop; it will be over; it will stop. The reasons for this are two: One, the people who were trying to scare you out will realize that you won't scare that easily; and two, good people out there who are willing to do the job on a fair play basis will help you when you need it. They will help you when you get there, even though they write to say not to come back now. Most of these people are honest. They have lived so long in the midst of this poison that they begin to believe it. I don't believe it. I mean, they tried to bluff us. The only way we have gotten along to the place where we have this announcement is by calling people's bluffs. That is the only way we are going to get along from here on.
I would like to pause right here to tell you folks briefly why we think that the policies we laid down and announced immediately after the exclusion order was lifted are sound, and whey they are to be followed. There are five reasons, which I enumerated to the councilors and block commissioners this morning. I will leave it to you to see if they are good reasons. They were not thought up just within the last two months. They are things I have believed for the past two years, and I believe them more strongly today than I have ever believed them.
The first reason why we plan to close the centers is: We have in Minidoka and in the other centers between 18 and 20,000 youngsters in school. They are boys and girls born in the United States. They are United States citizens. They are going to live in the United States. While we have tried to maintain good schools in the centers, and for the most part I think we have done a good job, it is quite evident that those youngsters are not going to school to get training to live in relocation centers. Part of their education has to be gotten outside of the school room, if they are going to live normal lives. They have been too long in relocation centers. I don't mean they are spoiled. They are not. They are one of the nicest bunch of kids I know, and I know a lot of kids. That is why it is important to you, to me, and to the country, that they move back into normal communities and get into normal schools as soon as possible. Every year they put it off it is going to be just that much harder. Reason number one then is the youngsters, who have their whole lives ahead of them. Some of you older folks would like to sit down and rest. They have to complete their training. They have got to earn their living, and they are going to do it in American communities. As soon as you can get located in other communities, the better off they are going to be and you are going to be. I put that number one, because I think that is where it should be.
Reason number two: There has never been a time in history, perhaps, when there was such a demand for manpower as there is in this country today. Everyone can get a job of some kind or another, at good wages, or make good money in business until they get reestablished. It is important that you folks who are living in centers get back into the mainstream again, before the bubble bursts, and before you have to compete with boys coming back from the Army and people coming out of war plants. I know it will be difficult. I won't say it will be impossible to do this job after the war is over, but I will say it will be at least ten times as hard. I feel today more strongly that is the truth than I ever have. There are lots of opportunities now. There may not be as many opportunities to get established after the war, when there will be more competition for jobs, more resistance.
Reason number three: There are a good many folks in relocation centers we realize are going to need public assistance for a while. The welfare agencies through which we will work them are not as busy today as in normal times, because as I have already pointed out, everyone who is able is getting a job. They have their organizations, they have more time than they normally have to devote to your job and mine. Some of these know that WRA is going out of business, and you are going to need new friends. People don't become friendly unless they know you and know something about your problems. We believe this is the time to get the help of the welfare agencies and the understanding of the folks who need assistance, while they have time, while we can work it out -- so that they can continue to give friendly assistance in the future.
Reason number four is a very practical one. We secure our money from the United States Congress to carry out our program. We have been pretty successful in securing our money, and I think the reason we have been so is because we had had an honest program, and Congress believes we have had an honest program, and they will continue to give us funds just as long as we can honestly assure them we need them. Congress has asked me how long it is going to be necessary to maintain relocation centers. My answer has always been: Just so long as the exclusion order stays in effect we will need to continue centers, and for some of those who feel they cannot relocate as soon as the order is lifted, for a little while longer. After a reasonable time then, we can plan to do away with relocation centers. I can convince them that we need to continue the centers up to next January. I don't think I can convince them beyond that time. I think you have already noticed a Congressman from the State of Idaho (I believe he is from this district) has introduced a bill providing for the closing of centers on July 1 of this year. It may be a little presumptuous to stand in his own district and say that the bill won't pass. But the reason it won't pass is because we have a better program laid out, a more reasonable plan. If we had not had the program, his bill would have had a good chance of passing.
Reason number five is one of real importance to you. I pointed out a while ago that those agencies and those individuals who have been fighting you for years and who have continued that fight, have wanted to maintain relocation centers, or to turn them into internment camps. They have fought the relocation program every step of the way. I have told you why they want to do it. They are still fighting, part of them because they have economic interest in having you stay here. The rest of them because they still hope that they can get legislation through to move you all out of the country. I have already assured you that I don't think that latter thing will happen. I would bet a lot of money it won't happen, if we can get our job done this year. If we don't there will still be a chance. That is the chance they are gambling on.
The situation on the Coast is just the reverse of what it was a year ago. I traveled from Seattle to Los Angeles, and made stops in the rural communities along the way. I think I know, because I met with a lot of people on those stops, and also met with some of the people who were opposed to your return, the people that talked about boycotts, about property and other things. When we got through talking a great many of this group admitted that they were only trying to scare you away, that they were bluffing. That is what Mr. Hearst and the Native Sons of the Golden West want to happen. By staying in the centers you are helping them put over their program. WRA would also be helping them if we were to maintain centers beyond this year. The first step is always the hardest. Whenever you have a chronic disease, and have been sick a long time, it takes a long time to get well. You folks have lived in relocation centers for longer than two years -- about 2½ years. Before that time you lived in assembly centers. You consumed a lot of poison put out through the press by the Dies Committee, and by a lot of other people. Unfortunately, some of you believed it and absorbed it, and it is going to take time to eliminate that from your system. It is going to take time to get well. You won't get well by staying in bed when you get to the place where you ought to be up walking around, taking your first step and getting your strength back. The way to get your strength back is to stick out your chin, work out a relocation plan, and go on out. I believe strongly.
A good many people, here and in other centers, are talking about staying for the duration. It won't be any easier after the war, it will be harder, for two reasons. One is the longer you stay, the harder it is to make the move -- just like the chronic illness I talked about. Second, the longer you stay, the better foothold you are giving to your enemies to serve this whole thing up again, those trying to block you out; and if they have a break, they might possibly succeed -- if we don't get the job done. That is the message I have to bring to you. As I said when i started out, I hope you believe it. I believe it; and I hope you think that I believe it.
We have not been fighting this battle for nothing. We believe in principles. I think you understand we have not been indulging in any "double talk", not saying one thing to you and another thing to somebody else. I think you appreciate that. We are not doing this think in this way because of any selfish interests. If we were, we should be moving in the other direction. I told somebody the other day that when this was all over, the WRA people would have to relocate too. They had not thought about that. Those of us who have been working here will have to look for new jobs. We have enjoyed working with you. But the reason we have enjoyed it was because we were fighting for principles we believed in. We believed in most of you. We wanted to get the job done.
You people, people of Japanese ancestry, in the United States, have had a reputation among the folks who have known you of a great deal of pride, which I respect, of being terrifically self-reliant, and in the past you have taken care of your own problems, and I honor you for it. I hope and believe that evacuation has not entirely eliminated that pride and self-reliance, and the ability to help take care of yourselves. I realize you are a lot older now. They tried to tell me at Rohwer that only the second team is left. I do not believe that. Don't tell me that some of you folks can't hit the ball any more. You may run the bases a little more slowly. I used to play baseball, and I am quite a baseball fan. I find the good pitchers as they get older may slow up in speed, but they use their heads a bit more. This isn't just a "second team", a bunch of old people, cripples and youngsters. Sure you are getting older -- so am I. But I am not going to admit to anybody I am old until I have to sit down and quit, and I don't think you are ready to do that. I don't believe you have lost that fight. I don't believe you have lost that self-reliance. We have gone on the assumption throughout this whole program that most of the people who came to relocation centers wanted to continue to live in the United States. So long as they behave themselves, we have been fighting on that basis. That every citizen and every law-abiding alien should be on the same basis as any other law-abiding person -- we still believe that. I think that is what we are fighting for in this war. There are people in this country who would like to make you feel that people don't believe that, but the majority of people do believe it. We have been fighting for this opportunity, and I appreciate the part you have played in it. You have sent your boys off to the Army. You have lived pretty peaceably at Minidoka. That record should be completed. I cannot do this job alone. Neither can Mr. Stafford. Neither can the other folks. We are not doing the job for us. You are the folks who are going to do the job, and we can help you. We want to help you.
Any arguments you have of any importance are not with the WRA. Your arguments are with yourselves now, and with those people out there who are trying to scare you to death. I hope you will talk it over. Everyone has to decide on his own what to do. I realize your complex problems. I think we have a way of helping, if you want us to. I think we can, and I assure you we are doing everything we can to help you.
Again I want to say I am delighted to have the opportunity of looking into the faces of you at Minidoka. I don't see any cripples in the bunch, but if there are some cripples we want to help them. So, God bless you. I will see you... in Seattle, Portland, or Hood River... the White River Valley... or Chicago, Cleveland, or Cincinnati, Des Moines, or some place else. I may be back before you are gone, but if I am not, I mean just that: I will see you, and I am sure that there are a lot of people out there to see you. Thank you very much.
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