The Japan Times
Friday, August 21, 1981
The Distorted Image
Wartime Relocation of Japanese Suffers Dearth of Fair Information
By KIYOAKI MURATA
The writer of this article lived in the U.S. from 1941 to 1948, spending nine? months in the Colorado River War Relocation Center at Poston, Arizona, following the outbreak of the war. He recently published a memoir on his seven-year sojourn in America, entitled "Saigo no Ryugakusei" (The Last Student to Go Abroad). --Editor
The hearings now being held throughout the United States by the Commission on War Relocation and Internment of Civilians have aroused interest here in the World War II episodes that involved ethnic Japanese in America.
Because of the spirit in which the hearings are being held -- that of indictment -- however, it is inevitable that the American experience is portrayed as an instance of gross injustice, for which there ought to be redress. Thus, the ????? is inevitably unilateral and emotional rather than objective and rational. This is the reason why the testimony by U.S. Senator S. I. Hayakawa before the commission earlier this month was "shocking" to most other Japanese-Americans.
The senator is quoted to have testified: "I am proud to be a Japanese-American, but when a small but vocal group of Japanese-Americans demand a cash indemnity of $25,000 for (each of) those who went to relocation camps during World War II, my flesh crawls with shame and embarrassment."
Any discourse on the subject must begin with ample semantic caution in the interest of the truth and objectivity. Even the very name of the commission in question falls short of accuracy because the term "internment" is hardly relevant to the basic issues involved.
What actually took place between March and November 1942 was the removal of more than 100,000 alien Japanese and American citizens of Japanese ancestry from the three West Coast states of Washington, Oregon and California as well as the western segment of Arizona. The essential purpose of the program was removal, not confinement. And the removal itself was referred to as "evacuation," that is, to "leave empty" an area of, in this case, making the particular states void of a certain category of persons.
But such a program necessarily meant the accommodation elsewhere, if only for a temporary period, of the persons affected. This is where "confinement" comes in -- to prevent the evacuated persons from re-entering the areas from which they were forced out. But if these same persons were to resettle elsewhere, there was no objection on the part of the authorities that effected the evacuation.
The temporary living facilities for these persons were officially known as "relocation centers," which were administered by the War Relocation Authority (WRA), a wartime Federal agency. Those who resettled from a relocation center were known as "relocatees."
Critics of this forced migration, even during the war, referred to the relocation centers as "concentration camps" in a cynical allusion to the Nazi version. Given the context of the war in which it was carried out, a misunderstanding of the true nature of the eastward exodus of ethnic Japanese was, to some extent, unavoidable.
If it was difficult for Americans at large in the early 1940s to have an accurate notion of what went on, it was far more so for Japanese in Japan. The government here naturally took advantage of the evacuation to fan anti-American sentiments.
During the postwar decades, some of the books written about the wartime episode -- mostly by its "victims" -- were translated in Japan, and they did not help to give an objective picture of the extraordinary event. And the recent developments involving the "internment commission" have rekindled popular interest in the subject, often further distorting its image.
An eloquent testimony is the sub-editorial column of a reputable Japanese daily which commented on the subject on Aug. 5:
"...in America across the ocean, Americans of Japanese ancestry are now forcefully pursuing the subject of wartime discrimination against Japanese. After the outbreak of the war, Americans of Japanese ancestry on the Pacific coast were ordered to leave their homes within 24 hours, and 200,000 were immediately placed in detention. Only Americans of Japanese ancestry were subject to this detention order during the war, being treated differently from those of German and Italian ancestries. Why did this happen? The U.S. Congress created a commission to find out the facts, and it is now holding hearings. Those American-Japanese were allowed to take with them only baggage they could carry in their own hands and were confined in the barracks hastily built in wasteland for four years until the end of the war."
There are many glaring errors in this brief statement.
1. The number of persons involved is authoritatively stated to have been 110,000, not 200,000. The latter figure may have been closer to the total number of ethnic Japanese in the U.S. But the fact is that those living in other states were not affected by the relocation program.
2. A week to 10 days, not 24 hours, was the usual time allowed for the persons to prepare for relocation -- first to assembly centers and then to relocation centers.
3. The 110,000 persons comprised about 70,000 Japanese-American citizens and about 40,000 alien Japanese who were Japanese subjects. The Japanese-American citizens, however, were technically also Japanese subjects because of a conflict in the nationality laws of the two countries. The Japanese law was based on jus sanguinis (the rule of blood), which made a child born of a Japanese subject regardless of where, a Japanese. The U.S. law, on the other hand, incorporated jus loci (the rule of locality) as well as jus sanguinis, which made any person born within U.S. territory an American citizen. Thus, the Japanese-Americans technically "belonged to" two countries.
4. The evacuees were not confined in the war relocation centers until the end of the war. Many of them left the centers from the spring of 1943 on for employment outside. Despite the rumors in early 1942 that enemy aliens, i.e. Japanese subjects, would be kept in the centers for the duration of the war, they were dealt with on the same basis as the citizens. Those who remained in the relocation centers until the end are the ones who preferred the "safety" of the camps.
5. The Japanese word to describe this forced relocation is kyosei shuyo (literally, "compulsory detention") and the centers are known as kyosei shuyojo, the term originally applied to the Nazi concentration camp. It is a misnomer that grossly misrepresents the circumstances and facts of the relocation center.
8. The evacuees were allowed to have their household goods shipped to the centers by the U.S. army.
One of the facts not often publicized is that the evacuees were never forced to work. But those who worked, largely to maintain camp life as mess hall, sanitation and security personnel, etc., and as teachers, doctors, and administrators, were paid. For the unskilled, the monthly pay was $16, the allowance given the buck private in the U.S. army, and those classified as professionals received $19. Also, there was the monthly clothing allowance of $7 for every person.
Another fact is that there was a plentiful supply of food in the mess halls, with emphasis on rice and fish, reflecting the policy of the WRA to make the life in relocation centers as bearable as possible.
-- Table of Contents --