The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 69/No. 15           April 18, 2005  

There Is No Peace: 60 Years Since End of World War II   

American concentration camps
How Washington imprisoned Japanese-
Americans during World War II
(feature article)
The following article is reprinted from the April 1973 issue of the International Socialist Review. It was published under the headline, “American Concentration Camps: Racism and Japanese-Americans During World War II.”

The parents of the author, Patti Iiyama, were held at the Japanese internment camp at Topaz, Utah, during the second world war. Iiyama was on the executive committee of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement in 1964; a labor organizer for the National Farmworkers Association in Delano, California, in 1966; and the Socialist Workers Party candidate for Secretary of State of California in 1970. She also ran on the SWP slate for various offices subsequently.

This is the fourth installment of this column, which will appear regularly this year—the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II—to tell the truth about the second worldwide interimperialist slaughter.

The article below is copyright © New International. Reprinted by permission. Subheadings are by the Militant. Footnotes are found at the end of the article.

Thirty-one years ago, in the summer of 1942, 112,000 people of Japanese descent were evacuated from the West Coast and incarcerated behind barbed wire in concentration camps euphemistically titled “assembly centers.” Two-thirds of the evacuees held illegally without trial were citizens of the United States.

This policy was not a mistake or an aberration, as many historians would like us to believe. Rather it was the logical culmination of a consistent policy of racism against Asians in the United States and part of an American tradition including the enslavement of Africans, genocide against the Native Americans, and the conquest of Mexicans.

Racism in America has a firm economic basis; it is a means of justifying and perpetuating inequality and exploitation in this society. This racism has been institutionalized in many ways. Evacuation and imprisonment of a racial minority has occurred before in American history. Native Americans were killed, bought off with token payments, maneuvered from their land, and herded into concentration camps known as “reservations,” where most of them are still held today.

Asians were the first large “free” minority group against whom discriminatory legislation was systematically used and developed. In fact, the means used to institutionalize racism against Asians served as a model for the institutionalization of racism against the freed Black slaves and other nonwhite groups in the U.S.

The Chinese were the first Asians to immigrate to the U.S. When the Chinese began to arrive in this country in large numbers after 1850, the existing white labor force was not numerous enough to meet the needs of rapid urban industrialization in the North and vast railroad construction in the West. The system of slavery stood in the way of the new necessity for a free and mobile but controlled work force.

The Chinese were an ideal solution; they were easily exploitable as cheap labor, but they could also be kept separate from the rest of society. Although they were not slaves, the Chinese were from the moment of their arrival limited in their employment, denied civil rights and liberties, segregated into ghettos, and not allowed to become citizens of the United States.  
Discriminatory laws against Chinese
Discriminatory legislation enforced this new model of labor exploitation. In addition to legal discrimination, Chinese were subject to individual and mob violence.

The periods of greatest agitation against the Chinese corresponded with periods of national economic decline. In 1873-77, and again in 1882-86, the working class bore the brunt of the depression through high unemployment and declining wage rates. Organized labor, especially the leaders of the American Federation of Labor and its predecessors, often led the anti-Chinese agitation. These trade-union leaders served the interests of the ruling class by leveling their main attacks on another victim of the depression, the Chinese, rather than their real enemy.

“As the ranks of the unemployed grew there was increasing pressure on labor leaders and politicians to give some direction to the discontent of both organized and unorganized workers. Anti-coolieism was their response. Anti-coolieism meant good politics in 1882 as it had in 1876, not only for the labor politicians but also for the trade union leaders who used the issue to divert pressure on them to make more meaningful or effective challenges to the political and economic order.”1

The anti-Chinese agitation culminated in the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act by Congress in 1882. No immigration of Chinese laborers to the United States was permitted for the next ten years, and Chinese already living in the U.S. were not allowed to become naturalized citizens.

In 1904 the Chinese Exclusion Act was extended indefinitely. It was not repealed until December 17, 1943. Chinese could then become citizens, but the exclusion was still enforced: Congress restricted immigration of Chinese to a grand quota of 105 per year.2

The Japanese inherited much of the discrimination that had been directed against the Chinese. The Japanese immigration began as a trickle of 2,000 after the emperor lifted the general ban on emigration in 1885. It increased to 25,000 in the decade of 1891-1900. By 1910, the Japanese population in the U.S. had reached 72,157.  
‘Birds of passage’
Japanese came to Hawaii and the West Coast as “birds of passage” (as they called themselves) to make their fortunes and then return to Japan. Overwhelmingly male, under thirty years of age, and single, they began to take over the lowest-paying jobs as Chinese immigration was halted and Chinese workers moved into other occupations. Most of the Japanese immigrants were literate with the equivalent of an eighth-grade education.

With their increasing visibility in the West Coast, Japanese became targets for wide-ranging discriminatory legislation similar to that used against the Chinese.

Although anti-Japanese agitation existed practically from the minute they landed on American soil (the first anti-Japanese mass rally took place in San Francisco on May 7, 1900), the agitation was not widespread at first.

In the beginning the Japanese worked in direct competition with the Chinese and therefore were willing to accept much lower wages to obtain employment. However, as Japanese began to concentrate in seasonal agricultural work, they quickly organized to demand higher wages.  
Early strikes
In 1903, 2,000 Japanese and Chicanos organized and struck sugar beet farmers in Oxnard, California, for higher wages and for recognition of their Sugar Beet and Farm Laborer’s Union of Oxnard. They won after a long strike, but the AFL refused to certify them unless they dropped all Japanese from membership.3

“Although the earliest recorded strike of Japanese agricultural laborers occurred in 1891, strikes do not seem to have become a frequent tactic until 1903. A standard device was to wait until the fruit was ripe on the trees and then insist on renegotiating the contract. The growers protested that this was unethical, since a contract was a contract, and remembered that the Chinese, to their credit, had never done such things. But, as there were no longer enough Chinese to go around, in many instances the Japanese demands had to be met. From about this date, 1903, we begin to hear invidious comparisons of the two races from agriculturalists, almost always to the detriment of the Japanese.”4

Labor-union officials, who had been in the forefront of the Chinese exclusion movement, took the lead in the anti-Japanese movement for the first two decades of the twentieth century. They accused the Japanese of preferring a lower standard of living and accepting lower wages than white workers, thus taking jobs away from whites and lowering wage rates in general.

In 1913, the California State Legislature passed the Webb Alien Land Bill. Aliens ineligible for citizenship (namely the Japanese immigrants) could not buy land for the purpose of agriculture.

Other states began to follow California’s example. By 1925 every state where Japanese resided, except for Utah, had passed alien land laws.5

After World War I, in the context of the general repression represented by the Palmer raids and the anticommunist hysteria, the scale of anti-Japanese attacks was widened. For the first time, leadership of the agitation was controlled by agricultural interests, notably the California State Farm Bureau Federation and the California State Grange. A broad coalition of organized labor, agricultural groups, patriotic societies, and political organizations (Republican, Democratic, and some sections of the Socialist parties) worked between 1919 and 1924 to achieve the exclusion of Japanese immigration.6

In 1924 the Immigration Act was passed, forbidding aliens ineligible for citizenship from being admitted to the U.S. Issei (the Japanese immigrants) were not allowed to become naturalized citizens of the U.S. until 1952 (under the McCarran-Walter Immigration and Naturalization Act). After their objectives were won, the anti-Japanese coalition rapidly disintegrated.

Racist agitation was reactivated with the threat posed to American capitalism by Japan’s imperialist aggressions and annexations in the Far East after 1931.  
Ideal targets
The Japanese were ideal targets. Although they numbered 126,948 and were less than 1/10 of one percent of the total U.S. population in 1940, they were concentrated in the three West Coast states: California, Oregon, and Washington. They were even clustered within California, more than one-third of them in Los Angeles where they were 6 percent of the population.7 Although they were highly visible, they were kept isolated from the rest of the population in ghettos—“Little Tokyos.”

Their geographical concentration was matched by occupational concentration. By 1940 nearly half of the Japanese work force on the West Coast was employed in agriculture, primarily the production of vegetables, fruits, and greenhouse products. In 1940 there were 5,135 Japanese-operated farms in California; most of these farms were small, averaging 42 acres compared to 231 acres for the average West Coast farm. However, due to the restrictions imposed by the Alien Land Bill, only a small percentage (25 percent) actually owned their farms.

Because of the intensive character of Japanese agriculture, Japanese production was a substantial percentage of total production. The Japanese controlled 42 percent of the commercial truck crops in California, valued at $35,000,000.8 They held a virtual monopoly in California in 1940 of such crops as snap beans, celery, peppers, and strawberries, and produced at least half of such crops as cauliflower, cucumber, spinach, tomatoes, and garlic.

Their monopoly on the production of certain truck crops was strengthened by their control of wholesale and retail outlets for Japanese produce. The Japanese, however, were limited to specialty produce crops for local West Coast markets; they were successfully excluded from the most profitable aspect of the produce industry, the shipment of California produce to out-of-state markets.9 They were thus effectively isolated in a marginal, largely noncompetitive niche in the economy.  
Attack on Pearl Harbor
The attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, set in motion the forces that led to the evacuation of Issei and Nisei (their American-born children) to concentration camps. The FBI moved into action immediately, arresting 2,192 Issei within a few days.10 Under the alien enemy control program, around 12.5 percent of the Issei in the U.S. were arrested, virtually the entire leadership of church and community organizations. This meant that at least one out of five Issei males was arrested and not released until evacuation procedures had begun.

As early as December 10, 1941, three army officers, panicked by a rumor, drew up a plan overnight (literally) for the immediate evacuation of all Japanese from the San Francisco Bay Area. On the same night there was a meeting between FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover and a key member of Roosevelt’s cabinet to discuss a demand for seizure of businesses owned by Issei and Nisei. And at a meeting of law enforcement officers on February 2, 1942, California State Attorney General Earl Warren requested the preparation of maps showing all land owned, occupied, and controlled by people of Japanese descent.11  
Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ for Japanese
On February 19, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed his version of the New Deal for Japanese—Executive Order 9066 which authorized the Secretary of War or designated representatives to establish military areas and exclude “any or all persons” from them. On March 2, General John L. DeWitt, commanding general of the Western Defense Command, issued Public Proclamation No. 1, designating portions of the Western states as Military Area No. 1, excluding all persons of Japanese ancestry. On March 18, the War Relocation Authority (WRA) was established to carry out evacuation. Beginning on March 22, the army handled the first phase of evacuation to temporary assembly centers constructed hastily on race tracks and fair grounds.

By August 7, the first phase of evacuation was completed; 112,000 people had been arrested, uprooted from their homes and communities, and moved from the West Coast. By November 3, 1942, the prisoners were transferred from the temporary assembly centers to ten permanent “relocation centers” at Manzanar and Tule Lake in California, Poston and Gila River in Arizona, Minidoka in Idaho, Heart Mountain in Wyoming, Granada in Colorado, Topaz in Utah, and Rohwer and Jerome in Arkansas.

The many excuses given for this mass arrest and imprisonment without trial all accused the victim of being the criminal. One reason given to justify internment was military necessity—the danger of sabotage and espionage by the Japanese and the need to remove this potential fifth column from the “war zone.” There was some fear on the West Coast of a Japanese attack, since the Japanese were winning in the Pacific. There was never any real danger of a Japanese invasion of the West Coast.

No cases of sabotage or espionage were ever found among the people of Japanese descent living in the U.S. However, this lack of sabotage and espionage was seen as proof of their sneaky disloyalty. As liberal California Attorney General Earl Warren, who later headed the Supreme Court, testified in February 1942: “I am afraid many of our people in other parts of the country are of the opinion that because we have had no sabotage and no fifth column activities in this State since the beginning of the war, that means that none have been planned for us. But I take the view that this is the most ominous sign of our whole situation…. I believe that we are just being lulled into a false sense of security and that the only reason we haven’t had disaster in California is because it has been timed for a different date, and that when that time comes if we don’t do something about it, it is going to mean disaster both to California and to our nation.”  
‘They all look alike’
Another argument for mass internment was based on the unsubtle racism of being unable to distinguish loyal from disloyal Japanese (they all look alike). In fact, it was argued, all Japanese are inherently loyal only to Japan.

General John L. DeWitt (1943): “A Jap’s a Jap. They are a dangerous element…. There is no way to determine their loyalty…. It makes no difference whether he is an American citizen, theoretically he is still Japanese, and you can’t change him…by giving him a piece of paper….”

Congressman John Rankin, Mississippi (1942): “This is a race war…. The white man’s civilization has come into conflict with Japanese barbarism…. One of them must be destroyed…. I say it is of vital importance that we get rid of every Japanese whether in Hawaii or on the mainland. They violate every sacred promise, every canon of honor and decency…. Damn them! Let’s get rid of them now!”

In the process of arguing for evacuation, some groups also reassured the public that evacuation of the Japanese would not be detrimental to the West Coast economy. Although many other groups such as the American Legion and the Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West were involved, the most active agitators for removal of the Japanese were the growers’ organizations—the Western Growers Protective Association, the California Farm Bureau Federation, and the Grower-Shipper Vegetable Association—which would obviously gain from the elimination of Japanese competition.  
Liberals backed Roosevelt policy
Few organizations and individuals withstood the pressures of this wartime jingoism. The New Deal liberal politicians, from President Roosevelt to state and city officials, aligned with traditionally right-wing forces in sanctioning, if not demanding, the evacuation of all Japanese. California Governor Culbert Olson, San Francisco Mayor Angelo J. Rossi, Los Angeles Mayor Fletcher Bowron, Oregon Governor Charles Sprague, Washington Governor Arthur B. Langlie, Washington Attorney General Smith Troy, and California Attorney General Earl Warren were among those politicians advocating evacuation. Only a few of these liberals like Elmer Rice and Archibald MacLeish made feeble efforts to stop or inhibit evacuation in early 1942.12

Newspaper columnists who were usually considered liberal New Dealers also joined in the clamor for evacuation. Influential Walter Lippmann wrote a nationally syndicated article on “The Fifth Column on the Coast,” published February 12, 1942: “The Pacific Coast is in imminent danger of a combined attack from within and from without…. Since the outbreak of the Japanese war there has been no important sabotage on the Pacific Coast…. It is a sign that the blow is well organized and that it is held back until it can be struck with maximum effect.”

Among the intellectuals and union leaders, only a few spoke out for the constitutional rights of the Japanese. The intellectuals who sent letters of protest included John Dewey, Reinhold Niebuhr, Carey McWilliams, Galen Fisher (advisor to the Institute of Pacific Relations), and Robert Gordon Sproul (president of the University of California and founder of the Fair Play for Citizens and Aliens of Japanese Ancestry). Some religious leaders and organizations, mainly the American Friends Service Committee, protested the decision for evacuation and worked with evacuees to improve their conditions in the camps.

Interestingly, the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union was the only union to oppose evacuation. Louis Goldblatt, secretary of the California State CIO, condemned the proposed evacuation as racist and undemocratic. But then he commended the Japanese for cooperating with evacuation, thereby contributing to the war effort!

The National Board of the American Civil Liberties Union approved the president’s Executive Order 9066, but attacked most of the army directives issued under its authority. The fact that Roosevelt issued the order significantly altered the protest. These civil libertarians saw Roosevelt as a champion of the underdog and felt that he must have been justified in ordering the evacuation.

The liberals were not the only ones to acquiesce to the mass incarceration of the Japanese.  
CPUSA aided internment
In fact, one supposedly revolutionary organization, the Communist Party, not only failed to protest the concentration camps but actually supported the internment of Japanese-Americans. The People’s World, the West Coast daily newspaper reflecting the views of the CP, at first called restrictions upon the liberty of Japanese “unfortunate, but vital.” By late February, 1942, the paper hailed General DeWitt’s plans as “a sensible program.”

As one CP member noted in 1972: “Immediately after Pearl Harbor, the People’s World dismissed its Nisei (U.S.-born Japanese) woman office worker (thus becoming the first to lose her job because of her ancestry) and the Party suspended all Nisei from membership saying that ‘the Party was the best place for any Japanese fifth columnist to hide and we don’t want to take any chances….’”13

The CP urged its former members to go peacefully and quietly into the concentration camps as their contribution to the war effort. One of the Communist-dominated Nisei organizations, the Japanese-American Committee for Democracy, ironically hailed evacuation as a contribution to victory for the Allies. This support for the internment was an integral part of the CP’s policy of subordinating all struggles to the U.S. war effort in compliance with Stalin’s wartime alliance with American imperialism.

The Socialist Workers Party’s record is a sharp contrast to that of the Communist Party. The Militant, the newspaper expressing the views of the SWP, attacked Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 as “an indiscriminate and brutal witch-hunt…having the character of a racial pogrom.”14 It criticized the evacuation as a violation of the rights of Japanese-Americans, “driving them from their homes, terrorizing them, and in actuality encouraging the racial discrimination that is being fanned on the West Coast.”

The Militant also printed articles analyzing the basic reason behind the “campaign of racial terrorism” on the West Coast: the greed of the corporate agriculturalists for the land developed by the Japanese-Americans.

“And so the story of the Japanese-American evacuations stands today—a repressive measure, based purely on racial discrimination and motivated chiefly by the desire of Big Business for additional profits, which is presented as a necessary part of the ‘war for democracy.’”15  
Lack of leadership among Japanese
Among the Japanese themselves, there was a lack of leadership, since virtually the entire Issei leadership had been arrested by the FBI. The Nisei by default had to provide leadership; their most important political organization was the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL).

Because of its cooperation with government agencies in the investigation and apprehension of suspected “subversives,” the JACL was soon recognized by the government as the official liaison group with the Japanese community. A cleavage with the parent generation of Issei resulted; the JACL members became known as inu (informers, literally “dogs”) who betrayed their community. They cooperated with the army and other federal government branches to “turn the tragedy of evacuation into a display of loyalty.”

“Therefore, with no one to turn to, with their structures and institutions dismantled, with little political or economic power, with cultural norms and values emphasizing conformity and nonconflictual behavior, with a lack of feasible alternatives and facing the awesome might and power of the United States government, the Japanese marched into camp. Could they really have done otherwise?”16  
Life in the camps and dissent
The American concentration camps were not brutal like Auschwitz or Buchenwald; there were no torture chambers, gas ovens, or firing squads. They were essentially prison camps, much more like the traditional Indian reservations. In fact, two of the ten centers were actually located on Native American reservation lands in Arizona. Each of the ten camps was relatively isolated on land where no one else chose to live. Physically, the camps were quite similar in terms of the ruggedness and barrenness of the terrain and the confinement of the inmates within a small area enclosed by barbed wire and guarded by military police. The evacuees themselves maintained the upkeep of the camps under the supervision of white personnel. They received token compensation for their prison labor.

Although the evacuees initially cooperated with the authorities with unprotesting acceptance, once they were in the camps they were in conflict constantly with each other and the administration. There were no attempts to escape or any violent resistance, and there was rarely any mass, sustained civil disobedience.

Most of the evacuees were resigned to their fate, but resistance, both active and passive, did occur more frequently and significantly than is generally known. Protest rallies, demonstrations, work stoppages, and even general strikes of evacuees took place at all camps around the issues of living conditions, especially food and housing, the availability of employment, wages, and working conditions. Due to lack of leadership, most of this resistance was not politically directed.

The policy of cooperation with the authorities was led by the JACL. Much of the effective opposition to this policy was led by the Kibei, American-born Japanese who had been educated or employed in Japan. They were quite militant in organizing the discontent against the policy of collaboration, although many of them organized from the right-wing position of nationalist support to imperialist Japan.  
Polarization around loyalty oath
Dissension in the camps became polarized around the loyalty oath, which all evacuees over the age of seventeen were asked to sign, beginning on February 10, 1943. The most serious controversy arose over questions 27 and 28:

“No. 27. Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty, wherever ordered?

“No. 28. Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any or all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, to any other foreign government, power or organization?”

The registration created a crisis at each concentration camp. The JACL leadership urged people to give a “yes-yes” answer and to volunteer for the army if male to prove their questioned loyalty. A substantial group refused to sign in protest against evacuation and incarceration in the camps and as a demand for equal status.

Issei faced a particularly acute dilemma with question 28. By law, they were not allowed to become U.S. citizens because of their race. Yet, they were being asked to voluntarily relinquish their Japanese citizenship and assume stateless status. Eventually the question was rewritten so that many Issei could answer affirmatively: “Will you swear to abide by the laws of the United States and to take no action which would in any way interfere with the war effort of the United States?”

Out of the nearly 78,000 evacuees who were eligible to register, almost 75,000 eventually filled out the questionnaires and the overwhelming majority answered “yes” to question 28. Nearly 6,700 answered “no,” while another 2,000 qualified their answers and were thereby branded “disloyal” by the government. The questionnaires were then used as the basis for separating the “loyal” from the “disloyal” and shipping the disloyal to Tule Lake.

Eventually over a third of the Tule Lake inmates applied for repatriation to Japan. In all the Justice Department approved the applications of 5,589 people—5,461 of whom were from Tule Lake—to give up their citizenship. A total of some 8,000 persons of Japanese descent left the United States as repatriates or ex-patriates for Japan between V-J Day and mid-1946. In 1959 citizenship was restored to 4,978 of 5,409 renunciants who had requested restoration of their U. S. citizenship on the grounds that renunciation of their citizenship was the result of duress and coercion.  
The most political protests
Not all of the dissent was from the right-wing perspective of Japanese nationalism. The most political protests took place at Heart Mountain, Wyoming, where there had been protests, demonstrations, and organized resistance from the beginning. When Nisei were again made eligible for the draft on January 20, 1944, the Fair Play Committee led by Nisei evacuees at Heart Mountain began advising Nisei of their rights and counseling draft resistance. By the end of March 1944, 54 of the 315 evacuees ordered to report for induction failed to do so.

When the Fair Play Committee began to agitate for a general strike at Heart Mountain, the WRA arrested the key leaders, shipped them off to Tule Lake and then arrested all 54 evacuees who had refused induction. In a series of court cases, the backbone of the resistance was broken. The draft resisters, whose numbers had swelled to 63, were tried in June 1944 in the largest mass trial for draft resistance in U. S. history. They were found guilty by the judge and sentenced to three years in jail; their appeal was denied by the Supreme Court.

The JACL urged Nisei men to volunteer for the segregated 442nd Infantry Combat Team Battalion, which was led by white officers. They justified the segregation on the grounds that “we were inconspicuous scattered throughout the Army…. Individual records wouldn’t prove much. The Army had said that Nisei protestations of loyalty were so much hogwash. We had to have a demonstration in blood.”

However, Nisei evacuees were on the whole unwilling to fight for a country that had incarcerated them without trial solely because of their race. Between January 1944, when the draft was reinstituted for Nisei, and November 1946, about 300 eligible Nisei men refused to report for induction.

Altogether 33,000 Japanese-Americans, more than half from the mainland and the rest from Hawaii, served in the U.S. army during World War II. The most famous formation, the all-Nisei 442nd Combat Team, was the most decorated unit in the U.S. army during World War II.

In the racist tradition of the U.S. army, however, the 442nd was consistently used as the first wave of assault troops whose bodies paved the way for the white troops following them into battle. They suffered 9,486 casualties, 314 percent of the unit’s original strength.

The U.S. military was able to use the 442nd as shock troops by exploiting the Nisei’s desire to prove their loyalty. Washington felt confident that there would be no protest from troops who believed that only their blood could win freedom for the Japanese still interned at home.  
Returning evacuees
In the summer of 1943, in response to the critical labor shortage caused by the war, the WRA began a program encouraging permanent relocation outside the camps. On December 17, 1944, the War Department announced that West Coast exclusion orders against persons of Japanese descent would be terminated as of January 2, 1945. On March 20, 1946, Tule Lake Segregation Center was the last camp to be officially closed.

The relocated evacuees faced little hostility on the East Coast or in the Midwest. However, those who returned to the West Coast had to cope with a campaign that was more vicious, organized, and vigorous than that urging evacuation in 1942. This campaign reached its peak in February, March, and April, 1945, in an attempt to frighten away the first evacuees who returned.

Although there was no mass vigilantism, there were enough incidents of harassment and violence to discourage evacuees from returning to the West Coast. Most occurred only in certain agricultural centers like Hood River, Oregon; and Salinas and Fresno, California. Of a total of seventy incidents of terrorism and nineteen shootings in California in the first six months of 1945, over 90 percent took place in the Central Valley.

The farm growers’ organizations, like the California State Grange, the Farm Bureau Federation, and the Associated Farmers, were in the leadership of the exclusion movement to protect their interests. In Southern California alone, these produce and floral industries had profited by at least $26 million in the absence of their rivals.

Trade unionists, as well as farmers, saw the returning evacuees as competition. Japanese workers were still largely excluded from AFL unions. Various CIO unions accepted Japanese as members, such as the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union, which suspended one local to get it to work with Nisei. The leadership of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, though, conducted a violently reactionary campaign against Japanese-Americans.

In spite of this support, the West Coast anti-Japanese campaign of 1945-46 was relatively ineffective; many evacuees returned to the West Coast after a brief stop in the East.  
Theft of land, other resources
The returning evacuees were burdened by enormous financial losses suffered during the hasty evacuation. The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco conservatively estimated in 1942 that the total loss to evacuees, not including lost interest, wages, income, and appreciation, was $400 million. In 1948 the government began to adjudicate claims for losses due to evacuation. The payments were stingy—an average of 10 cents per dollar at 1941 values. The average award per claim in one year was $40 while it cost the government $1,500 simply to process a single claim.

In contrast to these token reparations grudgingly given to the interned Japanese-Americans, the government awarded $213 million, tax-free, to U. S. companies whose property abroad was damaged during World War II—an average of 75 cents on the dollar as compared to the 10 cents given to the Japanese-Americans.

While the federal government gave virtually no compensation to its victims, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the legality of the policy of evacuation and internment. In three cases, Hirabayashi, Korematsu, and Endo, the court majority consistently evaded the central issue of the constitutionality of evacuation and the camps and failed to limit the broad war powers of the federal government in the interest of civil liberties, especially for nonwhites. The court decisions served to uphold the war-powers doctrine that “pressing public necessity” frees the military from constitutional limitations, whether or not the actions taken by the military are in any way connected with the prosecution of the war.

The victims of this sanctioned policy never regained the position they had formerly held in the West Coast economy. By 1951, Japanese-American farm holdings were one-fourth of what they were before the war. Even if they were able to grow produce, little of the crop was handled by Japanese-American wholesale and retail produce dealers.

Discrimination against Japanese still exists. Japanese-Americans in California today have a significantly higher level of educational attainment that the general population (11 percent more Japanese male college graduates than white males), but their income is not commensurate with their education. A Japanese male earns only $43 for every $51 earned by a white male.17

Although Japanese-Americans are now able to find employment as professionals, they are not able to obtain upward mobility to administrative positions where they would supervise, hire, and fire white people.  
Why internment?
The mass incarceration of Japanese-Americans was consistent with the history of racist outrages suffered by Asians throughout the history of the United States. In order to understand why the specific policy of evacuation and internment was implemented at the time, it is necessary to put the treatment of the Japanese-Americans in the context of the international situation.

The East Asian theater of World War II was essentially an interimperialist conflict between two capitalist powers, Japan and the United States, for control of markets and natural resources in the Far East. The ruling class appealed to racist prejudice against the Japanese to justify the war and disguise its true nature. The creation of racist hysteria against the “sneaky, dishonest, sly Japanese” was necessary for the ruling class to ensure that the American people would fight.

The racist dismissal of the Japanese as less than fully human by Washington’s war makers was summed up in the unleashing of atomic bombs that totally destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. Although President Truman claimed that it was necessary to make the Japanese surrender, the Japanese government had already requested to surrender unconditionally before the bombs were dropped. In reality, Japanese lives were sacrificed to symbolize to the world the dawning of the “New American Century” and the emergence of the United States as top imperialist power.

It was inevitable that the racist hysteria whipped up against the Japanese would be extended to those persons of Japanese descent living in the United States. The policy of mass evacuation and internment in concentration camps was also part of a wider national policy initiated by the ruling class—a policy of stifling opposition from the labor movement and the struggles of oppressed minorities, under the slogan of wartime unity. The labor unions were told by industrialists and financiers to accept “Equality of Sacrifice.” The employers, through President Roosevelt, instituted a wage freeze and obtained commitments from labor leaders for a “no-strike” pledge for the duration of the war and compulsory arbitration of all labor-management disputes through the War Labor Board. The “war against fascism” was also a war against American labor’s right to strike for unionization, higher wages, and better working conditions.

Black people were told that their struggle for jobs and equal treatment in industry was secondary to the struggle against fascism and was sabotaging the war effort.  
Roosevelt curtailed civil rights
President Roosevelt initiated an entire program curtailing civil rights and liberties in the U.S. He imposed censorship on the media, suspended the right of habeas corpus, and arrested and imprisoned leaders of socialist organizations under the Smith Act. Eighteen leaders of the Socialist Workers Party and of the Minneapolis Teamsters Union were the first to be convicted of “conspiracy to overthrow the government by force and violence” and were sentenced on December 8, 1941.

Racism has traditionally been used by the ruling class to divide the working class and thereby to consolidate its rule. The Japanese residing in the U.S. were, because of their race, singled out as a focus to divert and channel opposition to rising prices and profits, lowering of real wages due to inflation, and the general attack on civil rights and liberties. But their evacuation and internment was only the most blatant and vicious aspect of a general policy of repression excused by the needs of war.

The ruling class and its able representative, Franklin D. Roosevelt, succeeded in winning support for its “war for democracy.” This support was used to divert growing domestic unrest with the continuing depression, a widespread radicalization of the working class, and civil rights agitation among Black people. The ruling class, with the aid of the Communist Party and liberal leaders of the mass movements, was able to deflect these movements for social change into patriotic channels.

But the “New American Century” that was supposed to be constructed after World War II never really dawned. American international hegemony and monopoly was challenged by colonial revolts and the anticapitalist overturns in the Eastern European countries, China, North Korea, North Vietnam, and Cuba. The American people began to see the legitimacy of these struggles and began to recognize the real role of the U.S. government as a reactionary force preventing national liberation and supporting military dictatorships around the world.

The war in Vietnam especially exposed the reactionary role of the U.S. government and its manipulation of the American people. The ruling class tried to revive racist prejudices against Asians to justify the war. They tried to convince the American people that the National Liberation Front forces were barbarous, fanatic “gooks,” “opium-crazed Viet Cong.” But this racist campaign did not work.

In fact, many Americans began to identify with the Vietnamese and to admire their heroic struggle against the strongest military power in the world. The antiwar movement mobilized increasing numbers of people to demonstrate against a war being fought in the name of “democracy.” Increasingly few people are now gullible enough to believe the patriotic and racist mythology with which the ruling class seeks to disguise its imperialist aspirations.

1. Herbert Hill, “Anti-Oriental Agitation and the Rise of Working-Class Racism,” Society, Vol. 10, No. 2 (January/February 1973), p. 46.

2. Carey McWilliams, Brothers Under the Skin.

3. Karl G. Yoneda, “History of Japanese Labor in the United States: A Dollar a Day.”

4. Roger Daniels, The Politics of Prejudice: the Anti-Japanese Movement in California and the Struggle for Japanese Exclusion.

5. Audrie Girdner and Anne Loftis, The Great Betrayal: The Evacuation of the Japanese-Americans During World War II.

6. For a more detailed study of the roles of these groups, see Jacobus tenBroek, Edward M. Barnhart, and Floyd W. Matson, Prejudice, War and the Constitution.

7. Dorothy S. Thomas and Richard Nishimoto, The Spoilage: Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement During World War II.

8. Carey McWilliams, Prejudice: Japanese-Americans, Symbol of Racial Intolerance.

9. Leonard Bloom and Ruth Riemer, Removal and Return: The Socio-Economic Effects of the War on Japanese-Americans.

10. Bill Hosokawa, Nisei: the Quiet Americans.

11. Aflan R. Bosworth, America’s Concentration Camps.

12. Roger Daniels, Concentration Camps USA: Japanese Americans and World War II.

13. Karl Yoneda, Resolution to Northern California District Convention of the Communist Party USA, January 29-30, 1972, p. 2.

14. The Militant, March 7, 1942.

15. The Militant, May 30, 1942.

16. Harry H. L. Kitano, Japanese-Americans: Evolution of a Subculture.

17. Fair Employment Practice Commission, “Californians of Japanese, Chinese, and Filipino Ancestry.”
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