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No more "Shikata ga nai."
August 25, 2011 3:53 PM   Subscribe

Nearly seventy years ago, 10,000 Japanse Americans were forcibly relocated to Heart Mountain, just outside Cody, Wyoming; they were part of a larger group of more than 120,000 men, women, and children incarcerated in War Relocation Authority (WRA) camps due solely to their ancestry. This past weekend, about 100 survivors of the camp -- led by the delightfully named Bacon Sakatini -- returned to this remote corner of Wyoming to celebrate the grand opening of the Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center. Of the ten WRA camps, Heart Mountain had the only organized resisters movement, which was started in 1944 by seven men who formed the Fair Play Committee to protest the drafting of Japanse American men while their families remained imprisoned -- leading to the largest draft resistance trial in U.S. history.
posted by scody (43 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
The interment of US citizens, not to mention the confiscation of their property was truly one of the most despicable actions ever perpetrated by the US government. It was a horrible shameful thing. It is hard for me to grasp how it was possible that this happened in the United States.
posted by 2manyusernames at 4:17 PM on August 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


2manyusernames writes "It is hard for me to grasp how it was possible that this happened in the United States."

Considering recent infringements and out right violations of American citizen rights via the war on terror it is getting easy to imagine how this happens.
posted by Mitheral at 4:29 PM on August 25, 2011 [18 favorites]


Previously and previouslier.
posted by cog_nate at 4:31 PM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


(Not griping, btw. This is a good post. Just wanted to point out the other strongly related ones.)
posted by cog_nate at 4:33 PM on August 25, 2011


I went to high school with a guy whose parents met in the camps, fell in love and after the war ended, got married and didn't go back to their original cities. They were surprisingly upbeat about the whole thing, which is odd, I know.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:34 PM on August 25, 2011


Hah! I was going to send this to you until I saw you posted it.
posted by goalyeehah at 4:34 PM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


In the interest of "balanced reporting" many of those incarcerated men chose to join the service voluntarily as an expression of the loyalty to the US.

Members of my wife's family were removed from their homes and businesses in Fresno and spent their time in the camps at Thule Lake and Manzanar. Not one of them has expressed a bitter thought about that time. All of them humble to the bone.

Several of them took their reparation payout to travel to Japan. Some for the first time ever.

Knowing and speaking to them (many have left us now) about this has been my distinct pleasure.

My Mother-in-Law and her sister

Their father Mitch (far left bottom row.)
posted by humboldt32 at 4:35 PM on August 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


I really should proofread

*their loyalty*
posted by humboldt32 at 4:35 PM on August 25, 2011


Here's Mitch in his drugstore that white friends saved for him.
posted by humboldt32 at 4:45 PM on August 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


This week's installment in the Atlantic's photo series of World War II focused on the internment of Japanese Americans. via related, previously
posted by arveale at 4:57 PM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


The reason many Japanese-Americans took things in stride is that they understood and even sympathized with the American government, realizing that they would have done the same thing if their positions were reversed since they were coming from an intensely xenophobic cultural background with a feeling of moral superiority.
posted by Renoroc at 5:03 PM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


One of the things that's not commonly talked about is that immediately after the war detainees were "encouraged" to return to Japan, regardless of whether or not they spoke Japanese or had any living family connections in that country.

There's one village in Wakayama (south Osaka) called Amerika-mura (Japanese only, sorry where many of these people end up.

I myself met one of these folks. On a visit to Takeshima Island in the middle of Lake Biwako I was wandering around admiring the temple when an older docent in his mid-70s started speaking to me in standard North American English.

He was from Vancouver, and they shipped him back to Japan after the war.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:06 PM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


The reason many Japanese-Americans took things in stride is that they understood and even sympathized with the American government, realizing that they would have done the same thing if their positions were reversed since they were coming from an intensely xenophobic cultural background with a feeling of moral superiority.

What? How could their positions be "reversed"? These were American and Canadian citizens who had chosen the US and Canada over Japan.

Your statement is certainly inflammatory and does not seem aimed at facilitating a constructive discussion.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:08 PM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


What? How could their positions be "reversed"? These were American and Canadian citizens who had chosen the US and Canada over Japan.
The reversal would be if Japan was attacked and how they would treat Japanese citizens who had immigrated from the West.
posted by 2manyusernames at 5:21 PM on August 25, 2011


The Manzanar site is along US-395, the highway that takes you from Los Angeles to Mammoth Lakes (where Mammoth Mountain is, near Yosemite.) For years now it's purportedly been under renovation to turn into a museum, but very little appears to have been done—a guard tower rebuilt, a barracks, a small visitors center. There should be more—it's not an adequate testimony or memorial of what happened there.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:51 PM on August 25, 2011


In the interest of "balanced reporting" many of those incarcerated men chose to join the service voluntarily as an expression of the loyalty to the US.

Incarcerated men proving their loyalty by way of joining the military hardly seems "voluntarily" as much as it does coerced.
posted by IvoShandor at 7:33 PM on August 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


That not all who were incarcerated are bitter about the experience does not at all lessen what a shameful, immoral thing it was our government did by confiscating their property and locking them up.
posted by rtha at 7:37 PM on August 25, 2011 [9 favorites]


A bit of a self-link here: The University of Wyoming's American Heritage Center, where I work as an archivist, has a few collections of papers related to Heart Mountain.

Grace Thorson Brown, an elementary teacher at Heart Mountain.

Susan McCay, a researcher who interviewed former detainees.

Our Online Digital Collections includes several documents and photographs related to Heart Mountain as well.

Mods, I hope it's okay for me to post these since the papers are a great way to learn more about the topic, and it's not like clicking on them makes me any money.
posted by Fister Roboto at 8:05 PM on August 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


Manzanar. Ever hear the expression, "the middle of nowhere?" Manzanar is the mathematical center of nowhere, even today. I can't imagine it in the 40's. It would be like having a concentration camp on the Moon.

Every time I go to Mammoth, I stop there and bear witness.
posted by SPrintF at 8:24 PM on August 25, 2011


The reversal would be if Japan was attacked and how they would treat Japanese citizens who had immigrated from the West.

It doesn't make any sense. These were Canadian and American citizens. Japan doesn't come into, except, I suppose, if you care about the colour of someone's skin. I guess racism is alive and well still. I feel sorry for you.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:14 PM on August 25, 2011


It bugs me that this is always glossed over when people are getting nostalgic about FDR, who authorized the internment with executive order 9066. J. Edgar Hoover, of all people, opposed it, but the order granting regional military commanders the power to exclude people en masse from strategically important areas was not repealed until Gerald Ford became president.
posted by anigbrowl at 9:37 PM on August 25, 2011


IvoShandor your response is sort of the reason I posted. I'd venture to guess that you don't know any of these men or their families. I stand by my statement.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:38 PM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


rtha, I couldn't agree more.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:40 PM on August 25, 2011


I'd venture to guess that you don't know any of these men or their families. I stand by my statement.

I don't but besides the applicability to your anecdote I don't see why that matters. If being incarcerated in a concentration camp isn't coercion I will eat my hat.
posted by IvoShandor at 9:55 PM on August 25, 2011


These were Canadian and American citizens. Japan doesn't come into, except, I suppose, if you care about the colour of someone's skin. I guess racism is alive and well still.

They weren't locked up because they were foreign nationals. They were citizens. They were locked up because of their ethnic identity. To deny this seems astonishing to me.
posted by rtha at 10:20 PM on August 25, 2011


coercion

Your claim that their loyalty was insincere speaks to your ignorance on the matter.
posted by humboldt32 at 11:26 PM on August 25, 2011


The photos in the Atlantic article linked by arveale and the associated essay remind of nothing so much as what was happening to Jews in Hungary before the Nazi takeover. You had the same restrictions on particular ethnic groups, the same discussions about which ones were "really" citizens; and the same comforting news stories about how this was really best for everyone.

The USA is really very, very lucky that there wasn't a second Pearl Harbor, or it might have gone down a very bad path.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:10 AM on August 26, 2011


All this makes reading about the 442nd Infantry -- the Japanese-American "Go For Broke" guys explicitly out to prove themselves -- all the more fascinating. Kind of crazy that their valor was so extraordinary, that it made Hawaii a state.
posted by effugas at 1:33 AM on August 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


The USA is really very, very lucky that there wasn't a second Pearl Harbor, or it might have gone down a very bad path.
posted by Joe in Australia

More ignorance but not suprising. Your Hungarian comparison is invalid.
we dropped a A-bomb on Japan, can't go down the road much further.
Wait, your speaking of 1941...lets trot the japanese war crimes for that year...shall we.
You should be lucky, I mean REAL lucky the Japanese did not land in Austraila....your welcome, thank New Zealand too.

If you knew anything about history you would understand that Peral Harbor was not the only target that day.

What most if not all of you don't relize was that Japanese americans on Hawaii were not put into camps....why is that.


If being incarcerated in a concentration camp isn't coercion I will eat my hat.

I hope it's felt, you will get extra chewing power. These men were given a choice, is that coersion? THINK!
posted by clavdivs at 2:22 AM on August 26, 2011


It doesn't make any sense. These were Canadian and American citizens. Japan doesn't come into, except, I suppose, if you care about the colour of someone's skin. I guess racism is alive and well still. I feel sorry for you.

Please back it up a bit, read what he said. Nobody is excusing the camps, saying they were good, any of that. Explaining is not justifying.

Here is why the analogy breaks down: Japan was (and to a great extent still is) a place where citizenship and ethnicity are synonymous, so there is no way a white Westerner would ever become a Japanese citizen, at least in that time period. Look at the "Koreans" of Japan.

I wonder what was the fate of any long term white expats in Japan when hostilities broke out?
posted by Meatbomb at 2:29 AM on August 26, 2011


These were Canadian and American citizens. Japan doesn't come into, except, I suppose, if you care about the colour of someone's skin. I guess racism is alive and well still. I feel sorry for you
>



It is amusing when Renoroc merely posts a historical fact that was said by some of the Americans who were incarcerated and you accuse him of being inflammatory. However you throw a hissy fit and start throwing out baseless insults, and yet you don''t see yourself as being inflammatory.

anyway you are missing the point that everyone else seems to get and obviously you don't understand the word 'reversed'.

The point that Renoroc was making is that the Americans of Japanese descent knew that if the roles were reversed, in other words if America was Japan and Japan was America, any westerners who had became Japanese citizens, even westerners who were 2nd generation citizens they too might have been placed into concentration camps. They recognized their own racism. They acknowledged their own isolationist attitudes. "Their" meaning Japan as a whole at the time and not the individuals
posted by 2manyusernames at 5:16 AM on August 26, 2011


This whole debate about Americans of Japanese descent knowing that if the roles were reversed, while sounding good, feels a bit like nonsensical speculation. As it stands in this thread, it's something put out there without the evidence of statements by those interned that indicates they understood that Japan would've done just the same thing and that's why they "took things in stride". In fact, the Fair Play Committee article mentions, "shikata ga nai", a phrase meaning that it cannot be helped, as reason for the accepting Japanese American attitude towards interment.

Looks like some 80,000 of people of Japanese descent in the US at the time were nisei and sansei. The first and second generation born in the US. How could they know that they came from a so called "intensely xenophobic cultural background with a feeling of moral superiority" having been born and raised in America as American citizens? Maybe you could make an argument that the adults something from their immigrant parents, but what about the children in the internment camps?

How do you fight back against being taken from your home? Wouldn't fighting back just make your interment feel justified in the eyes of your captors? Even that's just more speculation. I going to read through these links. Until I know more, I'd say that the whole coming from a xenophobic culture explanation is meant to try to dull the bite of our national responsibility for the act.
posted by Mister Cheese at 8:55 AM on August 26, 2011


Well, I have to say, my grandmother on my mother's side seems a little bitter when she talks about the two asthmatic children she lost in the dusty Minidoka camps. And my grandfather never voted for a Democrat again after the internment, because FDR signed the order that put him into the camps.

And my grandfather on my father's side was one of the "no-no" boys sent to Tule Lake because he feared that if he denounced his citizenship in Japan he would essentially become a man without a country.
posted by curse at 9:01 AM on August 26, 2011


What most if not all of you don't relize was that Japanese americans on Hawaii were not put into camps....why is that.

Uh, yes they were, nearly 2,000 of them that were considered to pose the "greatest threat" to U.S. security. Of course, that was a small fraction of the 150,000+ people of Japanese ancestry who were living in Hawaii at the time... but that 150,000 represented about a third of the population of the islands, which means that had the U.S. tried to incarcerate all of them, the local economy would have likely collapsed.
posted by scody at 9:07 AM on August 26, 2011


I hope it's felt, you will get extra chewing power. These men were given a choice, is that coersion? THINK!

Give me a break. People are uprooted from their homes, have their stuff taken and are sent to concentration camps and then they feel compelled to join the military to show that they are loyal? What a crock of shit. As for the argument from authority being used further up, I will no longer engage you in this discussion because of your confidence that the few people you know represent everyone as well as ultimate authority on this topic. I didn't say they weren't loyal, but would they have been as compelled to join the military to show said loyalty if they hadn't been incarcerated in the first place. Jesus.
posted by IvoShandor at 9:20 AM on August 26, 2011


I am by no means an expert in JA internment but I spent the last three years traveling to internment camp sites with my JA boyfriend assisting him with his MFA thesis work of photographing these sites. I have visited pretty much every site that housed internees. I have also had many a discussion with my boyfriend's father who wrote his dissertation on internment. I think many experts would agree that the reason so many people complied with the order is not because they understood or sympathized but rather because of Japanese cultural norms like "shikata ga na" or Gaman. These norms can also be seen in the older generations' unwillingness to talk about the experience or their anger. My boyfriend's father (who is in his mid-60's, grew up in Hawaii) did not learn about internment until he was in college and he was enraged that this event was not something his elders spoke about and that is wasn't a taught part of his history. I am so glad that people are preserving the internment sites and talking about this painful part of our past because we need the reminders of our mistakes as a country. There is always the threat that we could repeat ourselves in this post-9/11 security obsessed period.

Anyway, if you want to see his photographs (made with a 4x5 camera on actual film!) here is his portfolio site: Jesse Ryan Kuroiwa.
posted by rachums at 9:23 AM on August 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


And my grandfather on my father's side was one of the "no-no" boys sent to Tule Lake because he feared that if he denounced his citizenship in Japan he would essentially become a man without a country.

We were on a birding trip some years back up at Tule Lake. The first thing our local guide said to us (there were about 20 of us on this trip) was that we shouldn't ask locals about the internment camp - it was still a very sensitive subject. There were also German POWs in the area during the war - not American citizens of German descent, but captured German soldiers. The enlisted men were mostly housed in barracks and worked on local farms. The officers were mostly housed with local families, and apparently had pretty free movement.
posted by rtha at 10:18 AM on August 26, 2011


I think it's a fair assumption that when military service is offered as an option to escape a prison camp, that service is coerced. It was a dispicable practice on top of a massive war crime.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:21 PM on August 26, 2011


A few (15?) years ago I visited Manzanar. What I found interesting was how hard it was to find -- I blinked and missed the tiny sign pointing to the dirt road off US-395. Luckily I had a 1:24,000 topo map of the area so I knew I'd missed it, so I turned around. (This was before GPS.) The camp itself was run down and deserted, with signs promising renovation. This country has still not come to terms with the internment, I remember thinking.

Also interesting was the huge abandoned airbase across 395 from the camp -- only the runways and ramp were still around, no buildings. Totally overgrown but the concrete was in excellent shape -- some day I want to fly there and land on that runway.
posted by phliar at 2:22 PM on August 26, 2011


The Manzanar runways on Google Maps.
posted by phliar at 2:27 PM on August 26, 2011


Story I head was that the US had broken the Japanese purple code and were aware of Japanese spies in the US and in order to get the spies without revealing how they knew they were spies, they rounded up all the usual suspects.

I have no footnote off hand, but I'm sure those interested could find one.

(Hoover as a paragon of rights? Knowing him, I have to suspect jealousy of power. He hated the OSS as well.)

Possibly worth noting how Japanese camps treated civilians. Let us leave it at Not Well.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:33 AM on August 27, 2011


They were certainly aware of German and Italian spies in the U.S. and yet they managed to not incarcerate every single American citizen of Italian or German descent (just some of them!).

Possibly worth noting how Japanese camps treated civilians. Let us leave it at Not Well.

And this has what to do with how we treated our own citizens in camps?
posted by rtha at 11:37 AM on August 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


How could they know that they came from a so called "intensely xenophobic cultural background with a feeling of moral superiority" having been born and raised in America as American citizens?

I don't understand your question. Do you actually think that it was impossible for people in the United States to know about the cultural underpinnings of Japan's involvement in WWII?
posted by The World Famous at 3:40 PM on August 29, 2011


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