My wife's parents and grandparents were Protestant missionaries in Japan. Her grandfather Henry was on a boat when Pearl Harbor occurred. The boat turned around and he was held in a prisoner of war camp, until he was returned to the United States in a prisoner exchange.
Henry, who spoke fluent Japanese and was a devout Christian, volunteered to be the chaplain at a Japanese-American internment camp in California, between the Sierra Nevada and Death Valley, called Manzanar.
There's plenty about Executive Order 9066
and the concentration camp
s on the web.
My family keeps an artifact: A high school yearbook from Manzanar entitled "Our World". It's like other high school year books from the period. The girls all have identical perms. The writing is really hokey. The kids had sports, plays, activities like "Latin Club".
There are photos of the Senior Play by Ansel Adams
. (Adams had been invited to photograph the camp by its director, a friend of his and fellow Sierra Club
These are people trying really hard to be ordinary Americans.
But the yearbook cannot help but disturb. All the kids are Japanese. In sports, they play only each other. Pictures of sports activities reveal a stark, desert landscape with the mountains in the background. Occasionally one has glimpses of the camps themselves. And on the last page, there is a picture of a guard tower and barbed wire.
The camp was surrounded by barbed wire. Guards with machine guns were posted at watchtowers, with orders to shoot anyone who tried to escape. So far as I know, no one was shot.
Another difference from the Nazis: I don't think any of the Jews in the camps desparately wanted to be Nazis, like these people wanted to be Americans. Of course there was resentment... and fear. But few doubted that things would return to normal after the war was over.
Many young men with friends and family imprisoned at Manzanar volunteered for the U.S. Army. Two Japanese-American units were formed: the 100th Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The 442nd suffered unusually high casualties, fighting in Europe, and was the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in U.S. Army history. Perhaps I'm not fully informed in my World War II history, but I'm not aware of any elite SS units composed of Jews from the camps, who distinguished themselves on the Russian steppes.
Like the Nazis, the United States government was very concerned that its actions were deemed legal. See Hirabayashi v. United States, 320 U.S. 81 (1943). Unfortunately, while there was some precedent for martial law and executive orders in times of crisis, rounding up people based on their race was clearly illegal.
Chief Justice Stone, writing for the Court, explained (320 U.S. 100-101):
"Distinctions between citizens solely because of their ancestry are by their very nature odious to a free people whose institutions are founded upon the doctrine of equality. For that reason, legislative classification or discrimination based on race alone has often been held to be a denial of equal protection. Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356 , 6 S.Ct. 1064; Yu Cong Eng v. Trinidad, 271 U.S. 500 , 46 S.Ct. 619; Hill v. Texas, 316 U.S. 400 , 62 S.Ct. 1159. We may assume that these considerations would be controlling here were it not for the fact that the danger of espionage and sabotage, in time of war and of threatened invasion, calls upon the military authorities to scrutinize every relevant fact bearing on the loyalty of populations in the danger areas. Because racial discriminations are in most circumstances irrelevant and therefore prohibited, it by no means follows that, in dealing with the perils of war, Congress and the Executive are wholly precluded from taking into account those facts and circumstances which are relevant to measures for our national defense and for the successful prosecution of the war, and which may in fact place citizens of one ancestry in a different category from others. 'We must never forget, that it is a constitution we are expounding', 'a constitution intended to endure for ages to come, and, consequently, to be adapted to the various crises of human affairs'. McCulloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat. 316, 407, 415. The adoption by Government, in the crisis of war and of threatened invasion, of measures for the public safety, based upon the recognition of facts and circumstances which indicate that a group of one national extraction may menace that safety more than others, is not wholly beyond the limits of the Constitution and is not to be condemned merely because in other and in most circumstances racial distinctions are irrelevant."
One hears similar arguments today for the use of racial profiling to combat terrorism.