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Behind Barbed Wire: Japanese Internment Camps

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The Japanese Internment Camps is one of the biggest events in U.S. history during the 20th century. With the relocation of the Japanese in the Pacific Coast of the United States, one of ten Internment camps, where they would spend the next 2 years trying to survive the terrible conditions. The Japanese internment camps during the 20th century made the Japanese lose everything that they owned, showed the power the US used against Japanese minorities, even if the United States were trying to protect thier own citizens.

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Before 1853, Japan’s leaders have isolated themselves from European countries and their colonies (Japanese Intro). During this time Japan was ruled by a monarchy which meant the citizens didn’t have much of an opinion. The Japanese working conditions were not so good, they were obligated to stay in their land as they didn’t have a good country to go to. Many of the workers worked in the Farming industry. On 1853, United States Navy Commander Matthew Perry, “forced the reclusive nation to open itself to trade with the U.S.”(Japanese Intro). Japan began to adapt to the new technology that was opened up to them which led to a huge decline in agriculture. Many of its citizens were forced to leave their homeland in search of new opportunities. The Japanese now had a place to go at as the United States had a really good opportunity compared to Japan. Many knew and decided to head to the U.S. for their children and children to come to have a good life a good chance in life. Many knew that in the U.S they would make “ten times the amount of money possible in their home country”(Japanese Immigrants). Many Japanese decided to go to Hawaii, or to America’s Pacific Coast. On May 6, 1882, the United States signed the Chinese Exclusion Act. This Act was “one of the first significant law in the U.S. that impacted immigration”(Our Documents). The Act limited the number of Chinese allowed into the U.S. causing the numbers of Chinese migrants to decrease drastically. This was important for the Japanese who were seeking a new life in a new land. Many plantation owners were forbidden to hire Chinese workers which resulted in them in hiring the Japanese people. Many saw this opportunity was decided to take advantage of it. Between 1886 and 1911, 400,000 Japanese citizens moved to the U.S. seeking new jobs and lives. Due to the Chinese exclusion act, the Japanese became the biggest ethnic groups in the U.S. Once they arrived at the new land, they usually obtained jobs in the farming industry or in factories. The working conditions weren’t too great as well but they knew it was an improvement and sacrifice that they had to take. Many of these workers ended up in these work positions as due to them receiving really low pay and working longer hours compared to the Americans. Companies were glad they had people like this as they could produce more with such a lower cost. Many U.S. Citizens started to get worried about the Japanese taking over every job. Most people in California were worried that the Japanese would make the average pay decrease. This lead to many Americans having hatred toward the Japanese.

Americans began to get hostile towards Japanese Immigrants. On May 14, 1905, the Asiatic Exclusion League, A.E.L, opposed Japanese immigration. A.E.L. managed to complete some of their objectives as they didn’t want the Japanese to take their jobs or let them change how people will get paid. The A.E.L. organization were very influential, especially in California, as they got Asian children to attend segregated schools. Still, more immigrants came to the U.S. looking for jobs. The hate against the Japanese also started to grow even more. Anti-Japanese propaganda also started to occur as one of the most famous authors, Dr. Seuss, took part in the propaganda. Americans started to look at the government and complain as they were scared that they gained most control of farmland and the average wage would decrease for the government. The government came up with a solution, but Japan had to come to an understanding with America. On March 14, 1907, between the U.S. and Japan, an agreement came out of it, called, The Gentleman’s Agreement. The Agreement for Japan was that they would limit the number of people that are heading towards the United States. While in the United States they would not place any law to the Japanese who are already in the country. Also part of this agreement was that “the San Francisco school board repealed the segregation order”(Britannica). The immigration of the Japanese to the United States cause many problems between the two groups of people. The Americans started to hate the Chinese and not want them in their land as they thought they were making the Pacific coast of the U.S. and Hawaii worse. This caused much racism to occur during this time period.

During the immigration, there was an Anti-Japanese movement going on. There were many problems during this time from the Americans being stereotypical, hostile, and had many racist acts. The hatred for the Japanese started to grow more and more. People used old prejudice that was directly targeted to the Chinese and now was using it towards the Japanese. The Japanese were also restricted from marrying people from the other race, become citizens, being able to buy land, and from getting a job from certain companies. This restricted many Japanese from getting a better life. The Americans are starting to limit from Japanese from migrating to the United States and from doing much in America.

On September 1, 1939, World War 2 has started between the Axis and Allied powers, Japan being part of the Axis powers. Since the Japanese were part of the war many thought that the Japanese in America were also going to launch an attack on U.S. soil. On October 7, 1941, during the war, a 29-page report was sent to the white house by Curtis B. Munson. This was before the United States joined the war. Munson traveled to California and the Pacific Coast to check on the Japanese. Munson ended the report and in the report, he stated, “they had some problems, but they are not a problem for the country to be worried about.” This report was important because the people were worried that the war from the other side was going to heading towards them. The Americans did not want to get into another war after they had just ended World War 1 just 20 years ago. On December 7, 1941, Japan launched a surprise military attack at the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, a Hawaiian territory. This surprise military attack by the Japanese killed 2,335, 68 of those being civilians (The Path to Pearl Harbor). Government officials were worried that Japan had spies in the U.S and that more attack would occur in their homeland. Some Americans were very paranoid about being and having to live around the Japanese.

On February 19, 1942, two months after the attack of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt established Executive Order 9066. ¨President Roosevelt was encouraged by the Federal Government and the group called the ¨Fifth Column”¨ to be able to protect the Citizens of the United States. This was just two months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, this order gave the ¨military the power to transport any Japanese citizens, from Japanese Ancestry to residential aliens from Japan¨ (Executive Order 9066). This Executive Order also moved around 110,000 – 120,000 Japanese, where most came from the Pacific Coast. Out of ¨two-thirds of the prisoners in the camps were Native-born American Citizens. Even if the Munson Report was done a few months ago the U.S. Government almost completely ignored it. With the Executive Order, the Japanese had to move to 1 of 10 internment camps spread along the west coast of the U.S. From the populated camps being in Manzanar and Santa Anita, both of which are in California, to the least populated in Mayer Arizona. One of the most popular camp being Manzanar with its ¨first inmate arrival on March 21, 1942, with a peak population of 9,666. 

Many Japanese never knew where they were going to be transported and be prisoners. Many Japanese during relocation were only allowed to take what they could carry only using themselves. Some also had to sell their property and their belongings. The people who bought their house and belongings usually bought the objects at a really low price that was unfair for the Japanese. The ten internment camps were built on deserts, plains, and swamps around seven states. The internment camps were surrounded by watchtowers as if was also surrounded by barbed wire. Many of the conditions in the internment camps were very harsh. The camps were “overcrowded and did not have the best living conditions as the the walls were they were staying at was a tarpaper-covered barrack”(Internment in World War II). Most of all the camps did not have the house needs, for example, the barracks did not have any kind of plumbing and any of the cooking needs. The food was rationed, but they still had to pay for the food. People had jobs, but the jobs were with in the internment camps where they had to work very hard to get paid. Many of the Japanese realized that the food they were given was not going to be enough for them to survive for that long, so they many decided to start their own small farms within their living area. Many were confused with how they were treated. Many U.S. born Japanese thought themselves as an American like Bill Shishima who was part of the camp, she stated, “I knew that we were so-called Japanese. I thought I was American too, but I found out I wasn’t. I thought I was American the whole time” (Camp Survivors). 

Around two-thirds of the Japanese who were sent to the internment camps were born the U.S. and plenty called themselves an American citizen. The United States gave an opportunity for the Japanese to leave the internment camps on one condition. The Japanese had to enroll and serve in the army for the time the war will be going on. “Around 30,000 Nisei men served in uniform,” the term Nisei being a person born in the United States with their parents being immigrants from Japan. “One all-Nisei unit, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, went on to become the most decorated unit of its size in U.S. history”(Behind the Wire). The idea that this group of U.S. born Japanese being one of the most decorative unit is very interesting. The soldiers family may be in the Internment camps while their son is defending his country who turn their back on his kind. The Japanese have been in the internment camps for so long that they had this everyday routine now. They established this small community were many of which sent their kids to school, there was a church, and some them had to go to work to be able to buy food. Though many still felt empty and betrayed as they did not do much to deserve to be in their situation. 

On December 17, 1944, after a few years of being in Internment Camps, one year before the war ended, the government have just announced the closing of all internment camps throughout the United States. The last Internment camp was closed on March 1946. Many of which were happy and went back to their home and tried to rebuild their lives, while others were not so fortunate enough as they lost all of their belongs going into the camp. Many of which ended up not being able to get back on track and were in poverty all of their lives. The Internment Camps destroyed many lives as people were just entering the camps. Many still remember the events as if they had just experienced very recently. On August 10, 1988, nearly 40 years later, the United States released “The Civil Liberties Act of 1988.” This was an apology towards the Japanese and how they were treated, but most importantly on how they were sent to spend 3 years of their lives close in barbed wire and watchtowers. By the time this was written nearly half or more have already passed away. This Act gave reparations to the Japanese who were part of the Internment camps. One being the apology which half were not alive to hear and $20,000 to the people who sadly took part in the Internment Camps. The United States had much time to think about the Japanese and it took them nearly 40 years to give an apology to the Japanese.

The internment camp was very important to U.S history as it shows how much power the United States had on its own citizens. The U.S people welcomed the Japanese as they were a cheap labor force, after the Chinese Exclusion Act. The Japanese were working very hard trying to make a living in the U.S. but were pretty much stopped instantly. Many citizens around them started to turn against them as many Japanese were entering and settling in a job for a very low wage. The United States also stopped the migration of the Japanese as many people were arriving. They were getting racist remarks and neighbors were starting to get hostile towards the Japanese. The U.S. also allowed the state of California to have segregated school that separated the whites with the Japanese. They were also not allowed to buy any property which made them not be able to progress. Many Japanese came for their children to be able to get a better life than they have ever had in the new land. The United States had to much power that allowed them to limit the Japanese to be able to improve or settle a little more in the area that they are living around. They also allowed the people to influence their actions from the west coast since the people were slowly getting what they wanted.

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With the Japanese internment camps, during the 20th century, having been one of thev biggest events it led to the Japanese losing mostly everything that they owned, showed the power the US used against Japanese minorities, even if the United States were trying to protect their own citizens. The United States was trying to protect their own citizens which were taken to extreme circumstances. Taking the Japanese out of their homes and leading them towards the Internment camps. Some of them lost everything during their time of the camp, while others just felt like their name was ruined. They were also not treated correctly with some very poor conditions in the camps. Some of the Japanese sadly died during their time in the camps by all the mistreatment that they had. Once they were all released from the internment camps they did not have anything once they got out and went straight into poverty. Some were never able to recover and don’t receive help government for some time. The government did not try to fix their problems even if many were born in the United States.

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