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Japanese Internment Camps: America Versus Japanese

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When we think of the relationship the United States has with Japan today, our first thoughts usually go to their cuisine, technology, pop culture such as anime, and traditions that could be considered the exact opposite of our own. Many of those things have managed to weave their way into the American way of life. As a result, however, we tend to view the entire Japanese culture as something solely meant for our own amusement. Nobody stops to think about how we are basically taking a group of people and dehumanizing them, breaking them down and putting labels on them for the sake of our own interests. We need to ensure we consider the myriad facets of Japenese-American life and celebrate them not only for the reasons we pick and choose, but for the entire picture of their culture.

It is because of American picking and choosing that Japanese Americans have a storied and troubling history here. After the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, the United States war department brought up the idea that Japanese Americans could be acting as agents of espionage or sabotage. They perceived the Japanese people as a threat simply because their viewpoint was based on limited knowledge. (The Japanese mercilessly attacked Pearl Harbor, so therefore all Japanese people, including those who are American, are merciless killing machines who will do anything, even die, for their home country…right?) Despite a rather obvious lack of evidence for that statement, about 120 thousand Americans of Japanese descent were forcefully imprisoned in what were called “internment camps” all along the west coast. The fact of the matter is, roughly two thirds of those prisoners were actually second generation native-born citizens, known as “Nisei” within the Japanese community. Unlike their parents, known as “Issei”, who were the first generation in the United States, these 80,000 Nisei acted and thought of themselves as totally American. Despite all of this, the president at the time, Franklin D. Roosevelt, still enforced Executive Order 9066. In short, this executive order gave the U.S. Military the right to remove people from military areas “as deemed necessary or desirable”, and the entire west coast was deemed a “military area” for the time being. Though the order did not name Japanese Americans specifically, it was quite obvious that those were the only people targeted (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica).

The camps lasted as long as three years, and their conditions were initially meant to emulate the situation that was provided to a lowest-ranking member of the military, however the cruel reality was that they were much worse. Often surrounded by barbed wire, the camps were loosely based off of military barracks, but there was no plumbing or cooking facilities, and a room meant for four people was often stuffed with at least 25. It’s not like they could try and make their living space feel more like a home rather than a prison because they were instructed to leave all of their possessions behind except for one suitcase. Many people were even forced to make the journey with just the clothes on their backs. “Shikata ga nai”, which translates to “it cannot be helped” was a phrase often used by the people in the camps to summarize their feelings toward the conditions of the situation.

Although it was many years after World War II had concluded, the United States recognized that the internment of the Japanese people was a cruel act of injustice. In 1976, President Gerald R. Ford officially repealed Executive Order 9066 so that something like this wouldn’t happen again, and expressed deep regret for what happened in a formal apology. In 1988, the U.S. Congress passes the Civil Liberties Act, which presented more than 80,000 Japanese Americans $20,000 each in financial compensation for the ordeal they had suffered (Hatamiya).

It has been several decades since everything was resolved, and the United States has learned to respect the Japanese just like any other group of human beings. Certain aspects of Japanese culture are even celebrated all across the nation. However that is a problem because it is only the specific parts of the culture that we somehow find amusing. We are once again picking and choosing, the same thing that led to the stereotypes and persecution of the Japanese not so long ago, and it seems that nobody has a problem with this. Just like any culture that is different from our own, we need to learn to appreciate it as a whole, because the bits and pieces that we are choosing to admire are only a few brushstrokes in a big, beautiful picture.

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Japanese Internment Camps: America Versus Japanese. (2021, December 16). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 28, 2022, from
“Japanese Internment Camps: America Versus Japanese.” GradesFixer, 16 Dec. 2021,
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Japanese Internment Camps: America Versus Japanese [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2021 Dec 16 [cited 2022 Jan 28]. Available from:
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