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Social conflict during World War II led to the evacuation of about 120, 000 people because of the recent disturbing events that caused rumors of espionage, and because of their Japanese ancestry. Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, was what led the United States into World War II and drastically changed the lives of many different people of Japanese ancestry living in the United States. The attack increased racial prejudices and led to a fear of potential sabotage or espionage by the Japanese American population living in the United States.
In response to the attack, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 in February 1942, which authorized the Secretary of War to establish Military Areas and remove anyone who might threaten the war from those areas. The government gave everybody of Japanese ancestry living in the West Coast only a few days to decide what to do with their houses, property, and possessions. Most families sold their houses and belongings lost money due to the need to sell quick. Some families rented their properties to neighbors, others left their possessions with trusted friends, and some families even abandoned their property altogether. It was a time of panic and confusion because the people had no idea where they were going or how long they would have to stay there. Each family was given an identification number and were loaded into cars, buses, trucks, and trains, taking only things that they could carry with them. Then, the Japanese Americans were taken to 17 different assembly centers which were located at racetracks, fairgrounds, and similar facilities. This was all while under strict military guard. From the assembly centers, they were then moved to one of the 10 quickly built relocation centers, with relocation being complete by November 1942. In total, there were 10 war relocation centers which were all built in remote areas with harsh living conditions including deserts, plains, and swamps.
Since the camps were located in these remote isolated areas, summer temperatures got as high as 110º and in winter temperatures went below freezing. Relocation centers were built in Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming. Manzanar (one of the ten relocation camps), located in the Owens Valley of California between the Sierra Nevada on the west and the Inyo mountains on the east, was representative in many ways of the 10 camps. Approximately two-thirds of all Japanese Americans interned at Manzanar were born as American citizens. The last third were aliens, many of whom had lived in the United States for many years but were still denied legal U.S. citizenship. The first Japanese Americans to get to Manzanar, in March 1942, were people who had volunteered to build the camp. The Manzanar camp consisted of 500-acres of housing which was surrounded by barbed wire and 8 guard towers with searchlights watching the camp. This was all patrolled by military police.
The remaining 5,500 acres were used for military police housing, a reservoir, a sewage treatment plant, and farming land. By September 1942 more than 10,000 Japanese Americans were living in 504 crowded barracks organized into 36 blocks. 200 to 400 people lived in each block which had 14 barracks each divided into 4 rooms: shared men’s and women’s toilets and showers, a laundry room, and a mess hall. Any 8 people were given a 20-by-25-foot room and the only furnishings in these rooms were an oil stove, a single hanging light bulb, cots, blankets, and mattresses filled with straw. During their time at the camps, the Internees attempted to make the best of the bad situation. Internees built churches, temples, and boys and girls clubs. They developed sports, music, dance, and other recreational programs. Internees dug irrigation canals, tended to acres of fruits and vegetables, and raised chickens, hogs, and cattle. They also made clothes and furniture for themselves and camouflage netting and experimental rubber for the military. They served as mess hall workers, doctors, nurses, police officers, firefighters, and teachers.
Professionals were paid $19 per month, skilled workers received $16, and unskilled workers got $12. Many internees even pooled their resources and created a consumer cooperative that published the Manzanar Free Press and operated a general store, beauty parlor, barbershop, and bank. Lots of protests and disturbances occurred over political differences, wages, and rumors of informers and black marketing. One example these protests is the “Manzanar Riot” in December 1942 where 2 people were killed and 10 were wounded by military police. In 1943 the government required all of the internets to answer a “loyalty questionnaire.” They were asked if they would serve in combat and if they would swear unqualified allegiance to the United States. Those who answered “no” were sent to a segregation center at Tule Lake, Calif. Some older internees answered “no” because they weren’t allowed to become U.S. citizens. Others refused because their families were still behind barbed wire. Those who answered “yes” were considered “loyal” by the government and became eligible for indefinite leave outside of the West Coast military areas. In January 1944 the draft was reinstated for Japanese Americans. Most of those who were drafted or volunteered joined the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. This combat team combined 100th Infantry Battalion of the Hawaiian Territorial Guard fought in North Africa, France, and Italy. With 9,846 casualties, the 100th/442nd had the highest casualty rate and was the most highly decorated Army unit for its size and length of service. As the war turned in America’s favor, restrictions were lifted meaning that Japanese Americans were allowed to leave the camps. From all 10 camps, only 4,300 people were allowed to go to college, while about 10,000 were allowed to leave temporarily to harvest sugar beets.
From the beginning to the end of Manzanar, a total of 11,070 Japanese Americans had been through the camp. From a peak of 10,046 in September 1942, the population lowered to about 6,000 by 1944. The last few hundred internees left in November 1945, three months after the war ended. Many of them had spent three-and-a-half years at Manzanar. The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 provided financial redress of $20,000 for each surviving internees from the camps. In 2001, Congress made the ten different internment sites historical landmarks, claiming that they “will forever stand as reminders that this nation failed in its most sacred duty to protect its citizens against prejudice, greed, and political expediency.” The removal of all Japanese Americans from the West Coast was based on widespread distrust of their loyalty after Pearl Harbor. Yet, no Japanese Americans were charged with espionage.
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