Internment in Hawaii & the Mainland
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Territory of
Hawaii, was just part of a larger war plan. Within weeks, the Empire of
Japan had conquered the Philippines, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Malaya, and
Singapore. The British Dominions of Australia and New Zealand were
threatened, as was the entire Indian subcontinent. The Battle of the Coral
Sea was a draw, and while the U.S. won the Battle of Midway in June of
1942, Japan invaded the Aleutian Islands of Alaska.
The immediate aftermath of Pearl Harbor - rage - began
to be replaced by fear as Japan continued to expand. Many Americans feared
Japanese-Americans were not loyal to the U.S. and would help Japan. While
there might have been similar fears about German-Americans and
Italian-Americans, it is not easy to tell one of German or Italian
heritage from one of English or French descent. This is not the case with
Japanese-Americans, although I wonder how many people of Chinese or Korean
heritage mistakenly were seized by European-Americans as a possible enemy.
These unfounded fears, coupled with racism, led to the
exclusion of Japanese-Americans from vast areas of the West Coast of the
United States. Over 100,000 Japanese-Americans, more than half of them
native born U.S. citizens were rounded up and put in internment camps.
They had to sell their homes, businesses and property to whoever would buy
it at whatever price was offered. Men, women and children spent the entire
second world war in prison because they or their parents had been born in
Japan. According to the 1940 census there were 126,000 Japanese-Americans
in the mainland U.S., 67% of whom were U.S. citizens by birth. In
contrast, 157,000 Japanese-Americans were living in the Hawaiian Islands.
In Hawaii, there was no mass internment of
Japanese-Americans, even though they made up about 1/3 of the population.
The Japanese-Americans workers were crucial to the sugar and pineapple
plantations. However, about 1800 Japanese-Americans in Hawaii were sent to
internment camps in the mainland U.S. These interned Hawaiian
Japanese-Americans were prominent in the community or otherwise thought to
be some sort of risk. Unfortunately, the entire family was interned, not
just those who were considered to be disloyal or a risk to national
security. Initially, internees were kept at Sand Island and Honouliuli on
Oahu, and the Kilauea Military Camp on the Island of Hawaii. Many were
subsequently transferred to mainland camps.
Although 1800 is a small number of people, what do you
say to someone who as a second grade student in Hilo was sent to a prison
camp in Arizona because her father was a prominent Japanese immigrant?
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the detentions at the
Korematsu was not excluded from the Military Area because
of hostility to him or his race. He was excluded because we are at war
with the Japanese Empire, because the properly constituted military
authorities feared an invasion of our West Coast and felt constrained to
take proper security measures, because they decided that the military
urgency of the situation demanded that all citizens of Japanese ancestry
be segregated from the West Coast temporarily, and finally, because
Congress, reposing its confidence in this time of war in our military
leaders - as inevitably it must - determined that they should have the
power to do just this. There was evidence of disloyalty on the part of
some, the military authorities considered that the need for action was
great, and time was short. We cannot - by availing ourselves of the calm
perspective of hindsight - now say that at that time these actions were
v. United States, 323 U.S. 214, 223 (1944). Alternate
During the 3 years of internment, several
Japanese-Americans were shot by guards. There were riots in the camps, and
a number of people were convicted of resisting the draft. When the
internees were finally released, they had lost almost everything. In 1948,
President Truman signed a law that was to compensate the internees for
their economic losses. Few received any compensation.
Justice Murphy vigorously dissenting saying:
No adequate reason is given for the failure to treat
these Japanese Americans on an individual basis by holding
investigations and hearings to separate the loyal from the disloyal, as
was done in the case of persons of German and Italian ancestry.... It is
asserted merely that the loyalties of this group "were unknown and
time was of the essence." Yet nearly four months elapsed after
Pearl Harbor before the first exclusion order was issued; nearly eight
months went by until the last order was issued; and the last of these
"subversive" persons was not actually removed until almost
eleven months had elapsed. Leisure and deliberation seem to have been
more of the essence than speed.... It seems incredible that under these
circumstances it would have been impossible to hold loyalty hearings for
the mere 112,000 persons involved--or at least for the 70,000 American
citizens--especially when a large part of this number represented
children and elderly men and women. Any inconvenience that may have
accompanied an attempt to conform to procedural due process cannot be
said to justify violations of constitutional rights of individuals.
In 1988, President Reagan signed the Civil
Liberties Act which provided $20,000 in reparations to each internee,
and an apology.
For Star Trek fans, actor George
Takei, Lieutenant and then Captain Sulu, was interned during World War
To lean more: Children
of the Camps, a PBS documentary.
Internment, by the Utah Education Network.
Internment Camps - with maps of where Japanese-Americans were living.
Japanese Americans Tell Their Pearl Harbor Story - from Asian Week,
June 15 - 21, 2001.
great site with extensive quotes and research.
Life and Times of Wild Bill Noda, from the Campbell Reporter.
AMERICAN'S WITNESS AIR RAID ON DEC 7TH, 1941, from alterasian.com. Alternate
link, at NBCI.
Return to: Pearl
Harbor | History of Hawaii
About the Author: Brian N.
Durham is currently editor of My
Hawaii News, a publication of The 'Ohana Network. A
retired Coast Guard officer with 22 years of service, Brian is
a member of the Hawaii Bar and has worked for the Hawaii State
Legislature and the Linda Lingle Campaign Committee.
Graphics used on this page courtesy of: ClipsAhoy.com;
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