2008 National Conference » Essays


By Parker A. Bottlemy

During the course of American history several events have shaped the whole framework and society of America. One such event was World War II, and what happened not only in the fight for the war but also what occurred inside America done in the name of security. The experience of the Japanese-Americans in World War II was the loss of civil rights and for some the confidence in the justice that America preaches about to the entire world about.

During the conference I attended several workshops that help to shed more light on the entire experience of ethnic Japanese outside of Japan in World War II. These two workshops helped to shine some light on experiences that people do not normally hear about, these experiences are of the Japanese in Canada, Hawaii, and in the Justice Department camps. Included in this is also the story of almost 2,300 Japanese from South America who were kidnapped by the United States in order to be used as bartering pieces for captured American soldiers. All of these experiences are not as well-known as the rest of the experiences which happened during World War II.

First, the Japanese in Canada were not as numerous as they were in America but their experience during the War was worse than in America. The majority of the Japanese lived in British Columbia at the time. For the longest period British Columbia was run by England and not by Canada. Under this protection of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance many Japanese came to Canada and were able to live there with a good life. But after the entry of British Columbia to Canada the Japanese lost most of their protection as citizens with rights. Because Canada had no Bill of Rights until the 1980’s the treatment of the Japanese in World War II was significantly worse than in America. In America the Japanese could work and get paid a meager wage for it, in Canada the Japanese worked and did not get paid one cent and to make things worse they were forced to pay for their own incarceration. They worked on roads and beet farms, very hard labour with no pay. At the end of the war the Japanese-Canadians were given an ultimatum of either moving east of the Rocky Mountains and not living near any other Japanese or to be deported back to Japan. Around 4,000 Japanese-Canadians were deported to war-torn Japan. Also, most Japanese-Canadians were released after the war was years over, the last group to leave the camps left in 1949, four years after the war was over! Compensation of the treatment against Japanese-Canadians was in 1988 where each survivor received $21,000.

There is a common mistake of believing that in Hawaii, where there were no internment camps, it was a paradise of freedom. But in reality Marshall Law in Hawaii proved to be the worst situation for not only the Japanese-Americans but for all the people who were living in Hawaii at the time. The justification of Marshall Law to last in Hawaii was that since there was a large Japanese population in Hawaii there was a greater threat of the Japanese invading there and getting help from the Japanese who lived in Hawaii at the time. This was upheld even when there was no threat at all that Japan would be able to invade Hawaii. In Hawaii there was the suspension of Habeas Corpus and a regime imposed by the military that could be synonymous with that of the rule of a dictator. The mail to and from Hawaii was censored as well as the papers, this was another reason that was used by supporters of Marshall Law in Hawaii such as FDR and others, mostly in the military. Eventually the Japanese in Hawaii were allowed to join the army into the 100 th Battalion. From this point on in the terms of whether or not Japan was still of threat to Hawaii, it wasn’t. After the battle of Midway, all the people in control of the situation in Hawaii knew that there was no possible way that Japan would be able to attack and invade Hawaii, regardless of how much help that they could have received from Japanese-Americans who would not give it. But Marshall Law in Hawaii persisted until the end of the war. By that time there were many court cases that had built up because of the situation of the courts in Hawaii. The governor of Hawaii suspended his power to the military after Pearl Harbor; with this power the military established a dictatorship-like rule in Hawaii during the War. The prosecution of criminals during the war fell to military tribunals where the defense was denied representation. In the case of a tribunal it was easier to confess to the crime no matter what, it gave a weaker sentence. In the end FDR finally abolished Marshall Law in Hawaii in name only; the situation was almost identical to before. Several cases were appealed to the Supreme Court and were overturned by the Court.

In the Department of Justice camps people who were deemed “dangerous” were put into them separated from their families so they would not pose a “threat” to the rest of the community in the camps. Most of the people who were in these camps were the leaders of the community and prominent members of it, pastors and so on. By January 2,232 were in the camps classified by their “disloyalty”. The detainees received not a trial but a hearing, so the Department of Justice had to give no counsel or fair trial. Also, the detainee had to show complete loyalty or they would face long detention or deportation. Any connection to Japan whether by school or origin or family was seen as a greater form of disloyalty to America and was a piece of evidence against the detainee that would forever haunt them. The hearing also was held when people denounced their citizenship; almost 7,000 were deported to Japan. The labor that was done by these detainees was hard and unpaid. Most of the people who were deported to Japan never returned to America. Many of these stories have been ignored because of the need of the Japanese-American community to show complete loyalty to a country that so hated them and made them give up their lives and go into prison camps. In my opinion it is very unfortunate that these stories have been so ignored for such a long time. It is important that when we remember the Japanese-American experience we remember all of it, this includes the stories of the Hoshi-Dan and Joshi-Dan.

When many people denounced their citizenship they were under arrest so it was decided that after the war when Japan had lost many people were allowed to stay in America. However, many Nisei children were repatriated to a war-torn Japan, most of who never returned to America. The biggest point that can be made by these stories is that during the war and the camps how can people still keep faith in a country that preaches free rights for all men and yet puts a certain group of people into prison camps? In my opinion it is one of the best questions we can ask of ourselves and think of how we would react in that situation today.

The final story I would like to tell is one that I believe is of a vital importance when talking about the violation of civil liberties during the second World War, that is the story of around 2,300 Latin-Japanese who were kidnapped by the U.S. government. They were mainly from Peru where they faced a good deal of prejudice before the war happened. FDR decided that these citizens of other countries needed to be imprisoned as well; the purpose of their imprisonment was to act as bartering chips for kidnapped U.S. soldiers in Japan. Almost all of these people were not given the chance to become U.S. citizens after the war, also Peru denied entry to most of them as well. A few were deported from the U.S. to either Japan or back to Latin America after the war but the vast majority had to face life in the U.S. without a citizenship. They have received no reparations for their ordeal and originally only received $5,000 if funds remained after the rest of the population had received their reparations. This is a travesty and shameful act that should never have happened in the U.S. but somehow it was allowed to happen. The idea of first kidnapping citizens from another country and imprisoning them, giving them no chance to continue their lives and even sending some back to a war-torn Japan full of problems, this lesson should be one we never forget because it could possibly happen again if we never remember the past.

In the end what we should learn from the entire Japanese-American experience is not just the one of the Internment but also the one of the Canadians, Hawaiians, and the Latin-Japanese who were kidnapped by the U.S. government, all in the name of national security. We should also be careful to remember not all the people who were imprisoned were not super-patriotic to a country that had violated their civil rights. What I will take from the conference is that the entire experience is just as vital to know as the one experience of one person’s life. And that from the entire experience we learn what should never happen again, that the violation of the rights of American who are innocent of all claims of espionage, or aiding the enemy should be given the fair chance that they deserve as citizens of this country. A chance that the Japanese were not given. A chance that should never be waved again by the leaders in Washington, no matter how dire the circumstances will ever be it should not happen again. When one group of people loses their rights it is not just injustice towards them, it is an injustice towards the entire American people that the Constitution and Bill of Rights would be sacrificed in the name of false accusations.

Parker Bottlemy is a 10th grader in the International Baccalaureate Program at Lakewood High School, Lakewood, Colorado. He likes to play the violin and to compose classical music. He also enjoys reading and writing essays.