Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, American skepticism and disdain for the Japanese swiftly turned to outright hostility. It was widely considered that all people of Japanese ancestry might be spies. In reality, many Americans believed that Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast and in the Hawaiian Islands were instrumental in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Because of the racial profiling and lack of rationality, the unjustified incarceration of Japanese Americans took place in the 20th century. It is an important issue to discuss for several reasons. First and foremost, it was a crime against human rights that led to the suffering of thousands of people. Discussing this issue will help to assess the weaknesses that the state and policy actors had at that time. Knowing the mistakes from history will help to avoid such circumstances in the present and future times.
Japanese American Internment
People of Japanese descent, including citizens of the United States, were imprisoned in separate camps by the US government. President Franklin D. Roosevelt established Japanese internment camps during World War II under Executive Order 9066 (Nagata et al. 36). Japanese Americans’ internment, which took place after the attack on Pearl Harbor and continued throughout the war, is widely recognized as one of the most horrific violations of civil rights in America.
A large number of Japanese Americans were forcibly relocated to internment camps by the government of the United States during the Second World War. Despite a lack of strong evidence, the US War Department suspected Japanese Americans of acting as saboteurs or espionage operatives when the Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor (Nagata et al. 36). Some politicians advocated gathering up Japanese Americans, particularly those living along the West Coast, and incarcerating them inland. The US Department of Justice, which opposed transporting innocent citizens, and the War Department, which favored imprisonment, engaged in a power struggle.
Race Prejudice and War Hysteria
The topic of relocation was still contested by the nation’s political authorities, but the decision was made quickly. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, giving the US military the ability to bar anyone from certain places (Nagata et al. 37). Race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership were recognized as the fundamental causes of the government’s internment program (Uehara 335). US military used racial profiling to target Japanese Americans. Thus, many innocent people who were not proven to be spies were sent to prison camps. These camps were surrounded by guards, and cases of violence occurred occasionally.
The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 was approved by the United States Congress, awarding more than 80,000 Japanese Americans $20,000 each as compensation for their hardship (Nagata et al. 42). In addition, Congress formally apologized for the government’s actions towards Japanese Americans. Although the verdict was eventually overturned by the courts, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had already signed an order on December 17, 1944, to end the internment of Japanese Americans (Nagata et al. 40). All of those who had been imprisoned were allowed to return home, but most of Japanese-Americans were still the target of suspicion and discrimination.
Michelle Malkin claims that the three-year detention in the desert of virtually all Japanese-American men, women, and children on the West Coast was the right decision. She says that it was a sound military judgment made by Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his top war advisers based on solid intelligence that Japan had organized untold numbers of Japanese resident aliens (Malkin 272). However, even if there was a risk of some Japanese people being spies, imprisoning all the Japanese people is still unjustified. When President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the executive order authorizing the military to restrict people from key military sites, he based his decision on substantial proof of Japanese-American spying.
At the very least, this would indicate that the government had a reason to act to detect and deter Japanese-American spying. It would not mean that the government had a legal basis for evicting more than 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry from their homes without charges or hearings (Nagata et al. 36). Barring Japanese population from the entire coastal region, and imprisoning them in desolate camps for years after any threat of a Japanese attack on the United States mainland had passed was a violation of the human rights.
“Racism and hysteria are irrational lenses through which people see their world, including its military threats,” says Eric Muller (p. 1). It is important not to forget that racism should not be legalized, no matter what the circumstances are. The reason is that such an approach is irrational and is driven by inefficient leadership and hysteria. Using racial profiling when targeting Japanese Americans violated constitutional rights and brought adverse consequences for both the American government and the Japanese population. By analyzing such historical incidents as Japanese American incarceration, the new generation will be able not to let such mistakes as racial prejudice, war hysteria, and irrational leadership strategies take place and impact political decisions in the future.
Malkin, Michelle. In Defense of Internment: The Case For Racial Profiling in World War II and the War on Terror. Regnery Publishing, 2004.
Muller, Eric. “Profiling Japanese Americans During World War II Was Unjustified.” Greenhaven Press, vol. 36, no. 7, 2004, pp. 1-6.
Nagata, Donna K., Jacqueline HJ Kim, and Kaidi Wu. “The Japanese American wartime incarceration: Examining the scope of racial trauma.” American Psychologist vol. 74, no.1, 2019, p. 36.
Uehara, Edwina S. “Facilitating Injustice: The Complicity of Social Workers in the Forced Removal and Incarceration of Japanese Americans, 1941-1946 ” Journal of Teaching in Social Work, vol. 41, no. 3, 2021, pp. 335-337.