The Censored History of Internment

by Joseph E. Fallon

In March 1997, Japanese-Peruvians who had been interned in the United States during World War II called upon President Clinton to issue an executive order awarding them financial compensation similar to that awarded in 1988 to Japanese-American former internees and relocatees under Public Law 100-383. Simultaneously, these Japanese-Peruvians lobbied members of Congress to enact legislation which would award them this money should the President reject their claims. As in 1988, the facts about internment and those who were interned is being censored so that individuals of Japanese ancestry alone might receive $20,000 per person.

The politically correct revisionists confound internment and relocation in order to misrepresent the actual numbers. Internment, which is based on the Enemy Alien Act of 1798 and is recognized by international law, commenced on December 7, 1941, and was applied only to enemy aliens—i.e., nationals of those countries with which the United States was at war. Since internees were almost always men, many of whom were the sole financial support of their families, family members, even if American citizens, were permitted voluntarily to join husbands or fathers in internment. But once inside the camps, they could not leave.

According to a 1948 government report on wartime internment, 56 percent of all non-renunciant internees (14,426 of 25,655) were Europeans and European-Americans—Germans, Italians, Hungarians, Rumanians, Bulgarians, even some Czechs and Poles. The total number of Japanese and Japanese-Americans interned was 16,849—not 120,000 as historical revisionists claim. Of that 16,849, however, nearly one-third—5,620—were renunciants. That is, after Pearl Harbor, 5,620 United States citizens of Japanese ancestry renounced their American citizenship so that they could be repatriated to Japan.

An additional 20,000 Japanese-Americans in Japan at the start of the war joined the Japanese war effort, and hundreds even joined the Japanese army. The most infamous case was that of Tomoya Kawakita, an American citizen who worked as an interpreter and a POW guard for the Japanese army, and actively participated in the torture (and at least one death) of American soldiers, including survivors of the Bataan Death March.

Bowing to pressure from Japanese-Americans, Congress, on July 1, 1944, enacted Public Law 405, which allowed citizens to renounce their citizenship in time of war. There were no renunciants among German-Americans, Italian-Americans, or any other Americans of European ancestry.

In addition, many Japanese nationals and Japanese-Americans with dual nationality living in the United States refused to take a loyalty oath or to promise to abide by this nation's laws. With the exception of a reference to the Japanese emperor, this loyalty oath was the same as that required of all United States draftees and all persons working in United States war industries. There was no similar refusal to take a loyalty oath or to promise to abide by American laws among Germans, Italians, or other Europeans.

Relocation from the West Coast was based on Executive Order 9066, issued by President Roosevelt on February 19, 1942—more than two months after internment had been implemented. This order affected California, portions of Washington and Oregon, and the southern third of Arizona. Contrary to revisionist misrepresentations, it did not call for the "internment" of Japanese in "concentration camps." Executive Order 9066 clearly stated that "any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any persons to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion."

Germans and Italians were also excluded from the West Coast. Of the 112,000 residents of Japanese ancestry who were excluded, nearly 40 percent were enemy aliens who by law should have been interned. Those excluded were encouraged by the United States government to resettle in the eastern halves of Washington and Oregon (areas not affected by Executive Order 9066) or in any of the other 44 states. The government established relocation centers as a temporary (and voluntary) alternative to resettlement. But such housing was only for residents of Japanese ancestry. Those of German and Italian ancestry had to fend for themselves. Of the tens of thousands of Japanese who chose to enter relocation centers, 35,000 soon left to resettle in other parts of the country.

These relocation centers had the highest live-birth rate and the lowest death rate in wartime United States. The Japanese in the centers "received free food, lodging, medical and dental care, clothing allowance, education, hospital care, and all basic necessities. . . . The government even paid travel expenses and assisted in cases of emergency relief."

A National Student Council Relocation Program was also instituted by the government, and like the relocation centers, it discriminated against those of German and Italian ancestry. Under this program, 4,300 students of Japanese ancestry received scholarships to attend more than 500 colleges and universities located outside of the exclusionary zone.

Seeking to have Executive Order 9066 declared unconstitutional, the Japanese American Citizens League and the American Civil Liberties Union filed three test cases with the Supreme Court: Korematsu v. United States, Hirabayashi v. United States, and Yasui v. United States. But in its October 1944 term, the Supreme Court, led by Justices William O. Douglas and Felix Frankfurter (its two most liberal members at that time), upheld the constitutionality of Executive Order 9066. The Court ruled that the exclusion of residents of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast was deemed necessary because "there were disloyal members of that population whose number and strength could not be precisely and quickly ascertained." There was also a justifiable fear that Japan would invade the West Coast. The Court further ruled that no Japanese was being compelled "either in fact or by law" to go to a relocation center. The Court also reprimanded the Japanese American Citizens League and the American Civil Liberties Union: "We deem it unjustifiable to call them [relocation centers] concentration camps with all the ugly connotations that term implies."

When the War Department announced on December 18, 1944, that all relocation centers would be closed by the end of 1945, the same Japanese American Citizens League, which only two months earlier had argued that the relocation centers were "concentration camps," implored the government to keep the centers open.

On July 2, 1948, Congress acted improperly, if not unconstitutionally, by enacting Public Law 886, which provided financial compensation for wartime relocation to those of Japanese ancestry. Although PL 886 stipulated that all claims not presented within 18 months "shall be forever barred," Congress enacted additional laws granting further financial compensation to former internees and relocatees of Japanese ancestry in 1951, 1952, 1956, 1960, 1972, 1978, 1988, and 1992.

In 1988, Public Law 100-383 granted $20,000 per person to all surviving Japanese and Japanese-American former internees and relocatees at the recommendation of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. The Commission was established in 1980 to "review the facts and circumstances surrounding Executive Order Numbered 9066, Issued February 19, 1942, and the impact of such Executive Order on American citizens and permanent resident aliens . . . and review directives of United States military forces requiring the relocation and, in some cases, detention in internment camps of American citizens, including Aleut civilians, and permanent resident aliens of the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands." But the Commission illegally altered the scope of its own investigation, limiting it to "American citizens of Japanese ancestry and resident Japanese aliens, as well as the people of the Aleutian Islands."

The unprofessional conduct of the Commission was scandalous. In existence for over two years, it held only 20 days of public hearings. Two of the nine commissioners were former relocatees with a vested financial interest in the commission's decision. Forty percent of the staff had Japanese surnames and stood to benefit financially if the Commission recommended compensation. At the start of its hearings, the Commission publicly expressed the opinion that only the Japanese had been victimized by the policy of internment and relocation. The Commission did not hear any testimony from former internees of European ancestry, and the Japanese-Americans who testified were never placed under oath.

While praising Commander Kenneth Ringle as "the most capable intelligence officer we had," the Commission omitted from its report, Personal Justice Denied, his estimate that 25 percent of all Americans of Japanese ancestry were of doubtful loyalty and that 3,500 Japanese-Americans could be expected to engage in espionage and sabotage against the United States. The testimony of Edward Ennis, Director of the Alien Control Unit of the U.S. Department of Justice in the Roosevelt Administration, and James Rowe, Roosevelt's Assistant Attorney General, that the Japanese were treated exactly the same as Germans and Italians and were not arrested in mass nor denied the right of appeal before hearing boards was also omitted from the Commission's report.

In testimony before Congress in 1984, Dr. David Trask, chief historian at the U.S. Army Center of Military History, dismissed Personal Justice Denied. "I am simply unable to certify this brief as a credible piece of history. It simply doesn't measure up to professional standards." Congress, nevertheless, enacted legislation granting financial compensation based solely on the Commission's flawed recommendations in Personal Justice Denied.

In 1992, the damage was compounded by the enactment of Public Law 102-371. Under this new law, European-American spouses of Japanese internees who voluntarily joined their husbands in internment are eligible for financial compensation of $20,000. But European-American spouses of European internees who voluntarily joined their husbands in internment are not.

Ironically, the demand for compensation for Japanese-Peruvians interned in the United States during World War II may yet unmask the historical fraud that only the Japanese were victims of internment. For during World War II, the Roosevelt administration "requested" 18 Latin American governments to arrest Germans and Italians (as well as Japanese) living in their countries and to ship them to the United States for internment.

The number of Latin Americans of German descent interned in the United States may have been as high as 5,000, including some Jewish Germans. These Jewish Germans included citizens and legal residents of Latin American countries, and possibly some refugees from Hitler. Official documents reveal that the United States government knew it was interning Jewish German Latin Americans.

From 1942 to 1945, the United States government shipped interned Germans to the Nazis in return for American and Latin American civilians who had been interned by the Nazis at the start of the war. The apparent reason for interning German Latin Americans in the United States was so Washington could have more bodies for these "exchanges." The available evidence strongly suggests that the United States government knowingly shipped Jewish German Latin Americans to the Nazis as part of this program. If so, a congressional investigation should be conducted to uncover the truth about Jewish German Latin American internees. Should such an investigation occur, the American public might also learn—at long last—the truth about internment, relocation, compensation, and the Japanese.

Joseph E. Fallon writes from Rye, New York.

This article first appeared in the February 1998 issue of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, the monthly magazine of The Rockford Institute (928 North Main Street, Rockford, IL 61103). Reprinted with permission.