Updated: Nov 1, 2020
By Eres Croker
Image via Britannica
During World War II, President Theodore Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, a government policy stating that all citizens of Japanese descent must be evacuated to internment camps. People could only bring with them what they could carry, and they lost ownership of all other belongings. This order was mandatory and resulted in persecution if resisted.
To this day, there is no evidence to prove that any Japanese-Americans were in contact with enemy agents nor were they endangering the United States. They were evacuated purely based on racial judgement, making it one of the biggest violations of Civil Rights in America.
The living environments of these war relocation centers were absolutely inhabitable. Many were built off of racetracks, horse stalls, and other buildings not meant for human lives. Each relocation center was its own town, consisting of schools, hospitals, etc. but with barbed wire fences and guard towers surrounding them.
Conditions in these centers were horrific. As author Jeanne Wakatasuki Houston briefly depicted in her memoir, Farewell to Manzanar, many families were housed together with no significant divider for privacy, communal eating halls with food prepared by many chefs that had no prior experience to cooking, and communal bathrooms with toilets lined back to back with no partitions. There were jobs available at most buildings and factories, with the exception of never being paid more than an army private.
There has been a conscious effort to refer to these camps as “internment camps” and “war relocation centers,” which drastically lessens the violence and unlawful confinement that these citizens were put under. According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of concentration camp is “a place where large numbers of people (such as prisoners of war, political prisoners, refugees, or the members of an ethnic or religious minority) are detained or confined under armed guard — used especially in reference to camps created by the Nazis in World War II for the internment and persecution of Jews and other prisoners”
The definition of concentration camp is an exact depiction of the confinement of Japanese-Americans at that time, even including the term “internment” in its definition, yet it is never referred to as so by many Americans and the government officials. The reason being that the term concentration camp is largely associated with Germany and the camps created by the Nazis. Nazi Germany is vastly depicted as a horrific and inhumane period of time, as it was, and there is a conscious effort to suppress comparison between the United States and Germany’s dictatorship.
Though certain aspects of these camps can vary -- such as how Jews in Germany were tortured and taken to extermination camps to be executed -- the living conditions and factors of imprisonment are nearly identical. Both Jews and Japanese-Americans were taken without trial and legal evidence to imprisonment, purely based on their religious/racial origin. The living environments were unsuitable, and many died from disease or were annihilated.
It is ignorant to assume that the United States has never actively participated in dictatorial-like leadership, and it should be recognized just as much as Germany or any other country. There tends to be a stigma through the Western media of the “superiority” of the United States. Though it is evident that we have much more access to resources than third-world countries, it should still be acknowledged that this country is in no way perfect, and should not be celebrated as such.
Time and time again, history has shown us that the world is a very corrupt place. To this day, we are still actively struggling with racial discrimination and disadvantages, even though it is a violation of the Constitution. If the leaders will not change these circumstances, it is our duty to begin immersing ourselves into true history, and learning how we can make an impact, no matter how small.
Written by writer Eres Croker