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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

340: Executive Order 9066 If you have a feeling that something is wrong don't be afraid to speak up

Day 340: Friday, February 19th, 2021:

Executive Order 9066 "If you have a feeling that something is wrong don't be afraid to speak up"

“We couldn’t do anything about the orders from the U.S. government. I just lived from day to day without any purpose. I felt empty.… I frittered away every day. I don’t remember anything much.… I just felt vacant.”

— Osuke Takizawa, Tanforan Assembly Center, San Bruno

Today we remember Executive Order 9066: Issued by President Franklin Roosevelt on this day: February 19, 1942. The Order authorized the evacuation of all persons deemed a threat to national security from the West Coast to relocation centers further inland. The targets were the 120,000 Japanese living on the West Coast, the majority of whom were US citizens.

The hysteria against the Japanese began a few months earlier with the attack on Pearl Harbor. A frenzy of fear and hatred was stirred up by the media and politicians

Some of the incendiary quotes from that time:

“The Japanese race is an enemy race and while many second and third generation Japanese born on American soil, possessed of American citizenship, have be come ‘Americanized,’ the racial strains are undiluted.

“A viper is nonetheless a viper wherever the egg is hatched—so a Japanese-American, born of Japanese parents—grows up to be a Japanese, not an American.”

— Los Angeles Times, February 2, 1942

The very fact that no sabotage has taken place to date is a disturbing and confirming indication that such action will be taken.”

Imagine these citizens who had painstakingly carved out a tiny niche in American life being rounded up and sent to concentration camps away from their homes and everything they had built.

Photographer Dorothea Lange captured their images and was outraged by the treatment they received. The military commanders who reviewed her work realized that Lange’s point of view humanized the Japanese mean, women and children she photographeed, much as she had humanized the "Oakies" during the depression. They seized her photographs for the duration of World War II, even writing “Impounded” across some of the prints. The photos were quietly deposited into the National Archives, where they remained largely unseen until 2006.

We are indebted to Dorothy Lange for the photos in this reflection.

“We were herded onto the train just like cattle and swine. I do not recall much conversation between the Japanese.… I cannot speak for others, but I myself felt resigned to do whatever we were told. I think the Japanese left in a very quiet mood, for we were powerless. We had to do what the government ordered.”

— Misuyo Nakamura, Santa Anita Assembly Center, Los Angeles, & Jerome Relocation Center, Arkansas

“We went to the stable, Tanforan Assembly Center. It was terrible. The Government moved the horses out and put us in. The stable stunk awfully. I felt miserable but I couldn’t do anything. It was like a prison, guards on duty all the time, and there was barbed wire all around us. We really worried about our future. I just gave up.”

— Osuke Takizawa, Tanforan Assembly Center, San Bruno

“When we got to Manzanar, it was getting dark and we were given numbers first. We went down to the mess hall, and I remember the first meal we were given in those tin plates and tin cups. It was canned wieners and canned spinach. It was all the food we had, and then after finishing that we were taken to our barracks.

It was dark and trenches were here and there. You’d fall in and get up and finally got to the barracks. The floors were boarded, but the were about a quarter to half inch apart, and the next morning you could see the ground below.

The next morning, the first morning in Manzanar, when I woke up and saw what Manzanar looked like, I just cried. And then I saw the mountain, the high Sierra Mountain, just like my native country’s mountain, and I just cried, that’s all.

I couldn’t think about anything.”

— Yuri Tateishi, Manzanar Relocation Center

In 1980, under mounting pressure from the Japanese American Citizens League and redress organizations, President Jimmy Carter opened an investigation to determine whether the decision to put Japanese Americans into concentration camps had been justified by the government. He appointed the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) to investigate the camps.

The Commission's report, titled Personal Justice Denied, found little evidence of Japanese disloyalty at the time and concluded that the incarceration had been the product of racism. It recommended that the government pay reparations to the internees.

In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 which apologized for the internment on behalf of the U.S. government and authorized a payment of $20,000 to each former internee who was still alive when the act was passed. The legislation admitted that government actions were based on "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership." The U.S. government eventually disbursed more than $1.6 billion in reparations to 82,219 Japanese Americans who had been interned.


Manzanar Riot

This is a poem with missing details,

of ground gouging each barrack's windowpane,

sand crystals falling with powder and shale,

where silence and shame make adults insane.

This is about a midnight of searchlights,

of ground gouging each barrack's windowpane,

of syrup on rice and a cook's big fight.

This is the night of Manzanar's riot.

This is about a midnight of searchlights,

a swift moon and a voice shouting, Quiet!

where the revolving searchlight is the moon.

This is the night of Manzanar's riot,

windstorm of people, rifle powder fumes,

children wiping their eyes clean of debris,

where the revolving searchlight is the moon,

and children line still to use the latrines.

This is a poem with missing details,

children wiping their eyes clean of debris—

sand crystals falling with powder and shale.

(Poem form: Terzanelle: 19 Lines)

by Claire Kageyama-Ramakrishnan


Three Views of Manzanar - Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange and Toyo Miyatake

Kids Meet a Survivor of the Japanese-American Internment

Aretha Franklin "Think"

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