Japanese Internment Camps And The Unethical Behavior

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The United States has a history of unethical behavior that affected several American citizens, these events remind us what came before and how we grew to where we are today. A prime example of this can be shown through the Japanese internment camps. The Japanese internment camps were established by President Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 during World War II as a reaction to the Pearl Harbor bombing. From 1942 to 1945, the government’s policy stated people of Japanese descent would be placed in internment camps. The tragedies of the Japanese internment camps consisted of atrocious violations of American Civil Rights, yet the triumph of (changes/improvements) created for the future generations to come ensured that the Japanese’s suffering wasn’t in vain.

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With the world shocked and on edge after the Pearl Harbor attack, thousands of American Japanese citizens were rounded up like animals and stripped of all assets. As a result of American citizens panicking, the Japanese population was subjected to racial discriminatory assumptions. Japanese mothers, fathers, and children who were loyal citizens, were now treated as spies and traitors throughout the country. My ninety-five year old grandmother, who was seventeen at the time, was able to explain vividly the tragic events that occured as if it were yesterday; “We were told we could only bring what fit in a trunk. I had to leave my animals, I couldn’t even say goodbye to my friends they were already gone and I remember my father driving our car to a bridge near our house and leaving the keys in it, when I asked him why he said we won’t get it back anyway so hopefully someone in need can use it. It was unreal, one day I was at home fighting with my siblings, the next I was separated from my family and alone in a dirty camp with strangers”. The hardships that these people faced were cruel and unimaginable. Besides the physiological trauma inflicted on them, their rights were also infringed upon. Several rights were violated, an example of one of the many related to the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution violation; “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial”(law.cornell.edu). This amendment clearly states the rights couldn’t be taken away unless there’s evidence of a criminal act and conviction in a court of law. However, Japanese citizens were deprived of their property and liberty by being evicted from their homes and imprisoned in concentration camps without the mandatory statement of charges and trial by jury. The Japanese were left to fend for themselves with no protection and no rights, they were powerless and that's what the United States needed in order to feel safe. In the novel “They Called Us Enemy”, George Takei describes the experiences of growing up within the internment camps and how legalized racism affected his family yet helped shaped who he became; “My father told me that after we were taken away, they came to our house and took everything. We were literally stripped clean”(Takei 67). At the time the author was four years old, he faintly remembers the struggles his family endured. Although the government was treating the Japanese unethically, his father still had faith in democracy and helped implement ideas and questions into George’s mind, which ultimately made his future successful. His parents taught him that with the tragedy of losing everything, he had the ability to rebuild himself into whoever he wanted to become. The government not only divested the rights and property of the Japanese Americans, but robbed the lives of the innocent. The tragic violations of the constitutional rights inflicted upon the Japanese during this era portray the immoral actions of American in time of crisis.

Life inside the Internment camps consisted of harsh living conditions and the suppression of civil rights. With ten camps and thousands of people the camps were often short on food, medical supplies, and other resources; “life in the camps was not easy, it was often too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer. And the interns knew that if they tried to flee, armed sentries would shoot them”(ushistory.org). In addition to the unfair detention of the guiltless Japanese, they also had to thole inhumane living spaces. As a whole the camps conditions were grossly inadequate, hospitals were understaffed with little to no medical supplies, and food was dietetically deficient. Even though stakes were high during World War II, the least the government could have done after taking away everything from the Japanese is make the camps sustainable. Some of the Japanese tried to flee out of fear, as a result they were shot and killed, leaving families to grieve over needless deaths. In the novel “Citizen 13660”, Miné Okubo illustrates the continuous struggle of adjusting to the camps; “Line-ups here and line-ups there’ describes our daily life. We line up for mail, for meals, for showers, for laundry tubs, for toilets, for clinic service, We lined up for everything'' (Okubo 86). Okubo went from having the ability to shower and eat, to waiting in line for everything. She portrayed herself as a number, not a human, because if she were truly considered a human she wouldn’t have been placed in such an egregious place without reason. Okubo shines light on the reality of everyday life in these camps, revealing the loss of basic freedom because of her ethnicity. The novel focuses on the hardships within the camps, along with the social injustice for Japanese Americans perpetrated by the American government. Furthermore, the camps interns were banned from religious practices, making it harder for the Japanese to find comfort in an unfamiliar place; “The practice of the Shinto religion was prohibited in the camps. Christianity was encouraged by camp administrators. Also, Buddhism was severely restricted by the ban on written materials in Japanese”(sfsu.edu). Japanese Americans’ religious practices were prohibited and Eastern religious beliefs were highly admonished upon the interns. This is a violation to the First Amendment to the U.S Constitution; “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech,”(aclu.org). A multitude of constitutional rights were violated leading up to the internment camps, and even more apparently shown through the treatment within the camps. The interns main religions were Shinto and Buddhism, and inside the camps the japanese were denied the right to freely choose and express their religious beliefs. Also in regards to violating the First Amendment, freedom of speech was repressed as well. With knowledge that the majority of the population spoke Japanese, the government believed the restriction of their language would help with resistance and rebellion. The camps primary language was English since the use of Japanese language was prohibited, making it difficult for some of the interns to answer questions or understand directions. Aside from the Bill of Rights violations, the Japanese had to endure the unbearable camp conditions, which made their experience that much more miserable. The Japanese Internment Camps took a toll on thousands of innocent citizens, the tragic truth of the atrocities that took place within the camps are devastating but necessary for the reform of America’s unethical ways.

Following the Japanese internment camp tragedies came the triumph of America’s new foundation for future generations. America is known for tragedies leading to triumph, for they try to make the best version of the land of the free. In 1988, the first step in the right direction was taken by President Regan signing the Civil Liberties Act; “Congress awarded restitution payments of $20,000 to each survivor of the 10 camps. Also apologizing “on behalf of the people of the United States for the evacuation, relocation, and internment of such citizens and permanent resident aliens”(constitutioncenter.org). Although this act was unable to make up lost time and property, the government acknowledged their culpability of the Japanese Internment Camps in the duration of World War II. Ever since the breach of Civil Rights towards the Japanese, no malfeasance towards a racial group has been treated as severely suppressed since. The Japanese internment camps are essential in today’s societal discussions to prevent history from repeating it’s past mistakes. With the recognition of the infringement of Japanese civil liberties, the triumph of the end in racial social injustices resonates to this day. The Japanese internment camps are proven to be essential evidence in controversial discussions, according to Why Does This Matter Now?; “ As we grapple with contemporary controversies surrounding immigration, terrorism, and the infringement of civil liberties in the name of public safety, parallels between past and present abound”(densho.org), the Japaneses treatment is still prevalent in the end to social injustices. Discrimination against the asian culture was an apparent issue leading up to the Japanese internment camps. The realization of the wrongdoings committed not only by the government but the citizens of America, inspired change for the new generations. With the tragedies of the Civil Rights violations in the Japanese internment camps came the triumph of ending racial stigma and recognition of America’s unethical behavior.

The Japanese internment camps were a immoral response to a terror-stricken nation due to the Pearl Harbor attack. The United States government violated several American Civil Rights against the Japanese citizens leading up to and within the detention camps. The tragedies of the Japaneses suffering throughout World War II made the triumph for any racially discriminated groups in years to come. With the acknowledgement and apology from the Congress to the Japanese, America was able to move forward and learn from their mistakes, making our country what it is today. No one should ever be deprived of their rights, stripped of property, and imprisoned because they share the same ethnicity as a spy or terrorist. If that principle was not learned from the incarceration of the Japanese Americans, then their suffering will be in vain. 

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