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Japanese Americans during World War II

Student: Was it hard for most Japanese Americans to get back to "normal" life after the war? When they returned home, did their neighbors look down on them? Did they have problems finding jobs?
Ken Mochizuki: Yes, it was difficult for Japanese Americans after the camp experience. Those who did return to their original homes sometimes found no home or business to return to, with someone else living in their former homes, or property deteriorated or stolen. Others found that neighbors or caretakers did live up to their promises and were able to resume home and business life as before the camps. Those Japanese Americans who found themselves homeless had to live in local churches or temporary homes provided by the American Friends Service Committee (members of the Quaker religion).

As to how they were treated by former neighbors depended on the situation and location. Some returned to hostility, while some returned to their homes with neighbors who treated them as if they never left. This was the situation on Bainbridge Island, WA, where the publishers of the Bainbridge Review, Walt and Mildred Woodward, had the courage and foresight to have former Japanese American residents send back reports from camp, letting their former neighbors know who was born in camp, who died, who got married, who formed sports teams and who won games. In this way, when the Japanese Americans returned to the Island, their old neighbors knew all about changes in the families — like they had never left.

Jobs were often hard to find for Japanese Americans, but there were some employers who had nothing against them. After the camps, many Japanese Americans traveled to the Midwest or East Coast, where they found jobs and started new lives. One such popular city for Japanese Americans to relocate to was Chicago, where many did find employment.

For an excellent recreation of Japanese American post-war life, read the novel No-No Boy by John Okada.

Student: Do you know of any diaries that kids wrote in the internment camps?
Ken Mochizuki: Most eyewitness accounts by young people were in the form of letters written usually to their former teachers back home. One book, Children of Topaz, I believe is a collection of letters. Kids also wrote to their former San Diego librarian, Clare Estelle Breed. Look at the Web site for the Japanese American National Museum. They have that collection, and probably some others.

Student: Why didn't the Japanese Americans refuse to go to the camps?
Ken Mochizuki: Mainly because they considered themselves and wanted to be known as good Americans and did what their government ordered. Also, many of the Japanese American adult/community leaders were detained before the order to go to the camps, so the community was essentially leaderless. There were no voices protesting the camps, as there were no Japanese American officials or politicians in high U.S. government offices like there are today. Some have called the Japanese Americans back then "chickens" or "wusses" for just going along with being stripped of their civil rights and being imprisoned. But we have to remember that the entire country of America was against the Japanese Americans at that time. And when the U.S. Army is enforcing the forced evacuation and imprisonment, that makes a very strong case to cooperate.

Student: Do you think something like the Japanese American internment could happen again today? Say if we went to war with Iraq, would Iraqi Americans go to camps?
Ken Mochizuki: The U.S. government concluded that the World War II internment of Japanese Americans happened due to race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership. If that same combination of factors is taken to extremes again, then, yes, it's not a matter of "if" or "could," it's a matter of when. After Sept. 11, we've seen the prejudice with Arab Americans singled out, there was hysteria immediately after that incident. However, our political leaders, including our president, emphasized that the Arab Americans are not the enemy. That didn't happen in 1941-42, when political leaders encouraged the removal and incarceration of those of Japanese descent.

If there are more terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, if war abroad increases, it could be very possible. During the Persian Gulf War, it is known that law enforcement authorities brought in Arab Americans — of all nationalities — for questioning. Many Arab nations were on our side during that war, yet sometimes our officials made no distinction. There is a rumor floating around the nation now that there is a sizeable number of Arab/Muslim Americans that are being detained by our government, but nobody knows where they are at.

Student: Have either of you met any Japanese Americans who were in the camps during the war?
Ken Mochizuki: Absolutely. My father, mother, aunts, and grandparents — all were in a camp, this one being Minidoka in southern Idaho. My uncle was serving in the U.S. Army during that time. Any Japanese American living on the West Coast during World War II was somehow affected by the camp experience. That's a whole generation that I grew up with.

Student: Were the Japanese treated like Jewish people were during Hitler's time?
Ken Mochizuki: No. No Japanese Americans were executed, although some were killed in unfortunate incidents, such as approaching too close to the fence, or some were killed when a riot broke out in one camp.

The only similarity between the two was both groups were singled out, had their civil rights suspended in their own countries, and were imprisoned for just who they happened to be, not anything they did.

Interesting side note: there was a Japanese American U.S. Army unit in the war, the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion which was among the first to liberate the Dachau concentration camp. These soldiers witnessed the horrors of the camps, and also found themselves in the ironic position of being "one country's persecuted minority liberating another country's persecuted minority." The families of these soldiers were held in the camps in the U.S.
Roger Daniels: No. They were imprisoned but there was no intent to exterminate them. There was, happily, no final solution in America.


General Question about World War II

Student: I do not condone internment camps. I think it is morally wrong to separate people from their friends and family against their will. How come the concentration camps in Germany and Poland were so much crueler than the internment camps in the US?
Ken Mochizuki: Because the Nazis established the camps in Europe to exterminate millions of people — whomever they considered their enemies. The camps in the US existed as a temporary residence after a racial group was forcibly removed from their homes.

Student: Who were all of the Countries that were involved in WW II?
Ken Mochizuki: You would have to look up in a reference source, such as an encyclopedia, to find a listing of all the countries involved. Those that actually declared war and fought in it were on the side of the "Allies," or the "Axis." The Allies consisted primarily of the U.S., Britain, France, Canada and the Soviet Union. The Axis consisted of Germany, Italy and Japan.

Student: How many internment camps were there in total?
Ken Mochizuki: There were 10 major camps throughout the U.S. These were under the jurisdiction of the government War Relocation Authority and guarded by the U.S. Army. There were numerous other smaller camps run by the Department of Justice, which held Japanese American community leaders detained immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor and before the establishment of the 10 major camps. These Dept. of Justice camps also held those of German and Italian descent — mainly "aliens," or those not American citizens.

Student: Why did they attack Pearl Harbor? Why not somewhere else in the US?
Ken Mochizuki: Because the U.S. Navy's Seventh Fleet was anchored there — a lot of the Fleet's battleships and smaller ships. The Japanese military thought that critically damaging the Fleet would cripple U.S. ability to combat the Japanese military in the Pacific.

Student: Why did WWII happen?
Ken Mochizuki: Mainly due to the military of Germany, Japan and Italy conquering other nations.

Student: Do you have any information about Americans supporting internment camps? Were most Americans in favor of or against the internment camps?
Ken Mochizuki: You can look at any American newspaper during 1942, particularly the major newspapers on the West Coast, and read the opinion of most Americans about forcibly removing those of Japanese descent away from the Coast. Almost all Americans who had an opinion on the subject were in favor of the camps.

One of the very few newspaper publishers who opposed the internment were the owners of the Bainbridge Review in Washington state. That newspaper came out of Bainbridge Island, where the first removal of Japanese Americans anywhere in the country took place on March 30, 1942. The publishers then had to suffer losses in advertising and subscriptions due to their stand.

The most complete and comprehensive book on the camps is "Personal Justice Denied," the report by the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. That includes the views of Americans on the internment, including that of President Roosevelt and his staff and Cabinet. Ironically, Eleanor Roosevelt publicly opposed the internment, while her husband, the President, signed the order to make it possible.

Student: Why did the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor?
Ken Mochizuki: To fully address this question, we must go back about 150 years or more in history:

Japan is an island nation, about the size of California. Its rulers have always tried to keep the nation isolated. Japan's relations with the United States began in 1853, when American Commodore Perry and his fleet arrived in Tokyo Bay, forcing the Japanese to open up their ports to Western trade and influence. Within the next 50 years, the Emperor Meji started Japan on the road to modernization, incorporating all things Western into daily Japanese lives, including the building of a Western-style military. At the turn of the century, Japan went to war with Russia in the Russo-Japanese War. Japan acquired some territory from Russia in a resounding Japanese victory, but much more important was the psychological victory for the Japanese—they felt they could then take on any Western nation.

To maintain its modernization and military, Japan needed more natural resources, especially oil. Since the nation was relatively bare of any of the resources it required, the Japanese military took what their nation needed from other countries by conquering them. In protest of this Japanese expansion, particularly into parts of China, the United States placed embargoes on Japan, preventing those natural resources from reaching the nation, especially oil. The Japanese military then decided that the United States stood in its way of creating the larger Empire of Japan, concluding that a quick, decisive strike on the U.S. Seventh Fleet docked at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii would critically cripple U.S. military power and keep the U.S. out of successfully waging war against Japan.

Big mistake, as we know now through history. The attack on Pearl Harbor was the Japanese military's most critical mistake during World War II, much as Nazi Germany's was to attack the Soviet Union. These decisions create some "what if's" in history. If neither the U.S. nor the Soviet Union were attacked, what would've happened? The U.S. probably would've stayed out of the war longer. Germany and Japan would have been eventually defeated, although the war would probably have been longer and a lot costlier.

A movie that shows the attack on Pearl Harbor from the points-of-view of both the Japanese and Americans is "Tora, Tora, Tora."

You might want to ask Roger Daniels this same question.
Roger Daniels: To destroy as much of the U.S. Navy as possible so it could not interfere with Japan's planned conquest of Southeast Asian and Australia.

Student: What was the food like in the internment camps?
Ken Mochizuki: Bad for those not used to it. Even for those used to a regular "American" diet, sometimes the food was hard to digest: mutton stew, liver, and then some more typical fare like pork and beans, wieners, potatoes. For the immigrant generation, used to more Japanese foods, these types of menus were hard to take.

The camp living quarters were formed into "blocks," with a mess hall as the center of the block. Cooks at some block mess halls were better than others, so their mess hall often had visitors from other blocks.
Roger Daniels: Nutritious and monotonous, like many school lunch cafeterias, but for 3 meals a day seven days a week.

Student: What was the living situation like in the internment camps? (sleeping, bathrooms, etc.)
Ken Mochizuki: Everything was communal, meaning everybody did everything together and waited in long lines to use facilities. The latrines, showers—all were done to accommodate a number of people at one time. Privacy was non-existent. You did everything in open view of others using the facility with you. Sleeping quarters were the same—a lot of people crammed into a barracks building, with thin walls or no walls often separating families. Sometimes sheets were hung up to form some semblance of private rooms. In most cases, everybody could hear everything everybody said.

Student: Does that mean that all the facilities were co-ed? Men and women sharing sleeping quarters, bathrooms, etc?
Ken Mochizuki: Sleeping quarters were co-ed, because they were assigned by families — one family had one room. Bathrooms were separated by gender, although there was no privacy, since everything was done in a communal setting, like the showers in gym class. However, the facilities in the camps were never as good as in a school gym. The shower facilities would have been made of wood.
Roger Daniels: No, most barracks were divided into small family units. There was no plumbing or running water in the barracks. The washing and toilet facilities were separate for males and females, but there was little privacy — no separate stalls — in either male or female facilities.

Student: Did baseball help people during World War II?
Ken Mochizuki: It did in that baseball provided a pleasant diversion from their daily situation. Japanese American communities before World War II loved baseball, formed their own teams, competed in often fierce rivalries. They had to form their own teams because sports were segregated then. After a couple of years passed in the camps, the camp teams played against community teams outside the camp.

Some people have taken issue with the title of my book, "Baseball Saved Us," saying that just playing baseball didn't save anybody from the camps situation. Of course, it didn't! But for the protagonist in that book, it was a means of acquiring his own self-esteem and pride. And for his own family and others in the camp they were in — again, it provided a few hours of enjoyment in an otherwise bleak situation.

If you're talking about playing baseball in all of America during World War II, yes, the sport provided that diversion, much like it is now after the events of September 11, 2001.

Student: What information or resources do you have on the Japanese imprisonment of Dutch people in Indonesia from 1941-1945? There seems to be very little common knowledge of this atrocity.
Ken Mochizuki: You're correct — there isn't much available on that subject, about one of the many atrocities committed by the Japanese military. I emphasize Japanese military, for not all of the Japanese people were complicit in what its military did. The military had its own version of the German SS, which brutally suppressed domestic opposition and opposition within conquered territories. This unit was responsible for many of those atrocities. There has been a memoir or novelized version of that event that has recently been published — sorry, don't remember the name of it. You might try searching through amazon.com. Maybe Roger Daniels would know more.
Roger Daniels: Much of the material, of course, is in Dutch. There are two relatively easy to read memoirs. Most large public libraries will have a copy of Agnes Newton Keith, Three Came Home. Boston: Little Brown, 1947. Harder to find in he US is Nell van de Graaf, We Survived: A Mother's Story Of Japanese Captivity. St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia: University Of Queensland Press, 1989. If you have access to a university library the subject heading: "World War, 1939-1945 — Prisoners and prisons, Japanese: will give you other titles.