History:: Experience:: Redress Act

At the end of 1937 Japan invaded Nanking, the capitol of nationalist China. In affect, the United States broke off all commercial relations with Japan. Three years later Britain and France declared war on Germany, marking the beginning of World War II. In August of 1941, representative John Dingell of Michigan wrote a letter to President Roosevelt suggesting that he incarcerate 10,000 Hawaiian Japanese-Americans in an effort to keep them on their "best behavior." Despite the fact that FBI investigations proved that Japanese-Americans living in the U.S. were loyal and posed no threat to the government, on November 12, 1941, fifteen Japanese-American business men and community leaders were arrested. All fifteen cooperated with the FBI. One of the men arrested later stated, "We teach the fundamental principals and ideals of American democracy. We want to live here in peace and harmony; our people are 100% loyal to America." However, later it was discovered that to the American government these words meant nothing.

On December 7, 1941 the Japanese orchestrated an attack on Pearl Harbor. This attack took the Americans posted at Pearl Harbor completely by surprise. U.S. intelligence intercepted a coded message by Japan stating that an attack on the United States was inevitable. The government was then able to figure out the location in which the attack was to take place, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. President Roosevelt sent a message via telegraph to Pearl Harbor but it was too late. They had no notice of what was to happen to them. The Japanese attacked in two waves. They destroyed many military vessels and killed many people. This outraged Americans all over the country and Roosevelt felt that he had to do something about it. The answer came through a man named John Dingell. He suggested that President Roosevelt place Japanese-Americans in internment camps to control their behavior. The official titles of these camps were "relocation centers" Though the Axis powers who threatened the Allies included Japan, Germany, and Italy, only Americans of Japanese--not German or Italian--descent were forced to move to the relocation centers. The conditions of these centers were deplorable and U.S. guards killed every now and then internees "accidentally."

On May 7, 1945, Germany surrenders thus ending the Second World War. However there was still not definite peace going on in the world. The same year that WWII ended the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki. This attack killed many people. Two years later (June 30, 1947), U.S. District Judge Louis E. Goodman ordered that the petitioners in Wayne Collins' suit of December 13, 1945 be released; native-born American citizens could not be converted to enemy aliens and could not be imprisoned or sent to Japan on the basis of renunciation. Three hundred and two people were finally released from Crystal City, Texas and Seabrook Farms, New Jersey (places of internment camps) on September 6, 1947.

One of the things that America definitely needed was to hear what happened to people who were in actual internment camps. In history situations such as the Holocaust desensitize people to the experiences and feelings of the people who were perpetrated. The government took this into consideration and on July 14, 1981, The Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) held a public hearing in Washington, D.C. as part of its investigation into the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. These hearings were duplicated on several occasions through 1981. The emotional testimonies by more than 750 Japanese American witnesses about their wartime experiences would prove cathartic for the community and a turning point in the redress movement. Finally people began to realize that what they did was wrong and in August 10, 1988, H.R. 442 is signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. It provides for individual payments of $20,000 to each surviving internee and a $1.25 billion education fund among other provisions. Each person who was sent to an internment camp was sent an official letter of apology from the president. However though the intention was genuine a letter of apology could not measure up to the injustice, racism, and animosity that they faced from their "fellow Americans." Even to this day many ex- internees are distressed by it:

"One of the most hauntingly pressing issues facing Japanese Americans today is their concentration camp experience during World War II. Yet, the major group of survivors -- the Nisei -- generally does not confront the implications of it within themselves or with their own children. In many respects the Nisei have been permanently altered in their attitudes, both positively and negatively, in regard to their identification with the values of their bicultural heritage; or they remain confused or even injured by the traumatic experience." - "Identity Crisis of the Sansei and the Concentration Camp", Nobu Miyoshi, 1978.

Today it is important that we never forget what has happened. It is easy to talk about issues such as the Holocaust and Rwanda. But what kind of people would we be if we ourselves did not recognize the things in our history that can be considered as atrocities against humankind? Today it is important that we keep what happened in the 1940's on our own soil in memory so as not to do it again in the future.