"We Are Americans": Japanese American Citizens Respond to Internment and Removal, April, 1942.
Report submitted to Tolan Congressional Committee on National Defense Migration Emergency Defense Council Seattle Chapter Japanese American Citizens League.
Original mimeograph publication, April 1942. Printed by the Japanese American Citizens League, Seattle, 1942. 11x8 inches, 38 leaves. Complete. Front wrapper detached, otherwise a very nice copy of a rare document.
Provenance: U.S. Library of Congress. $1750.00
“....there must be a point beyond which there may be no abridgement of civil liberties and we feel that whatever the emergency, that persons must be judged, so long as we have a Bill of Rights, because of what they do as persons We feel that treating persons, because they are members of a race, constitutes illegal discrimination, which is forbidden by the fourteenth amendment whether we are at war or peace.”-- A. L. Wirin, Counsel for the Southern California Branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, speaking on the internment of Japanese-Americans, 1942
"We make these statements, not because we fear evacuation, but because we believe, to the bottom of our hearts, that the best interests of the United States, our nation are to be served by being permitted to stay, work, fight, and die for our country if necessary here where we belong."--Response by the Japanese American Citizens League to Internment Camps, 1942
This excruciating, heart-rending 1942 document was submitted by the Japanese American Citizens League (of Seattle, Washington) to the Tolan Congressional Committee with recommendations, proposals and requests in the event of the removal of Japanese citizens from “sensitive” areas in western America It is an exceptional report, a well-reasoned response to the developing and calamitous American fear of Japanese fellow-citizens; a fear which was swiftly leading itself to xenophobic actions the result of which was the internment of 120,000 American citizens in non-lethal concentration camps.
The Roosevelt administration’s Executive Order 9066 was the legal bombshell that gave the War Department the authority to authorize the removal of the Japanese (19 February 1942) and theoretically prevent those people from engaging in sub rosa and fifth column activities asd wartime terrorists fighting for Imperial Japan. The Tolan Committee was that of Congressman John H. Tolan (CA), chair of the House Select Committee Investigating National Defense Migration (!), undertaken at the request of Carey McWilliams (chief of the California Division of Immigration and Housing) who was trying to prevent or at least delay the coming removal of the Japanese. Needless to say, the operation backfired
The document is “heart rending” because Executive Order 9066--at its base terribly wrong, a weakness exhibited, a moral embarrassment of the highest order--was addressed by its authors in a logical, clarifying and accommodating fashion in a noble and valiant attempt to negotiate an untenable situation while making every effort to appease the aggressor without judgment and offense. It was an attempt at maintaining dignity and some sense of Constitutional freedoms for a group of people in a situation in which their dignity and freedoms were being withdrawn....at least their freedom was.
In the introduction to the document (titled Report submitted to Tolan Congressional Committee on National Defense Migration Emergency Defense Council Seattle Chapter Japanese American Citizens League, and published April, 1942) we read that people are willing to go and abide 9066, but that one of their main issues was where exactly it was that they were going, where they were being taken. That hadn't been established yet, and it makes me shake my head to think of the government establishing this order without a clear indication of any (?) of its consequences.
"[Introduction] A large number of people have remarked that they will go where the government orders them to go, willingly, if it will help the national defense effort. But the biggest problem in their minds is where to go. The first unofficial evacuation announcement pointed out that the government did not concern itself with where evacuees went, just so they left prohibited areas. Obviously, this was no solution to the question, for immediately, from Yakima, Idaho, Montana, Colorado and elsewhere authoritative voices shouted: "No Japs wanted here!"”
“[Resettlement] What will the government's policy be? Will communities be shifted as units to other sections? Will the Japanese be re-settled as family units? Will men and women be segregated and families split up? Will Japanese be scattered at random in the interior? These are questions that are arising in the Japanese communities in this area.”
Already thinking of the future and the end of the war, the authors wondered about the prospects for the return of the Japanese people to their former residences:
“[Return] “It is necessary to think of the future, of the day when this war will be over. Could the Japanese people, once evacuated, return to their homes? There is the great possibility that once the Jap-haters and outspoken opponents of the resident Japanese were successful in driving the Japanese out of this area, they would never permit them to return. A post-war campaign of hate and villification when resident Japanese tried to get back to their homes and investments here, is a definite possibility should these elements score an initial victory.”
The idea for a “model city” was proposed, or at least opened for discussion, as a possible place for the interned Japanese to go:
“[Model City] This is an ambitious plan entailing the creation of an all-Japanese city somewhere in the interior of the country, able to sustain itself as a self-sufficient unit. It would be financed originally partially by the Japanese themselves, partially by the government. Some important defense industry would be set up to give employment to Japanese labor, preferably one calling for skill and efficiency which Japanese workmen possess. The city would be governed by American citizens, who would elect a mayor and council, just as other American cities, and the Japanese, both American citizens and aliens, would be given an opportunity to practice the American ideals of democratic government which they have learned.”
“After the initial investment, the city could be expected to become self-sufficient and a center for the hinterland. It is altogether likely that such a city, as an experiment in democracy would be so progressive and would provide such advantages that friends of the Japanese would desire to share its benefits.”
“This would be a long-range project, to be continued in perpetuity. The objection of the time required to set it up would be overbalanced by the permanent nature of the project.”
After 38 pages of questions and planning, the authors of the report declare that the Japanese Americans affected by 9066 would comply (“to the best of our ability”) with whatever was demanded of them. They felt very strongly though that they could do more for their country by staying in their homes and fighting Japan just like any other American.
“[Conclusions] If it is for the greater good that evacuation be decreed, we shall obey to the best of our ability. But we are convinced that here in our homes and in our community is where we belong, where we can lend every ounce of our strength, and every cent of our resources, in creating the sinews of war so necessary to total victory. We are Americans. We want to do our duty where we can serve best. We make these statements, not because we fear evacuation, but because we believe, to the bottom of our hearts, that the best interests of the United States, our nation are to be served by being permitted to stay, work, fight, and die for our country if necessary here where we belong.”