The War Relocation Authority administered 10 concentration camps located in isolated parts of the country, away from large cities, industries and railroad lines, and military installations. As “security risks,” Japanese Americans had to be held in places to minimize the danger they allegedly posed. Most of the camps were placed on federal or federal administered lands, including American Indian reservations run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The WRA camps were sizable cities holding tens of thousands of people. As such, each had barracks to house the Japanese Americans, communal mess halls and toilets, laundries, schools, warehouses, and a hospital, sewage treatment plant, and cemetery. A fenced off area was reserved for the camp's white administrators and staff members. To keep the Japanese Americans within its confines, each camp had a security fence topped with barbed wire and at intervals and guard towers with searchlights.
The barracks were 20 feet by 120 feet divided into six apartments of three different sizes. The partitions dividing the units extended only to the eaves, leaving open the gap between the wall and roof, disallowing privacy. Exposed wood frames supported the roof and exterior walls, which consisted of boards covered with tarpaper, and raised, wooden floors that warped, revealing the ground below and allowing wind and dust into the barracks.
Each block, consisting of 10 to 14 barracks, had a mess hall, toilets for men and women, a laundry, and a recreation hall. All of the structures were based on Army designs that were low cost, used cheap and plentiful materials, and could be built quickly. Crews consisted of local workers who were often unqualified for the task of building. The term “Topaz carpenter” remains a derogatory name for any man with a hammer and little else such as those who were hired to build Topaz concentration camp. Japanese Americans were also used to construct some of the buildings like schools and churches.
All of the camps had agricultural works, including vegetable gardens and hog and chicken farms and cattle ranches, for Japanese Americans to produce food to meet their needs. Other subsistence activities operated by Japanese Americans for camp consumption were garment, mattress, and cabinet factories and a soy sauce plant at Manzanar.
Most camps were located in physically taxing environments besides having the stresses of confinement and the lack of privacy. Japanese Americans had to contend with seasonal extremes of heat and cold against which their flimsy
barracks offered few protections. The soil was dry and often unproductive, and when winds whipped up dust storms frequently resulted. In the semitropical conditions in Arkansas, they experienced frequent rains that flooded the camps and with swamps and forests that surrounded them infested with poisonous water snakes and disease spreading mosquitoes.
After the last camp closed in March 1946, the original owners were handed back the lands and structures. Buildings were sold, auctioned off, or given to local residents to serve as residences, schools, and hospitals. Others were dismantled and their materials salvaged. Most lay abandoned, but today all still have remains and a few standing structures, testifying to the people who once inhabited those sites. The Arizona camps left behind useful canals and roads and agricultural fields that benefited the American Indian reservations on which they were located. The National Register of the U.S. National Park Service lists six of the 10 concentration camps for their historical significance.
Located about 50 miles south of Phoenix, Arizona, the Gila River camp was built on Gila River Indian Reservation despite objections from the Gila River Indian nation. The location was approved by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in March 1942, and in July 1942 the first group of Japanese Americans arrived. Originally designed to hold 10,000, the camp grew to 13,348 by September 1942, making it
the fourth largest city in Arizona behind only Phoenix, Tucson, and the other Arizona WRA concentration camp, Poston. In exchange for the lease of 16,500 acres, the WRA agreed to build roads and develop agricultural lands to improve conditions on the reservation. The Gila River camp actually consisted of two camps just over three miles apart. The first was called Camp No. 1 and later, Canal Camp, and the second, Camp No. 2 or Butte Camp.
Most of the Japanese Americans in Gila River were from California assembly centers at Fresno, Santa Anita, Stockton, Tulare, and Turlock. The WRA built Gila River as a model camp with its double roof to protect the residents from the heat of the desert sun with distinctive red roof shingles, lending color to an otherwise drab environment. In April 1943, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt escorted by WRA director Dillon Myer visited the camp for six hours to inspect the facilities and conditions in the camps. Mrs. Roosevelt published a report of her visit in Colliers Magazine, October 16, 1943, to refute charges that Japanese Americans were being spoiled in the camps, and reported that they were enjoying life while U.S. soldiers were suffering and dying for the nation. In her article, Mrs. Roosevelt defended the camps as living up to “the American idea of justice as far as possible.”
With only one guard tower for the Gila River camp, the WRA could not have been concerned about Japanese Americans escaping. In fact, within six months, the camp's perimeter fence came down along with the sole watchtower. The Gila River Japanese Americans were extremely successful in growing food not only for their camp but for other camps as well. By August 1942, nearly a thousand men and women converted 500 acres of grazing land into vegetable farms for corn, beets, carrots, and celery, and cash crops like cotton, flax, and castor beans. At its peak in 1943 to 1944, Gila River's farms produced 20 percent of the food for all 10 concentration camps, and even supplied watermelons to U.S. Army troops. And they raised thousands of cattle, hogs, and chickens for camp tables.
For those farms, the WRA built loading docks and warehouse facilities along railroad lines, bridges, and over 20 miles of roads. That infrastructure of roads and irrigation canals, the agricultural enterprises, and camp barracks and buildings have benefited the Gila River Indian nation on whose land they are located. Today, in return for Japanese American visits to and markers at the campsite, the Gila River Indian nation requires respect for its sovereignty by not, for instance, having U.S. federal intrusions in its territory such as a registered site.
The desert heat rose to 125 degrees, and at times people had to use a cloth or handkerchief to protect their hands before opening a doorknob. Some left tubs of water in the sun for hot bath water. Despite its limitations, the desert and its features provided opportunities for the inhabitants of Gila River camp. Junipers and sagebrush became Christmas trees, and Yuri Katai remembered movie nights under the stars. “We would all sit on a hill on an army blanket,” Katai said. “A big cactus was sometimes in our way when we tried to see the screen. Once in a rain storm the lightning hit this cactus and smashed it to smitherines” (Girdner and Loftis, 217). On other nights, issei men went to the buttes near the camp to sing
“long songs” or naga-uta, their highly trained, quivering voices settling down over the camp from their jagged perch above.
Granada concentration camp was also called Amache, which was its post office station named for the Cheyenne Indian who married the man for whom the county was named, Prowers. Granada was located in Colorado about 140 miles east of the town of Pueblo. About 3,600 feet in elevation, the ground was arid and wild grasses, sagebrush, cottonwood trees, and prickly pear cactus dotted the prairie. The WRA purchased the some 10,500 acres from private landowners, farmers, and ranchers, and construction on the camp began in June 1942 with about a thousand local and 50 Japanese American workers. Two months later, the camp opened, and by October 1942, Granada held 7,318 Japanese Americans, making it the 10th largest city in the state.
The nearby Arkansas River and wells provided water for the camp's large agricultural projects that included vegetable crops along with cattle, poultry, and hogs. Even the high school had a 500-acre farm maintained by student workers. Unlike the camp at Gila River, Granada, despite its agricultural productivity, was a secure camp with a four-strand barbed wire fence and six watchtowers along the fence and perimeter. Armed military police with searchlights manned the towers, and only in September 1945, after Japan's surrender, did the military police leave the camp. White residents of the nearby town of Lamar posted signs with “Japs Not Wanted Here” on them.
Kiyo Hirano remembered that the train taking her and others from the Merced Assembly Center to Granada had blinds over the windows. When a man near her tried to pull them up to look outside, an armed soldier barked, “Hey you! No one looks outside!” Forbidden to look out, Hirano said, was disorienting, and the only hints of their destination were the occasional station stops and the heat that kept increasing as the train proceeded. They were heading for a hot place, she felt. When they tried to sleep, Hirano wrote, another soldier ordered them to sleep with their seats upright, and when someone muttered “Goddamn!” to that demand, the guard pointed his rifle and yelled, his eyes glaring, “Who said that?” They finally arrived at Granada, exhausted and covered with soot from the train (Hirano, 11).
Kay Uno attended school in Granada. “The school was in English,” she said. “Pledge of allegiance and everything. We were Americans. We participated, and we were proud to sing, especially patriotic songs. We were very patriotic in camp,” she concluded. “I was too young to see the irony of it.” Ernest Uno realized he was in a concentration camp. “You could see life going on as usual right outside the fence,” he noted of the contrast inside and outside the camp. “People in their cars, driving back and forth. I definitely thought of myself as a prisoner. We were just a fence away from freedom” (Levine, 55, 69).
Kiyo Hirano's sons attended the camp's schools, and everyone seemed to share an interest in beautifying their bleak surroundings. People planted trees and
flowers, and in a few months, she recalled, the desert seemed to disappear amidst the foliage and splash of colors. But summer ended, and winter set in. Winds blew and snow fell. “As soon as one went outside,” she wrote, “one's nose felt a sharp pain as though pricked by a needle.” And as winter progressed, Hirano observed, “people were becoming tired of their fenced-in lives, so that emotions became violent. As indications, there were ugly fights between adults, and also sexual problems between men and women. I prayed that winter would end and spring would come soon” (Hirano, 17).
Japanese Americans worked, Hirano noted, to earn a meager salary and to keep busy. As the war continued and local farmers experienced a labor shortage, they tried to recruit Japanese Americans from the camp to harvest sugar beets and perform other hard manual labor. One of her sons signed up, she wrote, and after a day at work his back ached and his hands were covered with blisters. The camp's administrators pushed farm and factory work for nisei over 18 years of age, Hirano noticed. Apparently, the wartime need for labor overrode the “military necessity” concerns that had established and justified the camps. As those workers left Granada, the camp's population declined steadily.
Hirano wrote about life in Granada as a wife and mother but mainly as a mother. She, as wife, received a 10-day pass to visit her brother-in-law in the Topaz concentration camp because he was near death. Shortly after she arrived, he passed away. Hirano worried over her oldest son when he reached 18 years old and became eligible for the draft. He instead moved to Cleveland having been recruited from the camp to work in a factory. When she received word he had been injured on the job and had to have surgery to repair his finger, Hirano worried over his recovery. “My breast was filled with a mother's love for her child,” she wrote from Granada. And when a neighbor's son was killed fighting for the United States, Hirano went to console the young man's parents. “The parents were seated blank-faced on the benches, their eyes puffed from tears,” she recalled. “I felt I should say something, but words would not come out, so we just cried together holding onto each other's hands. I bowed deeply, feeling great sympathy for them” (Hirano, 24).
As the months passed, Hirano observed, more and more Japanese Americans left the camp to serve in the army, attend college, or work. Some went to Denver while others, to Chicago. A man recruited workers to start a “Japanese colony” at Seabrook, New Jersey, where a frozen food factory served as a transition camp to freedom. A few families agreed to leave Granada for Seabrook. More young women than young men remained in the camp, Hirano wrote, and teenagers disobeyed their parents and got into fights with other teens. Adults, too, got drunk and fought with each other. Those days were frustrating and restless. A recruiter from a cannery in Utah approached Hirano to offer her a job in Brigham City. She left Granada on May 31, 1945, and bid farewell to her friends. “Life in camp was over,” she reflected. “It had been a long three years. We were seen off by many people. They had come in the cold and dark at 6 o'clock in the morning. We promised to meet again in California and got on the truck. To camp, with many memories, and to the desert, goodbye” (Hirano, 26, 29).
Located about 12 miles northwest of Cody, Wyoming, Heart Mountain concentration camp was, like many others, built on high, sagebrush desert at about 4,700 feet elevation. A crew of about 2,000 began construction on the camp in June 1942, and the first Japanese Americans arrived in August. When full, the camp's 10,767 Japanese Americans made Heart Mountain the third largest city in Wyoming. A sentry post stood at the camp's entrance, and barbed wire and nine watchtowers enclosed the borders. Military police patrolled the grounds, and security was high especially during periods of mass protest in the camp.
Besides the usual structures within the camp, Heart Mountain had over a thousand acres of agricultural land and a system of canals to direct water to those fields. Japanese Americans added about a mile of canal to the existing system, which benefited local, white farmers in areas adjacent to the camp. They also gained when the Japanese Americans left the camp in 1945 from the buildings and the land that was cleared, leveled, and made fertile by the camp's captives.
Heart Mountain, Yosh Kuromiya recalled, “was very desolate. We felt we had been completely abandoned by civilization. But after being there awhile, I began to appreciate the beauty of the place. The mountain ranges in the distance, the bluffs. As dry as it was, it had its own unique beauty” (Levine, 52). William Hosokawa described the camp as it was being built. “Still under construction, Heart Mountain was a desolate place. There were workers everywhere putting up military type barracks, about 125 feet long, six living units per barrack. They were made out of wood and covered with black tar paper. The natural cover of the desolate countryside—the sagebrush and buffalo grass—had been torn up by the construction workers in bulldozers and trucks, and so the least little bit of wind would raise the dust—a very fine, alkaline dust” (Tateishi, 20). Most of the Japanese Americans were from southern California, Hosokawa found, although there were some from San Jose and Yakima, Washington.
One of those from San Jose was Jack Tono whose father was a strawberry grower in California. Tono worked at a produce packinghouse, and when the war came he was ready to join the army. Frustrating, thus, was the government's forced removal and confinement of Japanese Americans, because “I just couldn't understand the whole atmosphere of the whole thing, being a citizen.” In addition, Tono recalled, Japanese Americans were not accused of any crime, and “yet they would commit us to a prison, in a camp, without a trial or nothing. That really got to me. To this day I'll never forget it” (Tateishi, 168, 169).
At Heart Mountain, Tono decided he would stand up for his rights as a U.S. citizen and refuse to take a backseat to anyone. He joined the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee's call for draft resistance when the U.S. government changed its initial ruling to make the nisei subject to the draft. Tono and 62 others faced arrest for failing to report for physicals prior to enlisting in the army. About 200 to 300 young men, Tono reported, agreed with the Fair Play Committee's reasoning that their confinement in concentration camps was undemocratic and they would fight to preserve democracy only after their rights as
citizens had been restored. After all, Tono, asked, “what kind of democracy is it when your parents, your brothers, and sisters are in camp and you have to die for the country?” (Tateishi, 170).
In April 1943, the FBI arrested the 63 draft resisters, and held them in three county jails in Casper, Laramie, and Cheyenne to await their trial in June. When the judge addressed them as “You Jap boys,” Tono remembered, the men knew their conviction was assured. The judge sentenced them to three years in the federal penitentiary; the younger ones served time at McNeil Island near Tacoma, Washington, and the older ones, at Leavenworth, Kansas. “I think our group respected citizenship more than anybody in this country, because we were actively trying to preserve our citizenship rights, instead of just saying that we're citizens of this country,” Tono declared of the draft resisters. “If you're treated the way we were, there's no such thing as real citizenship. You have to fight and pay your dues” (Tateishi, 174).
The Heart Mountain draft resistance movement was the largest among Japanese Americans with 85 men imprisoned for draft law violations. The total was 315 imprisoned for resisting the draft in the 10 concentration camps. Moreover, the Japanese American draft resistance movement was one of the largest in U.S. history, and it highlighted the contradiction of racism and inequality and the obligations of citizenship. A similar movement was draft resistance among African Americans during the U.S. war in Southeast Asia in the 1960s.
Heart Mountain was physically taxing. “Very often the ground was so icy people fell down,” a Japanese American testified. The rain, wind, and snow marked the seasons, and many recorded the temperatures that fell to minus 30 degrees. Boots cracking and breaking ice was a familiar sound. A Japanese American wrote: “For the last few days we've been having a real taste of Wyoming winter. It started out with a blizzard—and, oh, what a blizzard! It's just like the kind we see in the movies. I never thought I'd really be in one…. The laundry and latrine barrack is about fifty yards away from our doorsteps. Dad wets his hair there and by the time he comes back to our barrack, his hair is frozen to ice!” (Girdner and Loftis, 228). Children in school held tins filled with hot ashes between their legs to keep warm.
The extreme cold and high altitude resulted in high rates of illness and overcrowding in the hospital. A complaint to the WRA detailed an epidemic of colds and pneumonia, heart and stomach ailments, frequent nausea, chronic arthritis and rheumatism, and a shortage of hospital beds and physicians. Inadequate diets and a rumor of white kitchen employees profiting from pilfering the camp's food supplies led to a Japanese American protest and WRA investigation. Several whites were found guilty and were fired.
The camp's farm project posed particular challenges because of the alkaline soil and the short growing season. Soil scientists, Japanese American and white, tested the soil, and experienced Japanese American farmers directed the work of transforming the desert into productive gardens. Some 700 men worked in fields of corn, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, celery, cantaloupe, and watermelon, and Japanese vegetables like daikon (radish), gobo (burdock), nappa (cabbage), and karashi (mustard). Eiichi Sakauye, the farm superintendent and a farmer from
San Jose, observed: “We worked harder than we were working on our own farms. In order to get out and harvest the crop we had to be on the ball. Once we had sixty acres of sweet corn to be canned. We went to the canning company to contract for having the corn processed, and that night it froze, and that was the end of the sixty acres of corn. That's why timing was very important” (Girdner and Loftis, 230–31).
Lillian Sugita and four of her friends managed to get passes to leave the camp to spend a few hours in nearby Cody. They looked forward to the trip eager to get a soda. But when they boarded the bus, everyone seemed to stare at them as if they were “from Mars,” she recalled. And when they sat at the lunch counter in Cody's drugstore, no one came to serve them. “Finally they brought this sign that says, ‘We don't serve Japs.' We looked at that and we didn't know what to do. One of the girls said, ‘Oh, shit,' and we all started laughing. We said we didn't want anything anyway.” But “we were devastated. All we did the rest of the day was wait for the bus so we could get back to camp” (Levine, 72).
Japanese Americans farmed in Wyoming before the Heart Mountain camp was built, and, showing the falsity of “military necessity,” they remained outside the barbed wire that contained their fellow citizens. These advised the newcomers about farming in Wyoming, and they provided seed for specialized crops. Many were frequent visitors to socialize with fellow Japanese Americans, including young people who felt isolated in Wyoming. Romance blossomed and at least one woman from the camp married a local, Japanese American farmer's son, a veterinarian.
For others, life ended at Heart Mountain concentration camp. Mrs. H. T. Nakamura's young son died of meningitis in that desolate place far away from home. “I had to be a tower of strength for my children,” she remembered (Girdner and Loftis, 254).
One of two concentration camps in Arkansas, Jerome, was located about 120 miles southeast of Little Rock. The camp was named for the nearby town of Jerome, which was one-half mile south of the camp. Unlike the camps of the high deserts, Jerome had an elevation of just 130 feet, and was built in the Mississippi River delta about 12 miles west of the river. The ground was swampy, and forests covered the area of about 10,000 acres managed by the Farm Security Administration. In July 1942, construction on the camp began, it opened in October, and reached its peak in November when there were 8,497 Japanese Americans from California and Hawai'i in the camp. Dollie Nagai remembered her arrival at Jerome. “They shoved us,” she said, “pushed us, rammed us all in like cattle. I felt like an animal” (Levine, 52). Jerome was the last camp to open, and the first to close in June 1944. After the Japanese Americans left, Jerome became a prisoner-of-war camp for captured German officers and troops.
Jerome was the least developed of the 10 concentration camps, and had one of the smallest populations. A barbed wire fence and seven watchtowers secured
the camp, although guards seemed unnecessary and the fence was not high. The swamp that surrounded the camp was filled with water moccasins and other poisonous snakes, making escape difficult and unlikely. Jerome had the distinction of being the only camp where an outsider shot the camp's Japanese Americans. A local, white farmer shot and wounded two Japanese Americans on a work detail in the woods. Their assailant said he thought they were trying to escape so he shot them. At the nearby town of Dermott, a white resident shot a Japanese American soldier who was visiting the camp. Thereafter, Dermott was off-limits for Japanese Americans.
With trees in the area, Jerome's sawmill produced firewood and lumber. Its over 600 acres produced 85 percent of the vegetables required by the camp, and its hog farm raised over 1,200 animals for food. Still, at the camp's beginning, Mary Tsukamoto recalled, people had to cooperate to survive. Shortly after arriving in October 1942, “all of a sudden cold weather arrived, and they didn't have enough wood to heat the rooms,” Tsukamoto said. “We were on the edge of the Mississippi River, the swamplands of Arkansas. We had to go into the woods to chop wood. All the men stopped everything; school, everything, was closed and the young people were told to go out and work. They brought the wood in, and the women helped to saw it.” Desperate and afraid, many began hoarding wood (Tateishi, 14).
Frequent rains facilitated lush vegetation, which Japanese Americans grew in profusion around their barracks. “Between the barracks,” recalled Sada Murayama, “there was a trellis with morning glories, forming a tunnel of flowers. One block in particular was a showplace. Any outside visitors were taken there” (Girdner and Loftis, 219). But the rains and swampy ground also bred mosquitoes, and the danger of malaria was ever present. The army, in fact, regularly sprayed the swamp with deadly DDT to combat the problem, although later, scientists found that DDT could produce cancer in humans and was banned.
Lillian Sugita remembered Jerome's rains. “The camp was right in the thick of the swampland,” she observed. “When it rained, it didn't stop. There were huge runoff ditches between the buildings for flood control, but you didn't have path-ways over the ditches. They would be flooded in the summer and iced in the winter. We put down planks so we could walk across. I heard of some drownings.” Dollie Nagai and her friends were spooked by their surroundings. “We were near bayous,” she noted. “It was all forest, and they said, ‘Don't go out there because it's dangerous.' One time my childhood friend and I were walking outside and one of those great big huge buzzards came swooping down. We ran back to ‘civilization'” (Levine, 51–53).
Angie Nakashima believed that the older Japanese Americans suffered the most in the camp. “It was a hardship on my dad and mother,” she noted. “My dad lost everything. He turned gray almost overnight.” And Bert Nakano watched his mother's anguish. She was very lonesome, he said, and took the food home to the barracks to eat alone. “My mother had nothing to do. She felt like a failure…. She suffered so much.” Dollie Nagai admitted even as a child, “I was angry in Jerome. Why did it happen to us? Why are we here? I'd go for walks in the camp in
the evening and I'd talk to myself.” Added Sumi Seo, “The worst thing about the camp was we felt we didn't have a country. We didn't know what we were, American citizens or Japanese…. Sitting in the camps like that didn't do us any good” (Levine, 64–67).
Japanese American and white teachers taught in the camp's school, which consisted of barracks divided into classrooms. Study hall was held in the mess hall. The curriculum included algebra, geometry, biology, civics, and Latin, remembered Dollie Nagai. The Latin teacher was very, very good, she said, but “we didn't feel the Caucasian teachers were qualified, although some probably were.” Sumi Seo missed her friends. “When I got to camp,” she said, “I wrote to everybody I could think of. We were so hungry for people to write to us, for some kind of news from outside.” But no one returned her letters, only Charlotte Owens. “She wasn't afraid of what other people thought,” Seo said admiringly. “I don't know why she was different.” After her release from Jerome, Seo discovered that a mailman had told her friends writing to her was “helping the enemy” (Levine, 54–55, 59–60).
The shootings of Japanese Americans outside the Jerome camp mirrored the racism against people of color in the state. Many saw Japanese Americans as “yellow Negroes.” Arkansas's governor, Homer Adkins, refused to allow Japanese Americans to work, settle, or attend college in the state, and public opinion strongly agreed with that position. Moreover, many of the state's whites disliked the presence of Japanese Americans and believed they were being “coddled” in Jerome and Rohwer, the two concentration camps in Arkansas. Ben Tagami remembered signs that read, “No Blacks, No Mexicans, No Japs, No Jews, No dogs allowed here.” Those were common, he said (Levine, 63). In that climate, nisei soldiers trained at nearby Camp Shelby in Mississippi, a 15-hour bus ride, and when on leave often visited Jerome.
So active were the Japanese Americans in supporting nisei soldiers that Mary Tsukamoto and her husband Al helped set up a United Service Organizations (USO) at the Jerome camp for the young men to boost their morale. After all, many of the men came from concentration camps where their families were being held as they trained to defend the ideals of democracy and fight for their future in the United States. Mary Tsukamoto served as the Jerome USO's first director, and Mary Nakahara was her dedicated assistant. The USO held dances and baseball games, and organized a memorable fun-filled Fourth of July weekend. Each week, one to three busloads of Japanese American soldiers, each bus carrying 45 men, arrived at the Jerome camp to participate in USO activities.
Mary Nakahara who later became the widely known and respected activist Yuri Kochiyama discovered a sense of community among fellow Japanese Americans in the act of helping others. “Though we lived in dismal barracks,” Nakahara said, “men would build beautiful pieces of furniture out of the most useless-looking piece of driftwood. Women would order pieces of material from Montgomery Ward mail-order catalogues and create curtains to partition the rooms, and make bedspreads and tablecloths to brighten up our living quarters. These little touches helped to make this wasteland more like a home.” Men and women planted flowers around their barracks, and “we enjoyed seeing the bleakness of camp bloom
with flowers and greenery.” And Japanese music, performed on Japanese instruments, and dance made her proud to be Japanese. Nakahara became Japanese in Jerome (Fujino, 58, 59).
Located in California's Owens Valley, Manzanar was about 220 miles north of Los Angeles near the towns of Lone Pine and Independence. The valley floor is 3,900 feet in elevation and is enclosed to the west by the Sierra Nevada range and to the east by the White-Inyo range of mountains. A high desert, Manzanar was hot during summer and cold during winter. The land is dry with little precipitation, although two perennial streams flow into the valley from the Sierra's snows, supplying water to distant Los Angeles. Construction on the camp began in March 1942, and within six weeks most of the major work was completed. First run by the army's Wartime Civil Control Administration, Manzanar became the first WRA camp. Around May, there were over 7,000 Japanese Americans in the camp, and by July they totaled over 10,000. Over 90 percent came from Los Angeles.
A five-strand barbed-wire fence and eight watchtowers surrounded the camp, which had a unique feature called the Manzanar Children's Village. Japanese Americans built the three one-story buildings, unlike the usual barracks, in June 1942. Each building had running water, baths, and toilets, and one building housed a superintendent and a kitchen and a dining and recreation room. The village was home to Japanese American orphans from the restricted zone, including hapas or mixed race children and those, including infants, in the care of white foster homes. The girls lived in one building, and the boys, in another. Before the war, there were three homes for Japanese American orphans, the Shonien or Japanese Children's Home of Los Angeles, the Maryknoll Home for Japanese Children in Los Angeles, and the Salvation Army Japanese Children's Home in San Francisco. There were 101 children in Manzanar's Children's Village, 90 percent were from California and the rest, from Oregon, Washington, and Alaska, and nearly 20 percent were hapas.
“At Children's Village,” Mary Matsuno remembered, “the grownups were very strict with us. They did it for our good, even though we might still feel that it was too much. They didn't like the ones that were mixed blood. They got rid of those kids faster than they did the Japanese. They were put up for adoption as quickly as possible.” Shohei Hohri lived in the boys' ward. “I had to be sure that lights were turned off at the right time and everyone got up on time, things like that,” he recalled of his responsibilities. “I made sure everyone washed, dressed, and went to breakfast. Then they went to school.” Because he was older than most, Hohri told stories to the younger boys every night. Years later, remembering the Children's Village at Manzanar, Hohri declared, “In all of America's shameful, illegal internment of Japanese and Japanese Americans, the most shameful episode remains the internment of the orphanage children. Taken not only from orphanages but even from foster homes.” But what was lost was gained, he concluded, in the friendships made by children in the village that have lasted a lifetime (Levine, 87–90).
The Manzanar riot of December 1942 was one of several significant acts of open resistance in the WRA concentration camps. On December 5, Fred Tayama, a well-known leader of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), was beaten, and a suspect, Harry Ueno, was arrested for that assault and was removed from the camp and confined in the jail at Independence. The next day at a mass meeting attended by over 2,000, the people drew up demands for presentation to the camp director by a delegation of five men. These included the unconditional release of Ueno and an investigation into general camp conditions by the Spanish consul (during the war, Spain represented the interests of citizens of Japan). When the negotiating committee, joined by about a thousand people, marched to the administration building to present their petition, military police armed with rifles, machine guns, and tear gas blocked their progress. They, however, allowed the five men through, and the camp director promised Ueno's return if the crowd dispersed, which they did, but they reassembled later that evening to demand Ueno's release.
From Harry Ueno's perspective, two jeeps filled with military police came to his barrack to arrest him the night of December 5. He had no idea about what he was charged with or why he was being arrested. He knew, nonetheless, that the authorities held him in contempt. When he asked that his family be notified about where he was, Ueno said, Ned Campbell, the WRA camp's assistant director, shot back at him “with hatred in his face”: “Nobody is going to know where you are going to. I won't let anybody know where you are. And you are going to stay there for a long time” (Embrey, Hansen, Mitson, 54).
After a night in the Independence jail, much to Ueno's surprise, the police returned him to Manzanar. Looking out the window of his camp prison cell, Ueno saw military police putting on their gas masks. People outside were singing the Japanese Navy marching song perhaps to keep warm, and they did not threaten the soldiers. According to Ueno, “No Nihonjins [Japanese] I could see carried any sticks or weapons or anything. The crowd were all kinds—women, young people, Nisei, Kibei, all of them.” The soldiers simply began lobbing tear gas into the crowd. Because of the wind, the “smoke just covered the whole area; people were running away. I couldn't see the movement because my view was from in front of the police station. But the campsite was all filled up with people beyond the administration building.” A sergeant in charge exhorted his men, “Remember Pearl Harbor” and “Hold Your Ground,'” Ueno recalled. He repeated that several times as if to stiffen the resolve of the troops. “I could see some of the young MPs kind of shaking, scared because the crowd [was] so big there.” Before the gas cleared, the soldiers started shooting (Tateishi, 199, 200; Embrey et al).
There was confusion among the troops and their commanders, according to Ueno who was inside the police station and overheard them. No one seemed to know who ordered the shooting, but it was clear that a young Japanese American, James Ito, was killed and another, Katsuji Kanagawa, was mortally wounded. Nine others lay wounded in the street. Most were shot in the back, indicating they were running away from the soldiers. At the hospital, the dead and injured arrived and placed on stretchers in the corridors. The Army tried to coerce the attending physicians and nurses to falsify their records to indicate that the bullets entered from the front to justify the military's action of firing into a confrontational mob, according to a hospital staff member. Dr. James Goto, the chief medical officer and surgeon, refused, and the next day he was dismissed and relocated to another concentration camp (Tateishi, 237).
Throughout the night bells tolled, and people held meetings while soldiers patrolled the camp. More suspected informers were beaten that night and their families threatened. The next morning, December 7, the military took over the camp and arrested the negotiating committee members and other leaders of the resistance. Despite that show of force, a new committee confronted the military commanding officer to demand Ueno's release, and they, too, were arrested. The WRA sent them to isolation centers at Moab, Utah and Leupp, Arizona. Suspected collaborators, called inu (dog) in Japanese, and their families were likewise removed from Manzanar for their protection.
Block managers distributed black armbands to wear while mourning for the two dead and in solidarity with the resistance movement. Between two-thirds and three-fourths of the camp population wore those armbands, showing the extent of the discontent. Camp observers described Manzanar as shaken for weeks, and long conferences and meetings between the camp director and Japanese Americans followed in an uneasy though subdued camp.
The ordeal of Harry Ueno and the others, nonetheless, continued. Crowded cells, hunger, and cold greeted the men, Ueno recalled, with occasional baskets of cheer from the camp's Japanese Americans, including Japanese foods like sushi for New Years Day. On January 9, they were taken by bus and then train to Moab, Utah. On the train and guarded constantly by military police, Ueno asked an African American porter for paper and pencil to write to his family. The porter, recognizing the circumstance, motioned with his eyes that he would secret them under the mattress when fixing the bunks. When he got off the train at Salt Lake City, Ueno slipped the porter a dollar, the only money he had left, and the letter, which his family eventually got. “That black porter,” Ueno noted with gratitude, “he really take chance because even the bathrooms, they wouldn't let us shut the door. The MP was standing right there” (Tateishi, 202).
At Moab the men were cut off from the rest of the world, and their mail was censored. Military police followed them constantly, even to the bathrooms. The FBI had a special interest in Ueno because as the head of Manzanar's Mess Hall Workers' Union he had lodged complaints about WRA staff stealing from the allocations of sugar and meat for the camp's Japanese Americans. Sugar was rationed during the war, and was thus under government control. It was also sold on the black market. So FBI agents from Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. descended on Moab to question Ueno about his accusation that the WRA was the problem, not Japanese Americans. Many in Manzanar believed that the WRA and military police arrested Ueno, in fact, because of his role in blowing the whistle on the WRA. After serving time at the Moab isolation center, the WRA sent Ueno to Tule Lake concentration camp where he remained to 1946.
Manzanar, like all the concentration camps, was a tragic disruption in the lives of tens of thousands of Americans. But the camp was also a place where people tried to maintain their human dignity and a sense of continuity and community for especially the children. Accordingly, Japanese Americans strived to create “normal” lives and conditions in an abnormal, even destructive environment. Yoshiye Togasaki spoke about life in Manzanar through her eyes as a physician. Because of crowding, she noted, precautions had to be taken to avoid epidemics such as food poisoning. The kitchen staff had to be extra careful to wash their hands and sterilize the dishes and utensils used by large numbers of people. And the white Navy officer and head of the camp's medical program had absolute power over his staff but had little knowledge or experience handling the needs of children, babies, and mothers, and the elderly. Baby formula, for instance, was made in a big vat that could easily spread infection to masses of children. Togasaki insisted that mothers make their own formula, but they lacked the capacity of boil water in their apartments.
With the warming weather, Togasaki observed, instances of whooping cough, scarlet fever, and measles rose. Without antibiotics or vaccines, lots of people got sick, and “we were getting some awfully sick children. And you try to take care of kids in a barracks with no running water and only one electric bulb above you.” In addition, sand blew everywhere, making the camp unpleasant and vulnerable to illnesses like kidney infections and tuberculosis. “I am a doctor,” Togasaki explained. “I understand that a lot of people who had much more tragic experiences than I did were not in a position to cope with things because of their background. And I understand why they can really be mad and feel resentful.” There were whites like the president of California's Council of Churches who told her “the filthiest darn things, things like, You're just a traitor, and How do I know how to trust you? I don't know you from anything—you're Japanese, so you're not trust worthy. And there were a lot of dirty cusswords in between.” But other whites, notably the Quakers, were “always very steadfast” in their support of Japanese Americans (Tateishi, 224–26).
Mary Sakaguchi could not forget Manzanar's food. “The food was so bad,” she said, “we called it ‘SOS' food—Same Old Slop. Everybody would get diarrhea. We called that the ‘Manzanar Twins'—Diar and Rhea. Everybody had twins.” Jim Matsuoka remembered a teacher in Manzanar's school who called an assembly “to speak about Pearl Harbor and she broke into tears, sobbing as she described the bombs raining down. I have no problems with that. But even as kids we knew there was an association, that somehow we were a part of that bombing. We didn't need to hear that. She was laying buckets of guilt on us. There we were, kids, and we were absorbing that stuff” (Levine, 53, 55).
To improve their lives, Sue Kunitomi recalled, Japanese Americans planted gardens and lawns. People wanted to beautify their bleak surroundings, she said, and to cover the dirt with foliage to reduce dust storms. Harry Ueno remembered standing in the baking sun and swirling dust when a friend suggested they build a pond. “Hey, let's dig a pond over there,” he said. “Maybe there's water there or we can pipe it in, and I'll bring a lot of rocks.” They got to work, and soon others joined them, including an experienced gardener who built ponds before the war. “The whole block pitched in,” Ueno reported. It took nearly two months to construct, but “people sat on the rocks, and the enjoyed it” when the pond was finished. Mary Sakaguchi was so depressed she kept herself busy working in Manzanar's hospital. People organized knitting, sewing, and carving schools, including a beauty school, she reflected. “Many years later I thought I could have learned to be a beautician. Then at least I could have done my own hair” (Levine, 57–58, 59).
The psychological effects of the camps must have worn on the lives of Japanese Americans. Jim Matsuoka remembered misbehaving as a child of six or seven, and his mother chasing him to punish him. “She was a warm person,” Matsuoka said, “and I never saw her cry a lot. All of a sudden she burst into tears. That really stunned me. I couldn't figure out what was wrong. Little bits of things becoming frayed. The tension and stress poking through.” Mary Sakaguchi's sister, brother, and father all died within seven months of arriving in Manzanar. Her brother, a dentist, offered to serve in the U.S. Army but was rejected because he was a “Jap.”
“I think that must have eaten away at him,” Sakaguchi surmised. Shortly thereafter, he developed “an intestinal obstruction and was sent by car to Los Angeles County Hospital from Manzanar. He died four hours after surgery. He was thirty-one years old. When all of this happened, I couldn't cry. I couldn't feel any emotion at all. You couldn't afford to cry. You had to hold everything together or you'd fall apart” (Levine, 64, 66–67).
Since 1969 on the last Saturday in April, Japanese Americans have organized the Manzanar Pilgrimage, an annual visit to the camp. Sue Kunitomi Embrey, one of the founders of the pilgrimage, believed that the living needed to commemorate the dead and to remember the past to avoid repeating its wrongs. Buses leave from Los Angeles, carrying hundreds of pilgrims who clean the campsite, bring presents, especially water, Embrey advised, to the dead, and dance, watch performances, and listen to speeches. The pilgrimage is a significant event in Asian American history because it helped and continues to inspire the Asian American movement and Asian American studies. For instance, after the tragedy of September 11, 2001, and its aftermath when Muslim and South and West Asian Americans were profiled and victimized, those groups have joined in the Manzanar Pilgrimage.
Today, Manzanar is a registered California historic site and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a National Historic Landmark maintained by the National Park Service. The landmark designation marks the site as holding “significance in commemorating the history of the United States of America.” in 1992, Congress designated Manzanar a National Historic Site.
At an elevation of 4,000 feet, Minidoka was built on a high desert with shrubs and sagebrush typical of that ecology. Located 15 miles from Jerome and Twin Falls, Idaho, the camp was about 50 miles away from the actual town of Minidoka. Five miles of barbed wire and eight watchtowers enclosed the camp, which began construction in June 1942 and opened in August. At its peak, Minidoka held 7,318 Japanese Americans, mainly from Washington, Oregon, and Alaska.
On the train to Minidoka, Min Yasui remembered, African American stewards “would indicate their sympathy toward us as though to say, without speaking, that they empathized with us.” When the train pulled up at an isolated siding north of Twin Falls, Yasui noted, there were no houses in sight, no trees, nothing green, just sagebrush and “mostly dry, baked earth.” The place seemed so distant from the green of Oregon's Willamette Valley (Tateishi, 75–76).
Yasui continued his introduction to Minidoka. “We saw the barbed-wire fences, the watchtowers, guard houses, the MP detachments, the administration housing, warehouse areas, and block after block of black, tar-paper barracks, about 120 feet long and about 20 feet wide.” Inside there were army cots with metal springs, a potbellied stove, and a bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. The cracks in the wood floors allowed one to see the earth below. Yasui soon discovered that Minidoka was on a slight rise with an irrigation canal along the camp's southern border. To
emphasize that he was in a concentration camp, Yasui pointed out: “I am not certain where the MP unit was quartered, but it was obvious that access in and out of the camp was controlled by the military” (Tateishi, 76, 77).
Theresa Takayoshi remembered the difficult environment and its impact upon the people. “Minidoka was just so dusty,” she said, “so dusty, and so cold in the wintertime. None of us from Seattle had clothes that were warm enough for that climate. The dust storms that would just come up without notice were just terrible. And I felt the family situation was deteriorating.” As a young mother with two little children, Takayoshi worried over their welfare when her husband was away so much working and playing cards with his friends. Once, after giving her children baths, Takayoshi dumped the wash pail over the side when a gust of wind blew the water and dust back over her. “I was a mess,” she laughed (Tateishi, 218, 219).
Hanaye Matsushita arrived in Minidoka in August 1942 when, she wrote, the place was “unedurably hot and dusty,” making her feel tired and “worthless because of the horrible heat.” “I can hear the violent winds blowing across the wide plains. In the distance I hear the sound of the sagebrush blowing in the wind, rattlesnakes, and the howling of coyotes.” Matsushita admitted to her husband who had been separated from her in the Fort Missoula internment camp, “When I dwell on this situation, I have suicidal feelings, but I've got to keep myself together
until your return. I imagine you're also experiencing rough times.” Her husband, Iwao Matsushita, responded, “Take care of your health, that's of the primary importance” (Fiset, 168, 169).
Helen Murao was orphaned at a young age, and when she entered Minidoka she took on the responsibility of serving as surrogate mother to her two younger siblings. The three of them lived together in a small barracks unit. “It was usually for two people,” Murao noted, “but since we were kids and we didn't take up so much space, three of us were put in one of those end barracks.” Murao insisted that her brothers attend school, did their homework, and went to bed at a set time. She controlled those boys like a drill sergeant because she was determined to keep the family intact. “I insisted that my two brothers and I eat together in the mess hall as a family unit. I insisted that we have grace before meals. And I insisted that they be in our room at eight o'clock at night. Not because I wanted to see them but because I thought that's what we should do as a family unit—we should be together, spend our time together, and live as a family …” In fact, Murao determined, “I'm going to prevail, my will is going to prevail, my own life will prevail. I'm not going to kill myself, I'm going to prevail” (Tateishi, 46, 47).
Sometimes called the Colorado River concentration camp, Poston was about 12 miles south of Parker, Arizona. The camp was named after Arizona's first superintendent of Indian Affairs, Charles Poston, who established in 1865 the Colorado River Reservation where the concentration camp was built. Poston was only 320 feet in elevation but as part of the Sonoran desert, it was hot during the summer and cold in the winter. Like the other concentration camp in Arizona, Gila River, the reservation's Indians opposed its construction on their land but on the basis that they opposed the injustice of the camps and refused to inflict harm upon another group. Members of the Tribal Council saw a connection between their dispossession and the exclusion and confinement of Japanese Americans. The army and Bureau of Indian Affairs overruled their objection, in part, because the bureau saw this as an opportunity to improve the reservation from military expenditures and the exploitation of cheap, plentiful Japanese American captive labor.
Poston consisted of three camps set about three miles apart and called by the WRA, Poston I, II, and III, but the Japanese Americans called them Roaston, Toaston, and Duston, indicating how they experienced the camps. Construction began March 1942, and operation began by May. Because of the heat, modification included a double roof and extra wood strips to fill in the cracks between boards that shrank. Also, there were no guard towers because they were unnecessary in such an isolated, desolate place. Escape would have been difficult and hazardous, the WRA believed. At its height, Poston confined 17,814, which made it the largest of the 10 concentration camps and the third largest city in Arizona.
The WRA implemented its use of forced labor by requiring a pledge by all of Poston's Japanese Americans. “I swear loyalty to the United States and enlist in the War Relocation Work Corps for the duration of the war and fourteen days thereafter in order to contribute to the needs of the nation and in order to earn a livelihood for myself and my dependents,” the oath began. It went on to declare acceptance of any pay given to them and to observe all work rules and regulations. Further, in the course of such labor, Japanese American workers promised not to hold the WRA and government liable for any injury or damages incurred. Nobu Shimahara signed the work pledge “without bothering to read it, or even caring what it said. What choice did I have?” he asked. “People just lined up and signed” (Bailey, 90). The oath made them, like prisoners, ideal laborers being virtually cost free. That condition failed, however, to control totally the thoughts and behaviors of Japanese American workers.
A Japanese American researcher, Richard Nishimoto, documented some of that rebelliousness in a report he filed on Poston's firebreak gang. Because of the everpresent threat of fire in that dry environment, work gangs cleared the grasses, shrubs, and tree stumps around the camp to create a firebreak. They also, in the early days of the camp, cleared building debris such as scrap lumber and bits of tarpaper that posed a fire hazard. Nishimoto served as the leader of one of those crews. Despite the extreme heat that soared to over 110 degrees, the WRA exhorted its work supervisors, “Don't let them ease up. Keep 'em busy.” A Japanese American retorted, “How do they expect us to work without any drinking water around,'” and others shouted, “Who do they think we are? Hell, we're no slaves. We don't have to work, if we don't want to.” Still another declared, “It's too hot. No use working! We're getting only six cents an hour anyway.” And, Nishimoto added, “I knew that they thought of me as a white-man's ‘stooge'” (Nishimoto, 45, 46).
The firebreak crew dwindled from over 100 to about 20 when it became apparent that they could not be forced to work. Most refused to acquiesce to government pressure and false promises. For instance, in July 1942, the WRA refused to pay the men for their hours of work because, according to a white supervisor, “these Japs worked as volunteers …” That decision prompted an angry Nishimoto to think, “My men were tricked into working by a false promise of financial return. Now this guy is refusing to pay the due compensation. That's treachery! They just wanted my men to work for nothing. They just wanted to exploit them without any intention of paying wages” (Nishimoto, 57). After protest, the WRA agreed to pay the men. But more than payment, Nishimoto soon learned, Japanese Americans worked, even on days when the temperature rose to 125 degrees, on projects that benefitted their lives and advanced the interests of their children and community.
Poston's Japanese Americans, Nishimoto understood, “were critical and suspicious toward the administration and the staff at Poston.” They believed the WRA was corrupt. “They did not doubt that the hospital was killing the Japanese…. They thought that white men were ‘slave drivers.' … When my crew failed to receive their wages which were due to them, they were again outspokenly suspicious
and resentful …” When confronted with an arrogant white boss, the men nearly jumped on him. “Someone shrieked in Japanese, ‘God damn it! The young punk's cocky,'” Nishimoto reported of an incident in July. “'He's arrogant! Let's beat him up. That's the only way to teach him. Come on, let's beat him up.' Others took up the chant, ‘Let's beat him up!'” Only by driving away did the man escape (Nishimoto, 67, 68).
The Poston strike of November 1942 was another of the significant acts of open resistance that included the mass movements at Heart Mountain, Manzanar, and Tule Lake. Following the beating of a suspected inu or informer in Poston Unit I on November 14, 1942, the security police rounded up and questioned about 50 suspects. Two of those were detained for further questioning and to await the arrival of FBI agents. For two days, a delegation met with the camp officials seeking the release of the two men, and on November 18, some 2,500 Japanese Americans gathered in front of the jail where they men were being held to demand their release. The WRA administration assured the people that justice would prevail and urged patience. Most Japanese Americans believed that any trial outside the camp, where anti-Japanese racism prevailed, would prejudice the case against the men. In protest, the camp leaders, the community council, Issei Advisory Board, and block managers, all resigned, and that evening formed an Emergency Committee of 72, comprised of a representative from each block, and the Emergency Council of 12, the committee's leaders, who called for a general strike.
The Japanese Americans were divided on that course of action, but each block maintained discipline by threats against inu and organizing a round-the-clock vigil in front of the prison. The administrators, too, were divided, a faction favoring a hard line by calling in the military police to crush the strikers and another, advocating negotiations. The latter group prevailed, and during those meetings it became clear that the strikers had bigger objects in mind beyond the two accused prisoners. They demanded self-government within the camp, having Japanese Americans choose their leaders and political and economic activities within WRA guidelines. On November 24, the WRA camp administrators granted a measure of self-government, released one of the prisoners because of a lack of evidence, and released the other to await his trial inside the camp. The settlement led to a stable camp where before the strike a contentious atmosphere had prevailed.
The situation, nonetheless, was far from normal. The forced removal and confinement failed to promote stability and contentment. Poston was not the usual community in the U.S. Signs such as the one a barber posted in the nearby town of Parker, “Jap, Keep Out, You Rat!” reminded Japanese Americans of the racism that had prompted their confinement behind barbed wire. And from the start, Poston's administrators deployed a network of informers, inu, to keep tabs on the situation, resulting in an atmosphere of distrust, rumors, and suspicions. Threats of physical violence and beatings, thus, were common. Moreover, the WRA's policy favoring nisei because of their U.S. citizenship over issei eroded issei or parental authority over their children. The policy also fingered the nisei as the group working with the administrators, earning them privileges but making them the targets for beatings.
Physical maladies spread because of the climate, tight quarters, communal facilities, and inadequate shelter, clothing, and medical supplies. Dysentery, likely spread through the kitchens, was epidemic, measles, influenza, and a lung congestion common to desert regions plagued Poston's Japanese Americans, stuffing the small hospital to overflowing.
Mabel Ota had her baby in Poston where at the beginning there was only one obstetrician. The day she went in to have her baby, that lone Japanese American physician was in his barracks resting because the previous day he had collapsed from heat exhaustion. But her baby was due, and its heartbeat was getting fainter as the day wore on, waiting for the physician to deliver her. The next day, the physician performed the delivery without an anesthesiologist. “They took me to the delivery room and gave me a local and I could see the knife to cut me,” recalled Ota. “Then he used these huge forceps, and I kept watching the clock. He really had a hard time yanking her out, but I was conscious all the time. So it was really a horrible experience.” He finally succeeded but the baby, Madeline, suffered brain damage from the ordeal, and was developmentally very slow (Tateishi, 110).
Ota's mother and father were in the other Arizona camp at Gila River where the high starch diet brought on a diabetic attack, which the camp physicians, despite having been told he was a diabetic, misdiagnosed his ailment as melancholia or depression. They failed to administer a blood test, which was standard for diabetics. Instead, the WRA transferred him to the Phoenix Sanitarium for shock treatment to cure his presumed melancholia. After about six weeks of shock treatment, her father died. “But his death certificate definitely says, ‘Died from diabetes,’ so he went into a diabetic coma, that's what it was, and then he died. If he didn't go to camp I'm sure he would have lived to a ripe old age, because he was very careful watching his diet,” Ota noted sadly (Tateishi, 111–12).
The first death at Poston occurred just over two weeks after the first group arrived in May. Because the camp lacked the facilities, arrangements for the body and funeral were difficult. Adding to the gloom was the concentration camp itself and the losses suffered as a result. Bodies had to be shipped to Yuma and then to San Diego for cremation, so an enterprising undertaker in Yuma offered to handle all the mortuary work in Poston. The WRA approved, and he proposed to set up shop adjacent to the hospital until Japanese Americans protested. Having a crematory next to the hospital might not send the right message to patients, they pointed out. So the undertaker set up shop next to the warehouse area in October 1942, and business included supplying urns for the ashes of the deceased because the WRA could only offer paper cartons.
From Hawai'i came the educator, Miles Cary, former principal of McKinley High School in Honolulu, derisively called “Tokyo High” because of its large numbers of Japanese American students. Cary volunteered to become Poston's director of education. In the islands, Cary had directed nisei education toward an academic track when plantation schools tried to steer the second generation toward manual labor and a return to the plantations. At Poston, he tried to inspire the nisei and their parents, under the trying conditions of the camp, to dream in disregard of the limitations of race. “I believe that most of you want your boys and girls to be helped
to live rich, significant lives in America,” Cary told the parents. “I believe, too you want them helped to learn how to have a part to share in building the better world of the future. What would a better world be like?” he asked, and answered “A world in which a man, regardless of pigmentation, would be treated with respect. A world in which each individual, according to his powers, would be encouraged to make his special contributions toward improving the common life” (Bailey, 96).
Japanese American labor put over 2,000 acres under cultivation, producing vegetables and field crops. They raised chickens at all three campsites, and had a hog farm between units I and II. They built warehouses, an ice storage facility, a butcher shop, and a plant nursery, and they dug ditches and an irrigation system to water their fields. Their labor made the desert bloom.
The last Japanese Americans left Poston on November 28, 1945. Before all of them departed, however, a few Hopi Indian families moved into the camp to join the remaining Japanese Americans to help maintain the farms and fields, which became a part of the reservation.
Rohwer was named for the nearby town of Rohwer, and located about 110 miles southeast of Little Rock and 27 miles north of Jerome, the other concentration camp in Arkansas. The Mississippi River flowed a few miles away and like Jerome, Rohwer sat in a low-lying swampland among creeks, canals, and bayous managed by the Farm Security Administration. During spring, about half of the land given over to the camp sat under swampy bayou water. As a consequence, wooden sidewalks and drainage ditches with bridges crisscrossed the camp. Construction began July 1942, and by September, Rohwer was open to the 8,475 Japanese Americans, most from California. Barbed wire enclosed the 51 blocks, and a patrol road and eight guard towers secured the camp's perimeter.
“We pulled in at Rohwer, Arkansas, late at night,” Miyo Senzaki said. “I remember getting off the train and getting in the Army trucks and then we came to a spot and they let us off and that was the campsite. They had the barracks set up, but then everything wasn't completed.” A friend showed her a pile of lumber, which was guarded by men on horseback. One of them warned them that if they stole the lumber they would be shot on sight. Despite that, Senzaki admitted, “we grabbed the lumber and ran.” Her husband made furniture with it because the barracks were empty except for cots that served as beds.
“Being at Rohwer was just a lonely feeling that I can't explain,” Senzaki continued. “I thought to myself, I never ever dreamed that I would come to live here. I had this really sad feeling, never thinking you're going to be in there. You couldn't run anywhere. It was scary because there was no end to it. You could run and run and run but where are you to go? It was just nothing but water and then there were rattlesnakes. We felt like prisoners” (Tateishi, 102–3).
Medical care at Rohwer was impossible, Senzaki noted. There was only one physician, and there were outbreaks of measles, mumps, and food poisonings. Thus, despite suffering severe headaches and bleeding, her husband had to wait
nearly a month before he could see Dr. Ikuta. During the operation, they discovered a blood clot behind his ear bone, which a visiting army physician diagnosed as fatal. But her husband survived, and in gratitude Senzaki and her husband's mother tried to give Dr. Ikuta all of their savings, 25 dollars. Senzaki waited at the hospital, and when Dr. Ikuta arrived she “grabbed him and thanked him for saving my husband's life.” But the physician refused the money, and took instead the bottle of whiskey, which she had also offered, saying “I'll take the drink” (Tateishi, 103–4).
Work at Rohwer involved clearing the land of trees and undergrowth. One day, a work crew of Japanese Americans in the woods was surprised by a group of armed white men who apparently believed the group to be Japanese paratroopers, making a beachhead in their neck of the woods. The posse marched their prisoners to town, paraded their catch through the streets, and deposited them in the city jail. The WRA had to bail the Japanese Americans out of that predicament.
The intense heat and humidity and frequent rains made Rohwer unpleasant at best and difficult to farm. After they drained the swamps, an unexpected drought that summer required diverting water from a nearby bayou for the fields. In the spring, contrarily, heavy downpours flooded the crops and made the earth muddy. The soil was fertile, nonetheless, and with careful cultivation, weeding, and crop rotation, Japanese American farmers were eventually rewarded with good yields of soy and mung beans.
A unique feature of the Rohwer camp remains its cemetery, which was located just outside the fence with its entrance facing the concentration camp. The cemetery holds 24 burial spots marked by headstones and two large monuments, one dedicated to those who died in the camp and the other, to the men of the 100th Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The monument marking Rohwer's dead was erected in October 1944. Its inscription in Japanese reads, “May the people of Arkansas keep in beauty and reverence forever this ground where our bodies sleep.” in 1974, the camp's cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and in 1992 was designated a National Historic Landmark.
Located in west-central Utah, Topaz sits about 140 miles southwest of Salt Lake City. Called the Central Utah Relocation Center at first, the camp acquired the name of the nearby Topaz Mountains that distinguished an otherwise flat landscape. The camp lay in the Sevier Desert at an elevation of 4,600 feet. High desert temperatures, rainfall, and vegetation typified life in Topaz for the 8,130 Japanese Americans who lived there after the camp's opening in September 1942. Most of the people were from the San Francisco Bay Area, and their first impressions were of a dry waterless place, dust and the alkaline soil that could sting the eyes and skin, and the absence of greenery. Recalled Morgan Yamanaka, “There seemed to be a wall way out there; to see the blue sky and then the more you look at it, the wall seems to be moving. It was a dust storm rolling in, and it just engulfed you, and before you knew it, you could not see anything.” Caught in a dust storm, Miné
Okubo remarked, “When we finally battled our way into the safety of the building we looked as if we had fallen into a flour barrel” (Taylor, 91). The writer Yoshiko Uchida called Topaz “the city of dust.”
Upon their arrival, Uchida remembered, Japanese Americans were given instructions on the proper use of terms within the camp to dress up the naked ness of the place. Topaz's officials directed Japanese Americans to say, dining hall and not mess hall, safety council, not internal police, residents, not evacuees, and mental climate, not morale. “After our long and exhausting ordeal,” she commented, “a patronizing sheet of instructions was the last thing we needed.” Instead, Uchida and her fellow Japanese Americans were more concerned with the two or three inch deep “great mass of loose flour-like sand” that sent up swirls of powder by simply walking over it, the cracks in the walls and floors that let in the every-present dust, and the empty barracks with only army cots and no mattresses (Uchida, 109).
Confronted with those conditions, Japanese Americans busied themselves to make Topaz livable and as comfortable as possible. They plugged the holes in their units, cleaned the toilets, dug irrigation ditches, farmed agricultural fields and chickens, turkey, hogs, and cattle, and they planted thousands of trees and other vegetation. “It was inhumane and unnecessary to subject the internees to such discomfort,” Yoshiko Uchida observed. A woman suffered second-degree burns from hot tar that dripped from the roof onto her face as she slept, and at first many suffered from food poisoning and diarrhea because of unsanitary conditions in the mess halls. The people worked, thus, to improve the quality of their lives. As the artist Miné Okubo put it, “Comfort was uppermost in the minds of the people” (Okubo, 137).
With temperatures that varied by as much as 50 degrees in a single day, Yoshiko Uchida noted, water in their barracks could be frozen in the morning and in the afternoon, her sister and her could return home after a day in the sun “covered with dust, and feeling like well-broiled meat.” The days could be harsh and un-kind, but the evenings could be pleasant. “The sand retained the warmth of the sun, and the moon rose from behind dark mountains with the kind of clear brilliance seen only in a vast desert sky,” Uchida wrote. “We often took walks along the edge of camp, watching sunsets made spectacular by the dusty haze and waiting for the moon to rise in the darkening sky. It was one of the few things to look forward to in our life at Topaz” (Uchida, 110).
Walking along the fence at the camp's edge, however, could be dangerous as was shown by the fatal shooting of James Hatsuaki Wakasa on April 11, 1943. On an evening stroll, 63-year-old Wakasa wandered too near the fence when a guard, after several verbal warnings, shot and killed him. Wakasa was facing the soldier when he was killed. Before this incident, there were eight previous warning shots fired at Japanese Americans near the barbed-wire fence. Without witnesses, there was only the guard's account and speculations that Wakasa might have been distracted or did not hear the warning (he was hard of hearing) before the sentry shot him from a watchtower some 300 feet away. Whatever the cause, Wakasa was dead.
Wakasa was an issei bachelor. A graduate of Tokyo's Keio College, Wakasa went on to two years of postgraduate study at the University of Wisconsin, which he completed in 1916. He was thus highly educated, although he worked primarily as a cook. That was typical of his generation when service work was the only occupation open to Japanese Americans because of racism. Wakasa also served in the U.S. Army during World War I. The evening of his death, a friend had dinner with Wakasa, and instead of returning to his barracks, said he was going for a walk. About 30 minutes later, the friend heard Wakasa had been shot.
Nervous over the shooting, Topaz's administrators called a general alert, and for two days military police armed with machine guns, gas masks, and tear gas terrorized the camp's population. The funeral preparations added to the tension, with the administrators fearful that the occasion might prompt a mass protest and riot. Even the place of the funeral was debated. Japanese Americans wanted it held on the spot where Wakasa died, while the WRA wanted it held elsewhere because of the disturbing symbolism of the bloodstained earth near the fence and under the guard tower. Japanese Americans held a general work stoppage before the funeral to protest the killing and demonstrate their outrage at what was a senseless and needlessly cruel act. Women made huge wreaths of paper flowers, and on April 20 a crowd of up to 2,000 Japanese Americans attended the Protestant service held in an open space near but not at the site of Wakasa's death.
Michiko Okamoto was deeply disturbed by the killing, which formed the most lasting memory of her time in Topaz. “We were totally vulnerable,” she said of the lesson she learned from Wakasa's death. “We were helpless. There was no way of defending ourselves from anybody who just got trigger-happy and wanted to shoot us” (Taylor, 145). About a month later, on May 22, 1942, a guard from the southeast watchtower fired a warning shot at a couple walking too near the fence. This time, the soldier refrained from shooting to kill. Many Japanese Americans, including some WRA camp administrators, believed the military police were “Jap-haters” or recently returned soldiers from the Pacific war front and were thus trigger-happy.
Amy Akiyama remembered the lines at Topaz. “Lines to go to the bathroom, lines for this, lines for that. Lines for everything you did.” And the bathrooms, she said, had no partitions so “the women were so vocal about it, they did put some in, but not doors. A lot of people brought something they'd hang” to give them privacy. Many busied themselves collecting seashells from the lake bed on which Topaz was built, and made pins and jewelry with them. Morgan Yamanaka's father fashioned armchairs from tree limbs, a Japanese display case, and swords from old car springs. Akiyama's mother enjoyed going to the theatre to see films that flickered like home movies and stopped when the reel tape broke. “I don't remember any movie going smoothly,” Akiyama noted (Levine, 53, 56–57, 58–59).
In addition to the schools for children and evening “Americanization” classes for the adults, noted Miné Okubo, there was a canteen, dry-goods store, barbershop, beauty parlor, and a dry cleaning and shoe repair shop. The canteen, she explained, was like a country store where people gathered to gossip and discuss
family and community concerns. Art and hobby classes were popular, and exhibits showed the handiwork of the camp's Japanese Americans. People participated in and attended baseball, basketball, and football games, and some practiced golf and organized ping pong, badminton, and tennis tournaments. Sumo or wrestling and talent shows and movies entertained audiences, and Buddhists celebrated Hanamatsuri or flower festival on the anniversary of Buddha's birth. Gradually, Okubo observed, Japanese Americans improved the conditions of life in Topaz.
Amy Akiyama's grandfather died in the camp. “My mother said she thinks he died of a broken heart,” said Akiyama. The old people had nothing to do; they had no future and lost the zest for life. “We all went to the funeral. It was a Buddhist funeral, and they burned a lot of incense. I can still smell it.” Thereafter, whenever she smells incense it brings back that memory, Akiyama confessed, of “hearing the Buddhist priest chanting and seeing the profile of my grandfather in the casket” (Levine, 62). The cemetery at Topaz, Miné Okubo noted, lay empty; no one was buried there. Families sent the bodies to Salt Lake City for cremation, and they kept the ashes for a final resting place in the hope of returning home to the San Francisco Bay Area.
Situated in Modoc County, California, near the Oregon border, Tule Lake concentration camp has a rich and varied history. The land once belonged to the Modoc nation, but white settlers, hunters and traders, and gold miners occupied the valley in the 19th century. Because of that dispossession and the Modoc refusal to be uprooted and confined to a reservation, the United States waged a war against them. A small band led by Kintpuash of about 74 men and 85 women and children made their last stand against the U.S. Army of over 600 troops on the Lava Beds just south of the concentration camp. About 70 years later, the U.S. government removed and confined Japanese Americans near the site of the Modoc nation's demise.
Construction on the camp began on April 1942, and by May the first group of Japanese Americans arrived from Oregon and California. Nearly from its start, Tule Lake saw Japanese American resistance to conditions in the camp. Before the end of the year, there was a mess hall strike in July to protest inadequate food, a campaign for higher wages in August, and two labor strikes in August and September.
In 1943, the U.S. government issued a “loyalty” questionnaire to Japanese Americans in the ten WRA concentration camps. Question 27 asked about a willingness to serve in the U.S. armed forces, and Question 28, foreswearing loyalty to the Japanese emperor. To the WRA, those questions indicated the loyalty of those who answered the questions “Yes” and “Yes.” But it was more complicated than that. The nisei were U.S. citizens by birth, and they never swore loyalty to Japan's emperor. Accordingly, if they answered “Yes” to Question 28, they might be suspected of having harbored loyalty to Japan. For issei who could not become U.S. citizens by law, answering “Yes” would make them, in effect, people without a country. Who, then, would protect their rights? As for Question 27, many nisei,
like the draft resisters at Heart Mountain, believed that answering “Yes” endorsed the loss of their civil liberties. They would gladly serve their country once their rights as citizens were restored. After all, following Pearl Harbor, the United States classified all nisei as “aliens” and made them ineligible to volunteer or liable for the draft.
Many answered conditionally, “Yes, if my rights as a citizen are restored.” Of the nearly 78,000 who filled out the questionnaire, about 6,700 answered “No” to Question 28. Approximately 2,000 more qualified their “No” answer, which the WRA classed as a “No.” The WRA labeled all of them as “disloyal,” and began the process of segregation or the removal of the so-called “No-No Boys” from their camps to the designated segregation center at Tule Lake. The camp at Tule Lake was chosen for that purpose because it had the highest percentage of “No-No's.” At other camps, the average was 10 percent who refused to answer or answered “No,” but at Tule Lake, the figure was 42 percent. Some 6,000 moved out of Tule Lake to other camps, leaving 8,500 behind. “Disloyals” from other camps moved into Tule Lake, and by the spring of 1944, there were over 18,000 Japanese Americans in that camp, making it the largest of the 10 concentration camps.
In anticipation of that move, in the summer of 1943, the WRA converted Tule Lake into a maximum-security camp for “disloyals.” A man-proof, six-foot high chain link fence topped with barbed wire surrounded the camp, spiked with watchtowers at intervals along the perimeter manned by soldiers with machine guns. For a time in 1943, an enhanced military presence with eight tanks occupied the camp to ensure the homeland security.
As was the case in all the other camps, Tule Lake administrators encouraged the Japanese to produce on vegetable, hog, and chicken farms for their subsistence. In October 1943, Japanese farm workers struck in protest over the death of a fellow laborer, Kashima, who died in a truck accident. The day following Kashima's death, in elections held for a representative body called the Daihyo Sha Kai, Japanese who were critical of the WRA and its policies won, but the camp's director, Raymond Best, ignored them and their negotiating committee, casting them as troublemakers.
When the national WRA director Dillon Myer visited Tule Lake on November 1, 1943, the Daihyo Sha Kai insisted on meeting with him by massing thousands of Japanese around the administrative building in which Myer was meeting with Best. George Kuratomi, the protesters' spokesman, outlined for Myer the people's grievances that included Best's dishonest dealings with them, white racism among several WRA staffers, and inadequate food and overcrowding. At base, Kuratomi explained, the Japanese asked that they “be treated humanely from this Government, this Government of the United States.” Myer expressed confidence in Best and his dealings, and offered Kuratomi and the protesters no encouragement or promise of redress. To adjourn the meeting, military police on jeeps mounted with machine guns swept into the camp, and with tear gas dispersed the protesters. Soldiers then proceeded to single out and apprehend the suspected leaders.
White WRA administrators feared for their personal safety, having witnessed the Japanese demonstration. The next day, November 2, after Myer and Best failed to reassure them, they went directly to Lt. Col. Verne Austin, head of the military detachment that comprised an entire battalion of some 1,200 troops, to get his promise that Army troops would guarantee their safety. Best, angered over that vote of no confidence, fired two of his most outspoken critics, and within a week 20 staff members resigned. Meanwhile, white settlers in the Tule Lake basin complained that Best, Myer, and the WRA coddled the Japanese, and the local and national press took up the mass protest of November 1 mounted by the Japanese “enemy.” White WRA staff members added to those criticisms, which were either hysterical or uncovered quite vicious attitudes toward “those Japs,” according to Emily Light, a schoolteacher. After a minor scuffle between a small group of Japanese and several white administrators, Best called in the military as if to placate his critics.
Tanks rolled into the camp on November 4, and the army declared military rule and its determination to stamp out the protest by removing troublemakers. The army imposed a 6 A.M. to 7 P.M. curfew and arbitrarily apprehended and detained Japanese without recourse to charges or hearings. Austin disbanded the Daihyo Sha Kai and arrested its members, required identification badges of everyone 12 years and older, and mounted a comprehensive sweep of the entire camp to take into custody agitators and confiscate weapons. On November 26, three groups of about 150 men, each soldier carrying full field equipment and a gas mask and all officers bearing side arms, clubs, and gas grenades, marched through the camp to carry out their order. The troops netted 25 tons of rice and other grains, 22 barrels of saké mash, 400 boxes of canned goods, 20 crates of dried fruit, 20 cartons of cereal, 2 saké stills, a Japanese-language printing press, 500 knives, 400 clubs, 2 public address systems, and 500 radio receivers.
To segregate their catch from the rest of the camp, the army erected in late November a stockade surrounded by barbed wire fence and guard towers, and within the stockade built two to five barracks and tents called the “bull pen” to chill out the incorrigibles. The bull pen, then, was a prison within the stockade within the concentration camp. The authorities drew up lists, methodically hunted down their quarry, and seized over 350 of them and tossed them into the stockade. Matsuda Kazue's brother, Yamane Tokio, was one of those who were arrested, beaten, denied medical attention, and locked in the bull pen for nine months. Flimsy and unheated, the tents offered scant protection from the elements that reached freezing temperatures in winter. With bunks set in the frozen ground and no extra clothing or blankets, living in the bull pen was “a life and death struggle for survival,” Yamane testified. Matsuda pleaded with the authorities to release him, to transfer her husband who was being held in the Justice Department camp at Santa Fe, New Mexico, so he could see his dying mother and then, to attend her funeral all to no avail. The military transferred Yamane from Tule Lake to the Santa Fe alien detention center, despite his U.S. citizenship. He was among some 1,200 sent by the military from Tule Lake to Justice Department internment camps.
Beatings, such as the one administered to Yamane, were common in Tule Lake's interrogation rooms where fists and baseball bats were the preferred instruments of reason. A former security officer recalled with delight the night of terror on November 4, the day the tanks rumbled into camp. “None of the three Japs were unconscious but all three were groggy from the blows they received, especially the one … hit with the baseball bat,” he began. These, the officer explained, had been picked up and taken to the administration building where they were ordered to lie on the floor. When they refused, “I knocked my Jap down with my fist. He stayed down but was not unconscious. [Q] hit his Jap over the head again with the baseball bat …” Later, during questioning, the officer had an “itching to take a sock at the Jap so I … hit a hard blow to the jaw with my fist. [He] went down and out. I reached down and shook him hard in an effort to revive him. I even grabbed him by the hair and shook his head. After about three minutes he came to.” Meanwhile, screams could be heard coming from the back rooms. That night in all, 18 Japanese were “severely beaten with baseball bats,” according to a deposition, and some required “hospitalization for several months and the mentality of one was impaired permanently as the result of the beating he had received” (Drinnon, 142–43).
Despite the military's repressive rule, an overwhelming number of Japanese continued to express confidence in the Daihyo Sha Kai through December 1943 even though the army refused to recognize them and held most of them in the stockade, segregated from the camp population. Toward the end of December and the start of a January 1944a, a series of events brought the standoff to a head. On the morning of December 30, Lt. Schaner, the stockade's warden, arbitrarily pulled two men, Tsuda and Yoshiyama, and ordered them to the bull pen. A few days earlier, Schaner had chosen them to be the spokesmen for the others in the stockade, and his actions seemed to demonstrate his absolute powers over the fates of his charges. In protest against Schaner's highhandedness, the men refused to assemble for the 1 P.M. roll call. If the men cleaned the stockade area and assembled for the evening roll call, Schaner promised, he would release Tsuda and Yoshiyama from the cage. The Japanese fulfilled their part of the bargain but by the next morning the pair had not been freed. So the men again refused to assemble for the morning roll call, but were forced from their barracks by armed troops later in the day.
Facing the assembled men, Schaner pointed to Uchida, and commanded that he join Tsuda and Yoshiyama in the bull pen. Then he challenged the Japanese. “Now if there are any more of you who would like to go with him, just step up towards the gate.” After a moment's pause, one of them, Todoroki Koji, stepped forward and, according to an army eyewitness, there was a murmur among the men, followed by the entire group breaking ranks and moving in the direction of the gate. Frustrated, Schaner left the men standing in the snow for about three hours while he consulted with his commander, Austin, about his next step. “I was just waiting for that,” Schaner told the men. “You men will be put on bread and water for twenty-four hours. You men will have to learn that we mean business and will not tolerate such a demonstration.” Trucks then entered the stockade compound, and
removed all stores of food. In addition, Schaner ordered a search of the stockade's barracks, which was undertaken “in a most unnecessary destructive method,” in the words of a military observer. As a result, many personal items such as radios, pens, watches, cigarettes, and cash were stolen from the Japanese.
Provoked, the men vowed to go on a hunger strike until the release of everyone from the stockade. Tsuda explained, “The reason the men … are on this hunger strike is because they know not the reason they are in the stockade. They feel they have been unjustly confined and the reason given to them is that they are the potential troublemakers and strong arm men of the colony, which they feel is not true. This is the manner in which they are trying to prove their sincerity and show that they should be vindicated” (Okihiro, 78–79). The hunger strike lasted from January 1 to January 6, 1944 over the Japanese New Year, which carried religious and cultural significance, with no tangible concessions from the administrators. News of the hunger strike leaked out to the camp population on its third day, and instead of a general protest in support of the stockade hunger strikers, sentiment appeared to turn toward a swift compromise to reverse and bring to an end the escalating hostilities.
Some in the camp favored accepting the army's demand that the Daihyo Sha Kai must be disbanded and a new body elected to negotiate the end of martial law. Others argued supporting the Daihyo Sha Kai as the only and true representative of the people. Both supported their positions with appeals to Japanese, not American values, and both regretted the split in the ranks of an otherwise united people. The Daihyo Sha Kai had not shown a “true Japanese spirit,” one argument went, by not resigning when they failed to dislodge the military from the camp. “We have no other desire than to exist as a true Japanese and to return to Japan unashamed,” the appeal concluded. The other faction supported the Daihyo Sha Kai for exhibiting a “true Japanese spirit” by refusing to compromise with the army. “I surely hate to see the Japanese divided,” said a stockade leader Inouye, “and hate to see them fighting with each other.” Shimada explained the thinking on the outside: “Let me repeat this, the Army would not give a chance to talk about [the] release of you people [those in the stockade], unless normal condition was first returned.” To which Inouye replied, “We realize all the things you people are going through and have told the men in the stockade that you people are working so hard for the common goal. We are just as worried as you people are” (Okihiro, 81).
On January 11, 1944, Tule Lake's Japanese voted, according to the official tally, 4,893 against the status quo, 4,120 for the status quo, and 228 undecided. The status quo meant retention of the Daihyo Sha Kai. The voting might have been influenced by the army's rounding up of Daihyo Sha Kai sympathizers the morning of the vote, and some claimed voting irregularities. A Japanese report claimed a true count of 31 blocks (a residential unit of barracks) for status quo, 29 against, four blocks undetermined, and one block abstained. Whatever the final tally, the vote showed a reluctance to repudiate the Daihyo Sha Kai and to concede the occupying Army's position despite the prospect of an end to martial law and the release of the men in the stockade. On January 15, the army returned the camp, except the stockade, to the WRA, and on May 23, 1944, control of the stockade
reverted to the WRA, but tensions remained high. The following day, a Japanese was shot and killed by a guard following a minor altercation, and in June Tasaku Hitomi, a suspected collaborator, was found murdered. In August 1944, the stockade was closed. The WRA and Army, the U.S. state, had failed to extinguish completely the people's spirit of resistance.
Morgan Yamanaka remembered moving from Topaz to Tule Lake and noticing the difference. Although the fence and guard towers surrounded both camps, Yamanaka said, at Tule Lake the presence of the military was much more evident. Whenever something happened, he noted, “you came up against them … you felt the physical presence of the MPs.” Yamanaka and his brother ended up in the stockade. He described the procedure for admittance into that prison within a prison. “We were herded into army trucks, and we were shoved into a room in the military barracks and we waited interminably. We were just squatting on the floor, no furniture. We were jam-packed on the floor for hours on end, and every so often one of us would be called.” When he was finally called, Yamanaka was led down the hall and “placed in a dark room, shoved into a chair, and all of a sudden the light went on—classic third degree” (Tateishi, 114–15).
After his questioning, Yamanaka found himself sitting again on the floor in a crowded room. When they needed to go to the bathroom, the guard disregarded their pleas. “We called the MP and said we had to go,” he recalled, “and his attitude was just, fuck you, don't pee on the floor” (Tateishi, 116). Someone offered him a boot to urinate in but he and the others simply held it. There were constant raids in the stockade barracks, Yamanaka remembered, to harass them. Once, he said, a young soldier pointing a submachine gun at his belly was quaking in his boots, scared stiff of the “troublemakers” in the stockade. Yamanaka thought he might pull the trigger out of fear, which then made him scared. At another time, the MPs ordered them out in the snow, standing only with underwear and flip-flops for three or five hours. The stood in a line facing a jeep with a machine gun pointed at them. That is when the men decided to go on a hunger strike, Yamanaka concluded.
Ben Takeshita, like Morgan Yamanaka, was transferred from Topaz to Tule Lake during segregation. He noticed at Tule Lake a greater stress on Japanese culture, including Japanese-language classes, which his older brothers started. Children learned Japanese ethics, respect for parents, and the history of Japan. During the “food riots, because there was not enough food,” Takeshita said, a neighbor, Okamura, was shot. “He was a big guy, but so gentle,” he remembered. A guard apparently felt he was being threatened when Okamura walked toward him, so “the guard shot him from about five feet away and killed him. The guard was charged with misuse of military property and fined fifty cents for the bullet. There was a court-martial, but he wasn't convicted of anything. There was tension because of this type of thing,” Takeshita noted (Tateishi, 246–47).
His oldest brother, Takeshita said, was under suspicion because he promoted sports tournaments, which the WRA considered to be militaristic. They took him in, and questioned him for several days. They reached a point when they said, “'Okay, we're going to take you out.' And it was obvious that he was going before a
firing squad with MPs ready with rifles.” They asked him if he wanted a cigarette; he said no. They asked if he wanted a blindfold; he refused it. They stood him up, and went as far as saying, “'Ready, aim, fire,' and pulling the trigger, but the rifles had no bullets. They just went click …” When he heard that story, Takeshita recalled, “I really got mad.” It was torture, he declared, “like the German camps” (Tateishi, 247). After the war, that brother left the United States and went to Japan to live.
Not content with the concentration camps as a solution to “disloyal” Japanese Americans, Attorney General Francis Biddle drafted legislation to allow a U.S. citizen to renounce that citizenship during wartime upon approval of the attorney general. Anti-Japanese groups like the Native Sons of the Golden West lobbied for such law, and on July 1, 1944, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Public Law 405 that legislated renunciation. It was difficult, especially during wartime, for citizens to renounce their U.S. citizenship, so Public Law 405 was unusual. Although 5,589 Japanese Americans took advantage of the law to renounce their U.S. citizenship between December 1944 and July 1945, with few exceptions, all of them were from Tule Lake where about 70 percent of the nisei over 18 years old renounced. Segregation was relevant to renunciation as well as conditions in the camp especially during the period of martial law and military repression.
Department of Justice teams visited Tule Lake in early 1945 to facilitate the process of renunciation. Japanese Americans who feared a future in the United States because of the prevailing anti-Japanese hatred and those who had lost faith in the nation and its promise of equality under the law were inclined to petition for renunciation. And parents who sought repatriation to Japan pressured their children to renounce their U.S. citizenship. As Morgan Yamanaka said, renunciation was a way of keeping the family together. As the year moved on, however, most of those who renounced their U.S. citizenship sought to withdraw their applications. They had second thoughts about that. San Francisco attorney Wayne M. Collins worked for the Tule Lake Defense Committee to stop the deportation of the renunciants because they signed under duress, Collins claimed. For 22 years those cases remained active in the courts, and of the 5,978 Japanese Americans who sought to invalidate their renunciation and have their U.S. citizenship restored, 5,409 won their suit. The last case was decided on March 6, 1968, long after the end of World War II and the alleged claim of “military necessity.” Racism was surely evident in the campaign to remove U.S. citizenship from Japanese Americans and deport them from the United States.
Graffiti scribbled on a Tule Lake camp warehouse wall in Japanese offered a critique of the U.S. government's program of forced removal and confinement.
The world is not governed fairly.
Not a land of God, nor of Buddha, nor of the stars.
Longing for the stars.
And on the stockade wall, in English and Japanese:
Show me the way to go to home. (Burton, 300, 310)
Gary Y. Okihiro
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