The Wartime Civil Control Administration (WCCA) was set up by the Western Defense Command under Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt on March 11, 1942, to manage the forced removal of Japanese Americans from its Military Area No. 1. The Justice Department sent Tom C. Clark to the WCCA to coordinate the activities of civilian agencies helping the army in that process. These included the Federal Security Agency, Farm Security Administration, and Federal Reserve Bank to take care of social welfare and property transfers.
Led by a War Department staff member, Colonel Karl R. Bendetsen, the WCCA divided the West Coast into 108 exclusion zones, each comprising about 1,000 Japanese Americans. The WCCA posted exclusion order notices in each exclusion zone, required Japanese Americans to report to a central location for information and registration, provided storage for their possessions, and managed the evictions and “assembly centers” for their confinement.
The Farm Security Administration reported 7,076 Japanese American farm operators on 6,664 Japanese American–owned or leased farms totaling about 258,000 acres in Military Area No. 1. Those farms were valued at $73 million. Including those in Military Area No. 2, Japanese American farm acreages reached to over a quarter of a million acres. The government's problem was to evict Japanese Americans while keeping those farms productive for the war effort. For Japanese Americans, the removal and confinement meant the loss of a lifetime of labor.
Bendetsen presented his program of forced removals as a benign act of charity. A government official recalled a briefing held by the then major. “There on the wall was a map of the Pacific Coast with a new North-South line from British Columbia to Mexico. For our Japanese neighbors, America now commenced east of that line. We Caucasians, patriots by virtue of our skin, could continue to reside
west of the line. With the deftness of a surgeon and with something of the same reassuring antiseptic quality, the young major told us of evacuation proclamations to be followed by voluntary evacuation, followed in turn by involuntary evacuation, and mild detention for three or four years in a Federal institution.” The official remarked, “Bendetsen's tones made one think of restful, bucolic retirement, not of barbed wire or bayonets” (Girdner and Loftis, 123).
The reality, by contrast, was less than restful. The army's reports found the WCCA assembly centers to be inferior to military standards. Many of them, in fact, were converted horse race tracks and county fairgrounds, which displayed animals and livestock. “The kitchens are not up to Army standards of cleanliness,” reported an army document. The hospital had no cribs for children, and no baby food except bread and milk. “The dishes looked bad … gray and cracked…. Dishwashing not very satisfactory due to an insufficiency of hot water…. Soup plates being used instead of plates, which means that the food all runs together and looks untidy and unappetizing” (Daniels, 89).
Bendetsen made his headquarters in the Whitcomb Hotel in San Francisco while many of his wards lived in horse stalls. The WCCA kept a tight control over the assembly centers. Each assembly center director fell under the chief of the assembly center branch, Rex L. Nicholson, who in turn reported directly to his superior, Bendetsen. WCCA policies were formed in Washington, D.C. where the Office of Education oversaw the centers' schools, and Public Health, the hospitals and sanitation. In the centers, whites managed Japanese Americans, and they lived apart from them in separate, guarded quarters that were notably better built and had individual bathrooms. WCCA rules required the white staff to refrain from forming friendships with Japanese Americans.
While center administrations varied, Japanese Americans provided the labor required for the center's operation under white supervisors. Women worked in the kitchens and mess halls and in offices as stenographers and clerks, while men cooked and washed dishes and pots and in shops as mechanics and carpenters. At first, they volunteered and received no wages, but starting in June 1942, Japanese Americans received $12 to $19 per month depending upon the level of their work. The pay was given not in cash but in script, which was redeemable only in center stores. Although initially the WCCA promoted “self-government” in the centers, in June 1942, it dissolved the center councils, increased censorship, and in August, banned all Japanese literature and records except Bibles and hymnals.
That summer of 1942, the WCCA handed over Japanese Americans to the War Relocation
Authority (WRA), and by November, the assembly centers stood empty. The Fresno center was the last to close. Hiroko Kamikawa, a former college student, reported that the center's director thanked the Japanese Americans for being “good soldiers” and obeying the rules as he puffed on his cigar (Girdner and Loftis, 208).
The WCCA remained open in San Francisco and maintained a sizable staff through September 1945.
Gary Y. Okihiro
Daniels, Roger. Concentration Camps: North America: Japanese in the United States and Canada during World War II. Malabar, FL: Robert E. Krieger, 1981.
Girdner, Audrie and Anne Loftis. The Great Betrayal: The Evacuation of the Japanese Americans during World War II. London: Macmillan, 1969.