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One Photographer's Story of Internment

Whenever I get too discouraged with the world and how modern and supposedly advanced society treats each other, I reminiscence about a past I never lived through. In 1942, (the period of WWII) Dorothea Lange was hired by the government to document the process of President Franklin Roosevelt's order of imprisonment of more than 100,000 Japanese Americans.

After 64 years of hiding, her photographs»» have finally been published. Impounded: Dorothea Lange and the Censored Images of Japanese American Internment features more than 100 of these stark black-and-white images, and for a moment sends the reader to a precedent chapter of American history. »»

Even though I know how sentimental I can get I still clicked on a preview of Dorothea Lange's photographs and felt a small measure of regret. The limited preview brought a surf of different emotions and questions to mind.

Why would we do that to our own people? They were Americans regardless of their ethnicity.
Were they treated well?
Was it really for their safety or our paranoia and or safety?

However, it wasn't just the Americans who forced thousands out of their homes and away from everything they have known. During World War II, more than 22,000 Japanese Canadians were also forcibly interned in Canada.

Some Japanese Americans did question their American loyalties after the government removed them and their families from their homes. Several pro-Japan groups formed inside the camps, and demonstrations and even riots occurred. Most cases were detached incidents and did not reflect the larger sentiment of the Japanese-American people, who remained loyal to the United States. When the government asked whether internees wished to renounce their U.S. citizenship, 5,589 of them did so.

On the other hand, it is interesting to note that many of the deportees were first Generation Japanese immigrants who often had difficulty with English and often did not understand the questions they were asked.

During this same time the government circulated a questionnaire seeking army volunteers from among the internees. Reports state that 6% of military-aged male respondents volunteered to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. Those who refused, tempered that refusal with statements of willingness to fight if they were restored their rights as American citizens. How, they asked, could any government dare ask them to fight for freedoms for others, which the same government had taken away from them?

Lesser known is the Italian American (and German) internment of WWII. Upon formal declarations of war between the United States and Italy, it was stated that all non-citizen Italians living in the United States become legally classified as enemy aliens. However, upon action, both Italian non-citizen and American Italian citizens were grouped together in the Internment and placed in camps. Italian and Italian-American Internment:»»

In 1944, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the exclusion, removal, and detention, arguing that it is permissible to curtail the civil rights of a racial group when there is a pressing public necessity.

Conversely, in early 1944, the government began permitting individuals to return to the West Coast and in January, 1945, the exclusion order was withdrawn entirely, but the relocation camps remained open for residents who were not ready to make the move back. The fact that this occurred long before the Japanese surrender (of August 1945), while the war was arguably at its most vicious, weighs against the claim that the relocation was a crucial security measure. However, it is also true that the Japanese were clearly losing the war by that time, and were not on the offensive. The last internment camp was not closed until 1946, although all Japanese were cleared from the camps sometime in 1945.

What was intended as a brief interlude of time wasting resulted in further research about "what was Internment?"»»
I could go on and on about the many components of who and how people were effected by that era of action and during that time of 'accepted wisdom'. But truly, it is a history that we should learn from and hopefully we have; I believe we have, if only by the slightest capacity. Hopefully, through Sociology»», we are learning to differentiate between friend and possible enemy.


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