The Relocation Program

U.S. Dept. of the Interior/War Relocation Authority. Jan 1, 1946.

This is another of the official government publications relating to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. As usual, I will only bring up what I think are the most important points.

Anti-Japanese Prejudice and Voluntary Evacuation

The first attempts at evacuation were voluntary, where Japanese could relocate towards the East of their own free will. This program did not last very long, though, and soon all the Japanese Americans were evacuated from the West Coast.

Reasons sited include military necessity and fear of anti-Japanese violence by other citizens. This report talks about that violence:

"By late March it had become apparent that the resentment of the interior States toward continued voluntary evacuation was based upon a complete misunderstanding of the status of the evacuees as well as upon war-bred fears and prejudices. Sheriffs from these States frequently reported that ‘California Japanese were escaping" from the military areas. Officials and residents of the interior regions were not aware that the military authorities were urging the evacuees to leave the West Coast States and establish themselves in inland areas. There was also widespread opinion that California, Washington and Oregon were ‘dumping undesirables.'

"It was obvious that voluntary evacuation could not continue without widespread disorders and possible risk of physical violence being directed against the Japanese. The War Relocation Authority's first general act was to recommend to General DeWitt that he prohibit further uncontrolled evacuation. The result was Public Proclamation No. 4, issued March 27, 1942, requiring all Japanese to remain within Military Area No. 1 without change of residence after midnight of March 29."

Governor's Conference and Anti-Japanese-American feeling

Again, directly from the report:

"Because of the general misunderstanding of evacuation and the status of the evacuees in Western States, and in order to explore more fully the possibilities of a widespread resettlement program, a meeting was called at Salt Lake City on April 7, 1942, to explain the situation to the officials of the States in which the Authority might be operating. The conference was attended by governors or their representatives, attorneys general or their representatives, State extension service directors, State agricultural war board chairman, and State Farm Security Administration directors from 10 of the Western States....

"Most of the governors and attorneys general, however, were not sympathetic to the program as outlined. Some expressed complete and bitter animosities toward settlement or purchase of land by any Japanese in their States. Some indicated definite suspicion or conviction that California was using interior States as dumping grounds for an old problem. Some refused to recognize that Japanese, even though United States citizens, had any rights. Some indicated that the temper of the people in their States could not be controlled unless Japanese who had already entered the States were brought under guard. Some opposed Japanese entering private business. Some demanded that the Federal Government guarantee to remove any and all Japanese remaining at the end of the war.... The official conception by State officers of the type of program best suited to the situation was one of concentration camps with workers being farmed out to work under armed guards. Some representatives advocated out and out detention camps for all Japanese."

This is another of the instances in which an official government publication uses the term "concentration camps" to describe the internment centers. From a third to a half of the books I reviewed also used the term "concentration camp," with the others using "internment camp" or "prison camp" to describe the camps.

Let's Put Them to Work

Keep in mind that the most of the evacuation program was not voluntary. People were taken from their homes with minimal warning. They had to sell business and personal items and often lost quite a bit of money doing so. They were shipped to assembly centers and then again to internment camps, almost always behind barbed wire and armed guards. So it's not surprising that the attitude of many of the people would not be overly nice towards the government that put them there. In addition, the agricultural interests of the areas, the "big business" of their day, saw that they had a potential slave labor force to work with, so they began crying to the government to get evacuees released (temporarily) from the centers to go out to the farms and work on them, then get sent back to the camps. In other words, once they were not longer useful to the big business of the day, they were to be discarded as quickly as possible.

The hiring of the evacuee workers was not an act of kindness or understanding on the part of the agricultural lobby; it was basically an act of selfishness and greed.

Nevertheless, many evacuees eventually did opt to work out on various farms and are credited with saving many crops that would have been lost otherwise due to lack of available man-power.

The program did not get off to a great start, as is to be expected, and the publication notes:

"The Authority recognized that its position would be untenable with a large reserve of workers idle in relocation centers. Executive Order No. 9102 had provided for establish a "work corps." This work corps plan provided that workers volunteer for the duration of the war and would be placed in private or public employment under the direct supervision of the War Relocation Authority. It had been expected that evacuees would greet the work corps with favor and the most able-bodied young people would wish to join it. The first official attempt to gain recruits for the work corps was in the Portland Assembly Center around mid-May. Workers joining there were to be sent to beet fields in eastern Oregon to help in meeting a severe spring labor shortage. Four men were sent from the San Francisco regional office to the Portland Assembly Center to star the enlistment. They found the evacuees wary of the work corps idea an full of questions for which no answers were ready. The enlistment form impressed the evacuees as bearing too much resemblance to a blank check presented for their signature. No workers were recruited at Portland and upon the recommendation of the recruitment team the work corps plan for recruiting seasonal workers was abandoned.

"The demand for season workers in the Inter-Mountain States continued to grow. The very governors who had been opposed to the presence of any evacuees in their areas except under armed guard were now in the position of demanding that the War Department release evacuees from assembly centers to assist their farmers in the spring work. "

It seems that once a person volunteered for the Work Corps program they would be stuck doing that until the end of the war, and if that's the case it's not surprising almost no one wanted to do that. Instead, later, evacuees were released for seasonal labor work and that ended up being quite successful.

The paper notes that an Oregon county made an attempt when the Amalgamated Sugar Company went into the Portland and Puyallup Assembly Centers to get workers. At first response was negligible, but a small party of a dozen workers did volunteer and they checked out the living and working conditions and found them to be ok. Once they reported back to the other evacuees that things would be ok for them then getting volunteers no longer was a major problem. There ended up being more demand that there were actual workers available.

By the middle of October of that year some 10,000 evacuees were scattered through the Western States helping in harvest work and in saving agricultural crops in 1942.

Requirements for Relocating

There were four basic requirements before a person was allowed to relocate outside of the camp. The paper says "The first of the four requirements for leave was to reassure communities in which evacuees might be going that they would not become public charges and had reasonable assurance of self support. The second was to reassure the receiving community of the newcomers loyalty. The third requirement was made in order to give reasonable assurance to the evacuee regarding the reception which he might expect in the new community. It was also intended to give the WRA time to prepare the community for his reception. The need for such preparation was clearly evidenced by the unfortunate experience of voluntary evacuees going into communities which did not understand their situation. Once an unfortunate incident occurred, it was extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get that community to accept other evacuees. The fourth requirement in regard to notice of address change was to enable the War Relocation Authority to serve the evacuee.

"Within the centers, during the first few months of their operation, facilities were not well developed for assisting the evacuee in his plans to relocate. Staff was frequently inadequate in numbers and inexperienced in its new job."

There were more requests than there were available workers and that led to problems. Again, from the report:

"Many employers had counted definitely on securing the help which they had requested and some of them had gone to considerable lengths to prepare for the advent of Japanese workers. Failing in most cases to get the requested help, employers' attitudes ranged from simple disappointment to unreasonable anger and in some cases, particularly in rural sections, to a condemnation of the Japanese group for its failure to leave what was regarded by some as a life of ease in the relocation centers and to accept wartime employment."

The situation among employers actually got worse in 1943. The report notes "During this season there was increased competition between communities for evacuee services, and it was necessary to retain the county travel restrictions simply to keep peace between communities which were trying to steal each others workers."

Nisei and combat

At the start of the war most of the Nisei in the armed forces were either dismissed from the service or downgraded to stateside, unarmed jobs. Then later, as the needs of the War Department grew, the government decided that having the Nisei in the armed forces wasn't such a bad idea after all. There was a nice captive group of them in the internment camps so the government decided it would try to get them to sign up. So the decision was made to make them all eligible for the draft but try and get volunteers at the same time.

"It was believed that residents would welcome news of the formation of a Nisei combat team as an initial step toward the restoration of citizenship rights. It was consequently expected that registration would proceed smoothly. However, the initial reaction of many Nisei in every center was one of resentment because the proposed combat team was to be a segregated unit. They saw in the Army's program another instance of discrimination rather than one of restoration of rights.

"In each center the registration program produced high emotional tension, and in some centers a crisis situation. ... In addition to the objection of many Nisei to the segregated nature of the proposed military service, many felt that they were being forced to volunteer for military service whereas other Americans normally were waiting to be drafted. This belief that they were being forced to volunteer for military service was at least partially due to a misunderstanding of the wording of one of the questions on the registration form which required male Nisei of military age to state whether or not they were willing to serve in the armed forces... There is no question but what many of the negative answers and qualified answers to this question were the result of failure to understand it."

That, of course, was the infamous loyalty questionnaire where questions 27 and 28 led to major problems for the Nisei and the camps. The report goes on to describe one of the problems the Nisei were facing:

"Prospective volunteers were concerned about what might happen to their Issei parents if they were killed in battle. They knew that their parents could not inherit real estate under the laws of the Sates in the evacuated area. They wondered if their enemy alien parents would be eligible for GI allotments."

Issei were not allowed to buy or own land under the laws, so if their son died in combat, he couldn't leave any land he owned to them legally.

Question 28 was about renouncing any loyalty to the Emperor, and this question also caused concern. For many Nisei they had no loyalty to the Emperor at all; they were very Americanized and regarded the U.S. as their home, so how could they renounce something they didn't have? For the Issei, who were not legally allowed to become U.S. citizens at the time, then if they formally renounced any loyalty to Japan and the Emperor then would, in effect, be giving up their Japanese citizenship so they would be left without formal citizenship in any country at all.

Reluctance to leave the centers

As the war years progressed more and more people permanently left the centers to relocate elsewhere. Students were the first to go but gradually, as people could find jobs in other areas, they too were allowed to leave (to go East, of course, not West.) Those left in the centers became more and more reluctant to leave, though, and the report addresses that problem.

"The job, however, in the relocation centers was becoming more and more difficult, since for the most part the adventuresome, unattached young people and the more confident and self reliant families were gone. Many with large families were fearful as to their ability to support their dependents on the outside as well as they were being supported by the Government in the centers. No amount of successful relocation by families with similar problems seemed to convince them that they should do likewise. Center living was being accepted as a normal way of life by many people, and complacency in regard to it was common, Apathy marked the attitude of an increasing number, and it was apparent that continued center living was not only demoralizing, but was tending to disintegrate the fiber of a people who had, previous to evacuation, been unusually self-reliant, sturdy, and independent."

It finally came to the point where the government decided that it would close down all the centers and that anyone still there would have to leave, period. On December 17, 1944, the Western Defense Command revoked the west coast general exclusion order for persons of Japanese ancestry which had been in effect since March, 1942. The order was effective as of January 2, 1945, clearing the way for the Japanese Americans to return to the west coast. (Theoretically, of course, as the attitudes of many people there were still virulently anti-Japanese and some of those who tried to return ran into discrimination and even outright violence.)

The WRA thus decided to liquidate itself, and the Director announced the reasons for the policy:

"1. Center living was bad for the evacuees. It did not provide an atmosphere in which children could develop in the normal American pattern. It was generally destructive of good work habits, of the sense of responsibility on the part of family heads, and did not provide normal family living conditions. For their own welfare, the evacuees needed to get back into the life of the usual American community. This could be accomplished only by closing the centers.

"2. The country, still at war, needed the skills and the manpower represented by the center population.

"3. The Congress would undoubtedly question the necessity of appropriating funds to continue centers.

"4. As long as this segment of the population remained concentrated in the centers, they were more vulnerable to campaigns directed against them by their enemies. The very fact that they were set apart tended to heighten the impression that their loyalty was in question.

"5. If centers were to be liquidated, it should be done during the wartime period of high employment when relocation opportunities were favorable."

When you read these it's almost impossible to avoid laughing out loud. The fact that the center life would be bad for the people there should have been evident from the very beginning. The country needed workers, but before their internment these people were already workers (albeit in different jobs than the government wanted them to be in, probably). They were taken from these jobs against their will, locked up behind barbed wire and now, all of a sudden, the country needed them to be workers.

Reason 4 is the most absurd of all. They were placed in the centers because (for one reason) their loyalty was in question (by the government, anyhow). Their "enemies" were going to attack them whether they were still in the centers or not. The hatred being directed against them didn't depend on where they were; it only depended on their existence.

The situation continued into 1945. The report notes that even as late as April of 1945 "most evacuees still residing in the centers were in no hurry to return to the evacuated area."

The report admits that there was still discrimination and that there were more "rapidly anti-Japanese within the evacuated area" (the West Coast), but they felt that they could convince the communities to accept the evacuees and the evacuees to accept the community. (Now, if you are going to relocate somewhere, would you want to go where you knew that people like you were hated by people in the area you were going to be living in?)

Nevertheless, the government kept moving to clear people out. In February an all-enter evacuee conference was held to discuss the liquidation policy, although Manzanar and Tule Lake did not send any representatives. The conference lasted a week, being divided into three general groups of people. First, there were those who wanted to get various public and private agencies to help with various forms of Government assistance during the relocation. A second group wanted full restitution for financial losses suffered (from having to sell their businesses, homes, property, etc), before they would leave. A third group favored the resettlement, but saw some very major roadblocks to the process.

Out of all this came a "Statement of Facts" from the evacuee representatives along with 21 recommendations. Their facts are interesting to compare to the government's 5 "facts" listed earlier. The facts the conference came up with were:

"1. Mental suffering has been caused by the forced mass evacuation.

"2. There has been an almost complete destruction of financial foundations built during a half century.

"3. Especially for the duration, the war has created fears of prejudices, persecution, etc, also fears of physical violence and fears of damage to property.

"4. Many Issei (average age is between 60 and 65) were depending upon their sons for assistance and support, but these sons are serving in the United States armed forces. Now these Issei are reluctant to consider relocation.

"5. Residents feel insecure and apprehensive towards the many changes and modifications of WRA policies.

"6. The residents have prepared to remain for the duration because of many statements made by the WRA that relocation centers will be maintained for the duration of the war.

"7. Many residents were forced to dispose of their personal and real properties, business and agricultural equipment , etc, at a mere trifle of their cost; also they drew leases for the ‘duration,' hence having nothing to return to.

"8. Practically every Buddhist priest is now excluded from the west coast. Buddhism has a substantial following, and the members obviously prefer to remain where the religion centers.

"9. There is an acute shortage of housing, which is obviously a basic need in resettlement. The residents fear that adequate housing is not available.

"10. Many persons of Japanese ancestry have difficulty in obtaining insurance coverage on life, against fire, on automobiles, on property, etc."

Public Attitudes on the West Coast

The report even had a specific section on the attitudes of the people on the West Coast in relation to relocation of the evacuees:

"A foretaste of opposition to the forthcoming return occurred dramatically in November 1944 at Hood River, Oregon, where the local chapter of the American Legion caused the names of 16 Nisei to be erased from the memorial bearing the names of all servicemen from the community... For 3 months, columnists, editorial writers, and radio speakers across the country condemned the Hood River Legion post. In the glare of this national spotlight, and after considerable pushing by national Legion headquarters, the Hood River post restored the names.

" The names were back on the memorial, but Hood River remained as determined as ever that the evacuees would not return. Societies were organized for that express purpose. Full page anti-evacuee advertisements signed by Hood River citizens were run in local papers."

This was not the only place, of course, where such sentiments arose. The report goes on to say: "Beginning shortly after revocation, a wave of terroristic incidents broke out in California. They were concentrated in the agricultural valleys, but extended to coastal communities. About 30 serious incidents involving arson, shooting attempts, and threatening visits had occurred by June 30, 1945, with numerous minor demonstrations such as rock throwing, threats, or intimidations."

In another section, it says "On the west coast, however, shots were fired, economic boycotts organized, homes burned, churches storing evacuee property vandalized, and in one case a cemetery was desecrated.

"Race prejudice, instigated by greed, emerges from any serious study of west coast social, economic and political history as the dominant factor behind hostile attitudes towards the Japanese...Occupational discrimination kept many members of the younger generation from finding work in the professional fields for which they had trained; qualified doctors, lawyers, clergymen, scientists and teachers were generally limited to service within the Little Tokyos, with the alternative of abandoning their professions. Young Nisei trained in American schools and taught the theories of democracy, frequently found the ranks of teachers, scientists and engineers closed to applicants with Japanese names and faces.

"Prejudice against persons of Japanese ancestry was nurtured and abetted by several powerful organizations such as the Native Songs of the Golden West and by newspapers such as those owned by Hearst and McClatchy. When the exclusion orders were finally lifted in December 1944, these groups, having failed in their effort to force the Government to keep the evacuees from returning, intensified their efforts to intimidate the evacuees themselves, hoping by so doing to make them afraid to return."

Spin doctors strike again

Leave it to the spin doctors of the forties to put a positive spin on the internment program:

"While the evacuation caused some evacuees great financial loss and mental suffering, it was not without compensation for some evacuees. In the process of resettlement, certain advantages accrued to the group specially to the Nisei in other sections of the country and even on the west coast. They found a wider variety of occupations open to them then had been available prior to evacuation. Most of them escaped from segregation in housing and were otherwise able to merge into the general social life of new communities to a greater degree than they had previously been able to do. In general the anti-Japanese groups on the west coast were discredited and had lost the support of the public.

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