Describe the Japanese internment camps. Explain where they were located and how they were set-up.

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bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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All Japanese-Americans--including those with American citizenship--living along the Pacific Coast were forcibly interned following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. In all, more than 100,000 were eventually confined. Camps were set up in California, Oregon and Washington state to house the interned; only Hawaii was spared, where only about 1% of Japanese-Americans were forced into confinement. Many Korean-Americans were also included. (A much smaller number of German- and Italian-Americans were also confined in other parts of the nation.) The authorization for forcible internment, Executive Order 9066, was signed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on February 19, 1942. Military-run areas were designated as "exclusion zones;" it was later discovered that the U.S. Census Bureau was also involved with the resettlement. Decades later, financial reparations were later paid to survivors and their heirs.

Many of the early camps "were temporary facilities that were first set up in horse racing tracks, fairgrounds and other large public meeting places" before the internees were sent to permanent structures. The camps were run by the Department of Justice, the Wartime Civil Control Administration and the War Relocation Authority. In addition to the West Coast, there were camps in Texas, Arizona, Colorado, Arkansas, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, New Mexico, North Dakota, Montana and New Jersey. Many people were also housed at U.S. military bases around the country as well.

Since the housing was built quickly, many were made of "tar paper-covered barracks of simple frame construction without plumbing or cooking facilities of any kind." Most were modeled after military barracks, where people were housed in groups, so they were not always accomodating to families; "spartan" conditions might be a good definition. For example, the Heart Mountain War Relocation Center in Wyoming

was a barbed-wire-surrounded enclave with unpartitioned toilets, cots for beds, and a budget of 45 cents daily per capita for food rations. Because most internees were evacuated from their West Coast homes on short notice and not told of their assigned destinations, many failed to pack appropriate clothing for Wyoming winters which often reached temperatures below zero Fahrenheit. Many families were forced to simply take the "clothes on their backs."

All camps were patrolled by armed guards, and most were located in remote areas. Internees usually had free run of the camps, and many were allowed access to surrounding areas. Although it is now considered a terrible time in our nation's history (imagine interning all Muslim Americans because of the 911 attacks!), a Japanese phrase was often used to express the hopelessness of the situation: "Shikata ga nai"--"it cannot be helped." 

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