What were the causes of the Japanese-American internment camps?

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mkoren eNotes educator| Certified Educator

During World War II, the United States set up internment camps for Japanese-Americans. There were reasons for doing this, although we later regretted our actions and formally apologized to them. We also made restitution to those Japanese-Americans who were still surviving.

One reason for setting up these camps was a fear that Japanese-Americans would aid the Japanese during World War II. Since we were fighting Japan, people worried that the loyalty of the Japanese-Americans would be with Japan and not with the United States. It turned out that this fear was unfounded because no Japanese-Americans were convicted of aiding Japan during World War II.

Another reason for setting up these camps was that many Americans resented the economic success of the Japanese-Americans. There were fears that the Japanese-Americans were taking jobs and economic opportunities away from the American people. World War II gave people an opportunity to remove the Japanese-Americans from the economic picture. This would create more opportunities for Americans. Americans could take over the jobs the Japanese-Americans were doing and run the businesses the Japanese-Americans were operating. Many times this economic fear was used to cover up the anti-immigrant feelings many Americans had toward the Japanese, especially for those Americans who lived near the west coast.

The United States government formally apologized to the Japanese-Americans in 1988. Each surviving Japanese-American was offered $20,000 as a form of restitution for our government's actions during World War II.

thetall eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Internment of Japanese Americans was caused by a number of factors which include as mentioned by Pohnpei397:

  • Racism
  • War Hysteria
  • Fear and suspicion

There was profound racism against the American Japanese both from the society and some government policies. White farmers in the West Coast were highly prejudicial against their Japanese counterparts and the attack on Pearl Harbor offered them an opportunity to condemn and take away the farms owned by people of Japanese origin. Such groups instigated and fully supported the internment camps to enable them reach their objectives.

The government considered sabotage and espionage as activities that led to the success of the attack. People of Japanese decent were collectively viewed as supporters of the attack considering the first generation of Japanese settlers were not American citizens and owed allegiance to their mother country.

War hysteria led to growing fear propagated by provocative journalism among the society in general. This led to increasing pressure on the government to detain people of Japanese decent regardless of their existent or nonexistent role in the attack.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The internment of people of Japanese descent in America during WWII was caused by two things.

First, it was caused by a very understandable fear for the security of the country.  Japan had managed to pull off the attack on Pearl Harbor, which no one had thought was possible.  The idea that they might attack the West Coast while the US military was still weak was not absurd.

Second, it was caused by racism.  There was still a strong strand of racism in American society at this time.  For example, Asians were not allowed to become naturalized citizens, which is why the Issei were not citizens.  This racism led Americans to be willing to intern all people of Japanese descent without trying to determine individual guilt or innocence.