Explain the rationale behind the internment of Japanese- Americans during World War II.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Japanese internment during World War II has to be considered a sad chapter in American History. Even the most zealous defender of American History would find the internment of elderly Japanese- American citizens a very dark instance in the historical dialectic.

With the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the American war machine went into full overdrive. The response to Pearl Harbor was an immediate immersion into war against the Axis powers.  The national mood of the time was zealous in its support of American troops.  It was equally zealous against members of the Axis powers.  There was a particular disdain towards the Japanese for their actions in bombing Pearl Harbor.  The combination of appeasing the domestic fervor of war and for what he termed as national security issues, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 which paved the way for the internment of Japanese and Japanese- American citizens and others. The order demanded that "any and all persons may be excluded" and can be imposed through leadership's "discretion."  With that order, "exclusion zones" were established and the internment camp was born.  Over 110,000 people were interned.  People of Japanese ancestry, regardless of citizenship status, were taken to these camps to be "excluded."  

In trying to ascertain the reasons why internment was pursued, one reason would be fear and paranoia.  The American public was convinced that the "kamikaze" nature of the Japanese soldier ensured that they would stop at nothing to obtain their end result of American defeat.  The perception was that they would utilize Japanese people living in America as part of their "plan." Part of this motivation stemmed from the Niihau incident, in which a Japanese pilot crash landed his plan on the island was received sanctuary and hospitality from Hawaiian people.  Another motivation was the incessant fear that the Japanese could "try something" against the United States.  Many in the public and in the government believed that internment would guarantee national security.  In this fear, the "exclusion" of people who leadership deemed as "the other" were identified, targeted, and essentially imprisoned.

Another motivation behind internment was its display of power.  The government sought ways to display its strength after Pearl Harbor exposed weakness through surprise.  Going to war with a fervent and massive mobilization showed strength.  Internment demonstrated another aspect of this strength.  In being able to round up families and relocate them with swiftness and a sense of purpose, the American public and authorities became convinced of their own power.  Certainly, the Japanese in America and the Japanese- Americans were convinced.  The power with which internment happened showed that disloyalty and even a hint of betrayal would not be tolerated in the war effort.  

The isolation of those deemed as "the other" proved that America was not going to be subverted again in its attempt to fight threats to democracy around the world.  The use of terms such as "loyalty oaths," "isolation centers," and "segregation centers" helped to demonstrate the lengths to which Americans and their government would go to demonstrate its commitment to democracy.  It is in this sad and contradictory light that the reasons behind internment go very far in explaining a dark moment in American History.

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eli468 | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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The internment of Japanese-Americans was initially due to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It caused Americans to believe that anyone of an Asian culture living in the United States must have/might have been a spy and traitor. It didn't help that a majority of the Japanese lived on the West Coast. They did it as a "defense" to "protect their country." That was their main reasoning. They didn't feel as if they could trust anyone of an Asian background and therefore put them into secured internment camps and caused even more racism and cruelty towards Asians during and after they were released from camps.

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