Gaman : The Trials and Tribulations of the Japanese-American Internment
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Pearl Harbor has been marked as the day of infamy ever since President Franklin D. Roosevelt's speech following Japan's attack. However, the day not only marked the beginning of the United States' involvement in the Second World War, but the beginning of a dark period in U.S. history which led to the internment of Japanese-Americans. As race and prejudice overcame logic, reasoning, and the value of fact, Japanese-Americans experienced a wide range of responses to the attack, from complete hatred of anyone of Japanese descent to the vocal opposition of the internment. These responses led to the United States illegally imprisoning approximately 127,000 innocent Japanese-Americans throughout the western states of the U.S., which included Washington, Oregon, California, and part of Arizona. The Japanese-American internment is an especially important topic to study because it demonstrates what can go wrong in times of fear and uncertainty. It reminds us that even a country like the United States that prides itself on being the supposed leader in civil rights makes mistakes and wrong choices. It demonstrates how any situation that creates fear can change the public's perception immediately. This is inherently obvious even in the present day, as following September 11th, many in the United States created perceptions of Muslims and people from the Middle-East based on racial and prejudicial thoughts. These events provide evidence that guilt by association is wrong, and we cannot alienate an entire community based on the actions of a few. Unfortunately, because most of the focus is on Japanese-Americans from California, the experiences of people outside California, primarily in Washington and Oregon, aren't as commonly heard. The author focuses on three communities in the Pacific Northwest. These communities are Bainbridge Island, WA, the Seattle metropolitan area, and Hood River, OR. The idea is to look at these three communities and compare how their thoughts about Japanese-Americans changed before, during, and after World War II. How did they receive Japanese people when they first immigrated into their society? What did people think of Japanese- Americans before Pearl Harbor and how did that change after? How did they perceive the internment? And what was their reaction to the end of the internment and the return of Japanese-Americans to their communities? The social experiences of Japanese-Americans, in each of these regions before the attack on Pearl Harbor were indicative of how they would be treated following the attack on Pearl Harbor, throughout the internment and upon their return home. In addition, the media played a significant role in how people treated the Japanese-Americans. Primary sources include political and military documents such as General John L. DeWitt's final report from the Western Defense Command and the Munson Report, which looked at causes for Japanese-American internment, have been used. They provided specifics on logistical information and statistics, as well as insights into what the leaders had in mind before and during the Japanese-American internment. The author spent the summer conducting seven interviews with Japanese-American internment survivors from the Pacific Northwest in order to apply an anthropological approach. The purpose of an anthropological methodology is to provide human and personal aspects to an event, "...a concept of culture that includes attitudes and values ... the construction of reality." This research attempts to move the Japanese-American internment from just an event that happened to a relatable and personal issue. The goal is to show that the Japanese-Americans, a significant portion of the United States population, were treated unfairly and improperly for illogical reasons. It is to show the depths of how this event affected the lives of those who were involved and help give faces, names, and people to specific real situations that are often forgotten in history. In order to apply the anthropological approach the author used an oral history methodology. The purpose of an oral history is to provide concrete and factual information to discuss the experiences of those in the Japanese-American internment. These oral histories provided the content to have a greater understanding of not only what they experienced, but what they thought and how they dealt with the situations they came across.