The Internment [ Page 1 | Page 2 ]
After Pearl Harbor an estimated 120,000 Japanese immigrants and their children were moved from the west coast to inland internment camps. This wholesale relocation was authorized by President Franklin Roosevelt in Executive Order 9066.
Those of Japanese descent were excluded from all of California, the western halves of Washington and Oregon, and the southern portion of Arizona. The War Relocation Authority housed most of the evacuees in ten Relocation Centers away from the coastline. Ben Kuroki visited three of the centers: Heart Mountain in Wyoming, Minidoka in Idaho and Topaz in Utah. The seven others were Rohwer and Jerome in Arkansas, Amache in Colorado, Manzanar and Tule Lake in California, Poston and Gila River in Arizona.
The Nisei infantry
The 442 Regimental Combat Team was U.S. infantry unit created in 1943 from volunteers from the internment camps After the Pearl Harbor attack the Nisei were classified as 4C, undraftable enemy aliens. In the meantime two Hawaiian national guard units that included Japanese Americans remained intact and were moved to the mainland as there was concern the unit might be disloyal if the Japanese invaded Hawaii. In training, the unit became the 100th Infantry Battalion and did well enough that the ruling against Japanese Americans serving in the military was lifted and volunteers were taken from the internment camps. Together, the Nisei form Hawaii and the mainland made up the 442nd RCT.
The 100th Batallion was the first to see action in Italy in Fall 1943. In early 1944 the unit suffered heavy casualties during the Battle of Cassino and needed replacements.
The 442nd RCT and the Draft
The call for Nisei volunteers for the 442nd was successful in Hawaii, but poorly received in the camps. 10,000 Hawaiians volunteered but only 3,000 were taken. Only 1,200 volunteered from the camps although the government had hoped to get 3,000. In January 1944 the draft was instituted for the internees. 800 were ultimately inducted. But the draft triggered anger in the camps.
Jack Tono, who was of draft age in 1944 said in a 2004 interview, “We lost everything and then they want us to go and fight for democracy, that’s a bunch of bull. So we just said to hell with it.” In the Heart Mountain camp Tono was one of 63 men sent to prison for resisting the draft. The resisters were part of a group call the Fair Play Committee (not to be confused with the Committee on American Principles and Fair Play that pushed for Ben Kuroki’s speech at the Commonwealth Club) that had formed in Heart Mountain over the issue.
While most Nisei who were drafted served their country when called, historians have called into question the logic of the draft. Roger Daniels states simply, “it was stupid.” For more on the resisters, see www.pbs.org/itvs/conscience/.
Attitudes in the camps and the resisters
When Ben Kuroki was sent to visit the Heart Mountain, Minidoka and Topaz camps he was not given any specific orders as to what he was to do. But he felt that as a Nisei he had to fight in combat to help prove the loyalty of all Nisei. Kuroki’s family was not interned, he spoke with a Nebraskan accent, and he was an officer in the Air Corps, which was off limits for all other Nisei. So for many in the camps he was seen as an anomaly, even a hakujin, or a white person.
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