Conflicting Attitudes of Japanese-American Detainees during World War II

Having discussed my “discovery” of the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, as well as a brief history and mention of my pilgrimage to the Manzanar internment camp, I now want to consider conflicting attitudes of Japanese-American detainees.

(Note: Documents referenced below are part of what used to be called the Barnhart Catalog of Japanese Evacuation and Resettlement Documents at UC-Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, a repository for a large number of primary documents from the period. I originally reviewed these physical documents back in 1989; some I have been able to find online, where linked below. Others I could not find due to reorganization of the files prior to digitization.)

Screen cap of Tanforan detention center newspaper published by detainees and available at

Under the pressure of evacuation and detention, two distinct attitudes toward the government relocation program developed. On the one hand, there were those who advocated cooperation with the government. They tended to side with the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), a Nisei organization which came to be the liaison between the government and Japanese detainees.

Not all detainees, however, felt they owed the government their cooperation nor, for some, their allegiance. Resentment toward the evacuation and detention of US citizens and loyal resident aliens was central to this view of the situation. Many, though not all, who held this view were vehemently opposed to the JACL, its beliefs and its followers.

Pro-JACL Detainees

The Pro-JACL detainees recognized the injustice which they had suffered, but were always more concerned with the image that Japanese-Americans portrayed to the American public. They felt resistance or lack of cooperation would be a black mark on the record of Japanese in America and would be seen by whites as justification of the evacuation and detention. Clarence Nishizu, detained at Heart Mountain, Wyoming, argued that to “pave the way for the rest who are in the center, it is the responsibility of the Nisei to create the most favorable impression upon the public” (Opinions of Evacuees, BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder M4.00, p. 19).

Another Nisei reflected, “Since things Japanese did were unpopular. the Nisei went out whole hog for things American. They became 200% flag waving ‘Americans'” (Michio Kunitani, Tanforan Politics, BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder B8.29, p. 15).

Screen cap of Kunitani’s “Tanforan Politics” from

These detainees always sought to prove their loyalty to the United States: in being detained, they were just doing their part in the war effort. One high school junior expressed this attitude very clearly and concisely: “Many men have given their lives for their country since December 7. They gave their all for their native land. Let us drop our ill feelings and take on this life in camp as our duty in this war as loyal Americans. ” Several essays written in class at Tanforan (detention center) High School express the feeling toward the relocation (see My Role in Relocation,┬áBANC MSS 67/14 c, folder B 8.32, Barnhart Catalog).

The Pro-JACL detainees looked forward to reintegration (and even assimilation) into society after the war ended, and wanted to be able to fall back on their cooperation during the war to ease that process.

Anti-JACL Detainees

The Anti-JACL detainees resented the hypocrisy of a supposedly democratic government that would detain its citizens without due process of law. One Nisei wrote in a letter to friends, “After being taught and educated that freedom of expression and movement is something worth while . . . , it is extremely difficult to accept cooping up as if it were [the] inevitable hand of fate [that] had thrust us here, and that we should meekly accept that as such” They resented being asked to prove their loyalty to America: “the whole thing and the attitude of the people outside toward us (prisoners of war) gripes me. What the hell. They take us out of our paths of life and put us in a rat-hole like this and expect us to be contented. Who do they think we are anyway?” (Correspondence from Tanforan Assembly Center,┬áBANC MSS 67/14 c, folder B 12.50, Barnhart Catalog).

And they resented the life in the relocation centers: “Minidoka [Relocation Center in Hunt, Idaho] is a lonely place, spiritually bleak, devoid of hope and warmth. It is surrounded by barbed wire, and watch towers punctuate the horizon . The only gate is guarded by military police. No one enters or leaves without credentials” (R.M. Hosokawa. A Phi Beta Kappa Nisei Speaks, BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder 8.50.

Screen cap of Hosokawa’s “A Pi Beta Kappa Nisei Speaks” from

For most of the detention, the Pro-JACL attitude was dominant, and the centers were without significant disturbances. The prevailing attitude was one of cooperation. All along, there existed underground organization s coordinated by Anti-JACL detainees. But, for the most part, they were unable to mount any significant collective resistance to the centers’ administrations.

Not only did they contend with the Pro-JACL factions for ideological and material support, but they were also up against a wartime state organization, the War Relocation Authority, that had the full coercive force of the US Army to back it up. (The WRA was a civilian agency established to administer the relocation and detention centers by Executive Order No. 9102, March 18, 1942, see Appendix C in Myer, Uprooted Americans, p. 309, for the full text of the order.)

Screen cap of correspondence from Tanforan detention center from

Add to that the barrage of pro-American propaganda leveled upon the detainees (reading the essays and school newspapers of the high school students is remarkable evidence of this type of ideological indoctrination) and clearly the formation of a resistance movement would seem unlikely.

During the detention, however, the US government instituted a policy which was the spark needed to ignite the fire of latent antipathy among the detainees. In my next post I turn to that “critical incident” and the collective resistance unleashed.

Child’s letter written after arrival at Tanforan detention center in San Bruno, California, screen cap from document at

Discovering Japanese-American World War II Internment Camps

I don’t know when I first became aware of the forced removal and internment of Japanese-Americans from the West Coast of the United States during World War II. But I remember learning alot more about it for a paper I wrote back in 1989 when I was an undergrad at UC-Berkeley.

The Bancroft Library at Berkeley is a repository for a large number of primary documents that are part of what used to be called the Barnhart Catalog of Japanese Evacuation and Resettlement Documents. I will never forget sitting in the library going through box after box of letters, memos, diaries, essays, speeches, high school newspapers, and other ephemera of people living their everyday lives under extraordinary circumstances. I was transported back to a time I hardly knew existed in the United States.

Screen cap of The materials I examined were from the Japanese Evacuation and Resettlement Study (JERS) and the War Relocation Authority (WRA). JERS was conducted by social scientists from UC-Berkeley from the time of the early evacuation until after the closing of the last relocation center.

My paternal grandparents were Nisei, second generation Japanese-Americans, born in Hawaii. So my father is Sansei, also born and raised in Hawaii. He was 11 years old when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Because there was such a large population, there was no mass incarceration of Japanese-Americans in Hawaii at the time. So none of my immediate family were interned.

But thanks to the National Archives’ Database of Japanese American Evacuees, I was able to search for last name “Yamane” among the 109,384 evacuees listed. The search yields 179 results, including some from the San Francisco Bay Area, where I was raised.

To produce the screen cap above, I added the search term “Tanforan.” When I was growing up in the Bay Area in the 1970s and 80s, Tanforan was a shopping center in the city of San Bruno. Before that, however, it was a horse race track. And, as I came to learn in my studies, it was used as an “assembly center” — a temporary jail pending the construction of the permanent internment camps.

“View of barracks at Tanforan Assembly Center, California, June 16, 1942.,” Densho Encyclopedia

Even though I learned alot about the internment through my class paper, I still had alot to learn. In the summer of 1991, I worked with my father or a few weeks in Wyoming, around Worland. I remember driving along one of Wyoming’s many sparsely populated highways one day, seeing a mailbox, and noticing the name on the mailbox was Japanese. It wasn’t until we passed 2 or 3 more such mailboxes that I made the connection to the Heart Mountain Internment Camp, which was outside of Cody, Wyoming.

“Young girl near guard tower, May 31, 1944, Heart Mountain concentration camp, Wyoming.,” Densho Encyclopedia

Obviously the reality of these camps is an important part of American history, but I also think of them as part of my personal history. It is only because they lived in Hawaii rather than California that my father and his family were not rounded up and imprisoned.

In addition to posting more about the history of the internment, I am also going to create a landing page and individual entries for the camps and centers that I have already visited and will visit in the future. Stay tuned.


US News Rankings of Graduate Programs in Sociology

We’re number 1, we’re number 1!!!!! I got an email to this effect from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s sociology department upon the release of the latest ranking of graduate programs by US News.

Of course I checked it out right away and was interested to see my undergraduate alma mater — UC-Berkeley — was also ranked #1. We’re #1 too, we’re #1 too. Actually, there was a 3 way tie with Princeton joining the two “Public Ivys” at the top with equal ratings of 4.7 out of 5.

I also can’t help but note that, despite the excessive emphasis on “high status” publications (American Sociological Review, American Journal of Sociology, and if you must go to the second tier then perhaps Social Forces) that forced me to leave back in 2004, the University of Notre Dame sociology department continues to languish in the 40s. I wonder if someone there is preparing an alternative ranking based on faculty publication rates as I type, as they have done in the past.

Although the pleading did make me uncomfortable while I was at Notre Dame, I can feel their pain since they are working so hard to be accepted in the upper echelons of the status hierarchy of the profession. (My intro soc students coincidentally read just this week an excerpt from Murray Milner’s Freaks, Geeks, and Cool Kids about status hiearchies among teenagers.)

To be sure, the methodology of the US News rankings is problematic. Key informants rating graduate programs on a scale of 1 to 5. I distinctly recall sitting in the office of one of the UW-Madison faculty who was sent the US News ranking form to complete. He was filling the form out as I sat there and kept saying, “I don’t know anyone there. I don’t know anyone there.” What place that is any good would not have people he knows!?
I guess in the end, even though it’s flawed, as long as it keeps UW-Madison on top, I’m good with it.