Enemies in the Pacific Northwest, Part IV (World War II)

Uploaded by mohaiprograms on 12.02.2010

Enemies Within The Pacific Northwest
Internment and Incarceration of Western Washington Residents of Japanese Descent in 1942, with
Tom Ikeda, Executive Director of Densho. ________________________________________________________________________
(The following podcast has been produced by the Museum of History and Industry in partnership
with Jack Straw Productions.)
LORRAINE MCCONAGHY: Today I have the pleasure of speaking with Tom Ikeda, founder and Executive
Director of the Densho Project, at densho.org. Good morning, Tom.
TOM IKEDA: Hi, Lorraine.
LM: Let’s talk about the internment of people of Japanese descent here on Puget Sound during
World War II.
TI: I like to break it up into two distinct government actions. The first government action
was in the hours and days following the bombing of Pearl Harbor when the FBI went through
the community and picked up thousands of Japanese men, primarily the leaders of our community.
And these were men who oftentimes had ties to Japan, even though they were long-time
residents. The FBI went through the communities, picked up several thousand, and in the process
also picked up thousands of Italians and Germans. And technically this is what we call the internment.
All these men, the Japanese, the Italians and Germans, were given hearings at places
like the immigration center, and then based on those hearings many of them were then interned
in Department of Justice camps. The second government action is when about 110,000 Japanese-Americans
were removed from their homes and put into concentration camps throughout the inland
parts of the United States.
LM: What is your own perspective on why the American people were willing to ignore the
constitutional rights, the appropriate civil liberties for people who looked like the enemy?
TI: First, we have to understand that people were afraid. The country was at war. There
was some uncertainty as to what would happen in terms of the outcome of the war, and you
had the military saying it was a military necessity, the military claiming that they
had intelligence reports that said Japanese-Americans - there might be spies and saboteurs within
the community. And so with that context I think most Americans said, “Okay, so this
sounds reasonable.” And decades later, and this happened in the 1980s, historians were
able to get access to those intelligence reports and what they found was the exact opposite—that
the key intelligence people were saying that Japanese-Americans were loyal and could be
trusted. J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI, Lieutenant Commander Ringle of the Naval Intelligence,
who were the most knowledgeable, saying, “The Army intelligence is wrong. Japanese-Americans
can be trusted.” So this all came out after the fact of these government actions. And
so Congress held hearings and formed a commission and their findings were that, indeed there
was no military necessity, that Japanese-Americans could be trusted; there was no evidence of
spying or sabotage. And the factors that they identified were that it was the fear of the
times, it was the stereotypes that were prevalent during that time in terms of how people perceived
Japanese, and then it was the failure of politicians and our leaders to come out and be more forceful
to stop this action.
LM: Tom, I wonder if you would talk with me a little bit about the role that the American
media and American popular culture took in the few months after Pearl Harbor that led
the way toward what you call the Second Wave.
TI: When you look during that time, one of the active cartoonists was Dr. Seuss. He did
political cartoons about Hitler, Mussolini that showed them as threatening individuals.
But when it came to the Japanese, rather than identifying individuals, he portrayed the
Japanese as these hordes, both in Japan and in the United States, as serving the cause.
And that is what people were seeing during these months following the bombing of Pearl
LM: And do you think that those images affected the perception of Americans and paved the
way for Executive Order 9066?
TI: Very much so, because again, we think about that second government action—it only
impacted Japanese-Americans, not Italian-Americans or German-Americans. And so the conclusion
I have is it was a racial decision more than based on fact or evidence. Here you had over
110,000 Japanese-Americans and there was no evidence of any wrongdoing, and yet they were
removed and incarcerated without any trials, hearings or anything. There was even no attempt
by the government to prove any wrongdoing. There’s a sense, as an American citizen,
that you are innocent until proven guilty. In this case, that was taken away.
(Continue the discussion on domestic threats and the protection of American civil liberties
with MOHAI’s other podcasts produced in conjunction with the exhibit, The Enemy Within:
Terror in America 1776 to Today, at MOHAI through May 2nd. Visit seattlehistory.org,
for more information.)