Evidence of Influence: Internment and the A-Bomb

Japanese Internment

Suspicions of the enemy within domestic borders were on the rise even before American involvement in the war began, but only in the form of precautionary measures. Government efforts, led by Army Commander of the Pacific coast General John L. DeWitt, at first suggested restricting certain coastal zones from a majority of citizens, not just Japanese aliens and citizens. However, Pearl Harbor changed everything. The sheer panic and surprise stemming from the attack in Hawaii launched America into a wartime frenzy, accelerating suspicions of the Japanese and Japanese-Americans that constituted a highly concentrated proportion of the population on the Pacific coast.

Japanese Americans in Route to Internment Camp
Japanese-Americans leaving for relocation camps, still waving the American flag.

This hysteria can maybe explain why false reports were taken so seriously and used as cause for relocation and internment of the Japanese peoples who lived on American soil. A letter written by the Secretary of War to Attorney General Francis Biddle revealed that the Japanese were extremely active in intercepting American vessels in the Pacific, inciting a great cause for concern, when “actually there had been no Japanese submarine or surface vessels anywhere near the west coast during the preceding month, and careful investigation subsequently indicated that all claims of hostile shore-to-ship and ship-to-shore communications lacked any foundation whatsoever” (Conn). The Roberts Commission, which investigated the Pearl Harbor attack “concluded that there had been widespread espionage in Hawaii before Pearl Harbor, both by Japanese consular agents and by Japanese residents of Oahu who had no open relations with the Japanese foreign service,” when in reality the residents of Oahu had no proven ties (Conn). The use of false reports exposes the hysteria in which America looked for any reason to incarcerate a possible enemy.

General John L. DeWitt
General John L. DeWitt

General DeWitt, originally against internment of enemy aliens and citizens, began to report that non-Japanese citizens on the Pacific Coast brought “pressure on the government to move all the Japanese out” (Conn). All peoples of Japanese descent in America were at risk for this discrimination, because “Navy commanders wanted to exclude not only enemy aliens but also all American-born Japanese who could not show “actual severance of all allegiance to the Japanese Government,””(Conn). Eventually, President Roosevelt was convinced this action was necessary and signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19th, 1942, ordering the relocation of Japanese-Americans to internment camps.

127,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans would be relocated and interned at ten camps across seven states, subject to poor food and living conditions and the uncertainty of the status of the lives they left behind. Two-thirds of those interned were born on American soil, and many had never even been to Japan. Even Japanese-American veterans of World War I were among those interned. (US History)

Internment of the Japanese is one of the most extreme wartime measures America has ever utilized on its home front; the sheer size of the populations forced into relocation reveal mass paranoia that was caused by the terror of Pearl Harbor, an event that would infiltrate One could also argue that a simple Donald Duck cartoon convinced Americans that the Japanese were hiding in American bushes, ready to attack. American public opinion and leave a scar that would never completely heal for this American generation.

Below is a timeline for internment, provided by Calisphere:

December 7, 1941 Japan bombs Pearl Harbor.
December 8, 1941 United States and Britain declare war on Japan.
February 19, 1942 President Roosevelt signs Executive Order 9066. This order leads to the assembly and incarceration of over 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry on the west coast.
March 1942 The United States creates the War Relocation Authority (WRA) to assume jurisdiction over the Japanese and Japanese Americans evacuated from California, Oregon, and Washington.
April 1942 Japanese Americans sent to 10 remote relocation centers scattered across the Western United States.
December 1944 President Roosevelt rescinds Executive Order 9066. The WRA begins a six-month process of releasing internees and shutting down the camps.
August 6, 1945 United States drops first atomic bomb, on Hiroshima, Japan.
August 9, 1945 United States drops second atomic bomb, on Nagasaki, Japan.
August 14, 1945 Japan agrees to unconditional surrender.
September 2, 1945 Japan signs the surrender agreement.
June 1952 Congress passes the McCarran Walter Act, granting Japanese aliens the right to become naturalized US citizens.
1976 President Gerald R. Ford officially rescinds Executive Order 9066.
1981 Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (set up by Congress) holds hearings across the country and concludes that internment was a “grave injustice” and that Executive Order 9066 resulted from “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”
August 1988 President Reagan signs the Civil Liberties Act, apologizing to the Japanese American internees and offering $20,000 to survivors of the camps.
January 1998 Fred Korematsu receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom. (Korematsu was arrested for remaining in his home and not reporting to the local Assembly Center. He was convicted of violating E.O. 9066. The judgment was later overturned.)

If you are interested in learning more about the experiences of the internment camps, click here.


The Atomic Bomb

atomic bomb

On August 6, 1945, the Enola Gay B-29 Superfortress bomber dropped a bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima that would change warfare forever. The Atomic bomb would soon launch the world into a Cold War, with the fear of nuclear obliteration consuming many aspects of life. “Little Boy,” and later the “Fat Man” bomb dropped on Nagasaki, leveled an entire city, killing hundreds of thousands either directly or through other effects such as radiation. The Atomic bomb is credited with ending the Pacific War and therefore bringing World War II to a complete close after the defeat of Germany earlier in the year. However, controversy over the necessity of its use has occupied conversation into the present.

The Pacific War was extremely bloody, with high casualties on both sides and an end nowhere in sight. The hate between the two militaries, as seen in the videos provided in the introduction and reflected by media, ran high and increased the degree of violence. The government was planning a full-scale island attack to hopefully end the war, which projected approximately one million American casualties. In the mean time, the Manhattan Project was coming to completion; the Atomic bomb was ready to be tested. Once the test concluded successfully, Truman approved the bomb’s use as a means to force the Japanese government into surrender. The reasons to use the bomb can generally be summed up into two motives: to end the war as quickly as possibly while minimizing American casualties and to flex the muscles of American ability to the Soviets. Either way, an America that was full of hatred for the Japanese, the savage enemy, could not argue that saving as many American lives as possible was not a good enough reason to use the bomb.

Controversy over the use of the bomb has survived well into the twenty-first century. Many question why the United States needed to unleash nuclear power and send the world into its first nuclear age, a time of children hiding under desks and gas masks flying off of store shelves. Some cite the advanced devastation that steamrolled the two cities as savage and unnecessary. It would be incorrect to say that all Americans approved of the Atomic bomb’s use in Japan.

However, the initial reaction to the bomb revealed a sweeping majority in approval. A Gallup poll taken in August 16, 1945 showed that “85 percent of those Americans surveyed approved the atomic bombings while only 10 percent disapproved and 5 percent had no opinion,” (Yavenditti 25). Another poll revealed, “fully 76.2 percent of those surveyed either approved the atomic bombings without reservations or actually desired that more atomic bombs had been dropped on Japan,” (25). The relief that came with the end of a bloody, worldwide war far surpassed any question of how it came to an end. There was also a general indifference to the result of the bombings, because “for Americans with bitter memories of such events as the Pearl Harbor attack and the Bataan Death March, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were appropriate vengeance for Japan’s alleged deceptions and atrocities,” (26). Hate still existed after the surrender was signed; the images of the Japanese rats and men who took American women had not yet left the minds of Americans.

There were, of course, other reasons for this initial lack of sympathy. For one, the atomic bomb was “an understandable pride in the extraordinary cooperative achievement of American science, industry, and government [that] also helped minimize objections to the atomic bombings,” (26). Americans also lived comfortably with the fact that “the United States still enjoyed a monopoly on the weapon, [so] Americans had no immediate fear of atomic attack,” (30). The fact of American ignorance could also be argued as a cause for apathy towards the use of the Atomic bomb, because the facts of the devastation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were relatively unknown to the public so quite some time.

The game changer to this apathy was John Hersey’s Hiroshima, which told the story of the Hiroshima experience from a victim viewpoint. For quite some time after it’s publication, it seemed to be all anyone could discuss because finally Americans learned the true devastation wrought about by their own government’s foreign policy decision. “For perhaps the first time since Pearl Harbor thousands of Americans confronted Japanese who were ordinary human beings and who manifested few of the stereotype Japanese warrior traits of fanaticism and sadism,” (37). Hersey’s publication acted as a breakthrough for sentiment towards Japan.

The old saying says, “Time heals all wounds,” which can be applied here. American hatred for the Japanese was bound to fade away at some level. However, “even though popular wartime images of the Japanese were softening slowly, the lessening hostility produced little American soul-searching about the atomic bombings,” (31). For most Americans the Atomic bomb, despite whatever grave images and testimonies provided by survivors presented, would forever be justified in the fact that not only did it ensure American victory, but it saved the United States from engaging in an island invasion that was seen by most as a death trap. This motive is seen in LIFE Magazine’s September 17th issue of 1945 that contains an article on the bomb that is simply titled “What Ended the War.”

Screen Shot 2014-12-06 at 4.53.35 PM

An earlier issue of LIFE that was published on August 20th of the same year contains an article titled, “The Atom Bomb and the Future of War.” The apathy is present here, because it in no way focuses on the effect the bomb had on the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Rather, it analyzes the power of the bomb and how it will change warfare. A short film released by the War Department in 1946 shows the devastation the bomb caused to the buildings, with a very small testimony from a white Catholic priest the physical effects the bomb had on humans. Besides this, the video completely ignores human devastation and instead describes the workings of the bomb and how it affected inanimate objects. The video even goes so far as to suggest that Nagasaki’s residential areas were completely protecting by hills. You can watch that video here. With the exception of Hiroshima, the general reaction to the effect of the bombs can be described as lethargic.

Wartime hatred for the Japanese certainly had a huge effect on post-Atomic bomb apathy. Just as Americans were concerned with winning the war as they laughed at Bugs Bunny handing out bombs to Japanese soldiers on television, they became more concerned with what the atomic bomb meant for the United States once it was used instead of how it affected the Japanese. Donald Duck and Bugs Bunny may just be cartoons, and newspaper ads depicting the Japanese as the flying monkeys from Wizard of Oz may just be references to pop culture, but they left an astounding mark on the opinion of an American generation that would persist for decades.

Here is President Truman’s statement after the use of the Atomic bomb, the “harnessing of the basic power of the universe.”

Truman Press Release ABomb




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