From 19 February, 1942, until 2 January, 1945, at least 110,000 men, women, and children, 62% of them American citizens, were forcibly removed from their homes, farms, and jobs and relocated in primitive camps like Manzanar.
No charges were brought or proven against any of them. The Supreme Court did eventually rule the incarceration illegal, but not until the case of Ex Parte Endo on December 18, 1944. It is an irony of the current political situation in America that it took a liberal Democratic President, Franklin Roosevelt, to commit the crime and, 46 years later, a conservative Republican President, Ronald Reagan, to apologize for it and issue reparations.
Like most judicial crimes in American history, this one was committed haphazardly. In Hawaii with its 30% Japanese population, only a handful of suspects were detained. The frenzy in California came as much from economic motives as anything—farmers and merchants denouncing competitors, real estate speculators scooping up entire communities like Palos Verdes in Los Angeles County.
There was little of the viciousness uncovered in 1945 by victorious American troops at places like Dachau and across the Pacific, but conditions were never better than harsh. And it is an irony of the war that these camps—along with Native American reservations and African-American and Latino ghettoes—produced some of the most valorous and highly decorated soldiers for a country that had failed them so miserably.
Anyway, this is what an ethnic round-up looks like in America. If there is a quiet dignity about the place today, it’s a testament to the loyalty, humility, and perseverance of the incarcerees. Those qualities make all the current bluster we’re hearing just a little tinier and more pathetic than it already is.