A Brief History
On February 24, 1942, the government passed a law under the “War Measures Act” allowing the government to relocate and intern citizens of Japanese origin. The government that enacted this law was the Canadian federal government! The sorry history of the United States treating its own Japanese citizens in such a hysterical and racist manner is far more well documented and familiar to Americans, and little attention is paid to the fact our genial neighbors to the North did the same thing.
On February 24, 1983, the United States Congress Special Commission passed a resolution condemning the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, over 40 years late for an apology! The US internment had taken place from February 19, 1942 (Executive Order 9066) and lasted until March 20, 1945. The “relocated” Japanese Americans were forced to quit their jobs and sell their property, usually at enormous loss and move with only those items they could carry. Sent to hastily constructed camps with armed guards and barbed wire, it was as if these innocent Americans were prisoners. (They were.) The West Coast of the United States was stripped of Japanese Americans, but curiously in Hawaii where Japanese Americans made up a third of the population, only about 10% were interned.
President Carter ordered an investigation into this shameful chapter of American History, and in 1988 President Reagan signed into law the Civil Liberties Act that apologized to the Japanese Americans interned and authorized a $20,000 payment (reparations) to each person surviving that had been interned. Of course, this paltry amount did not come close to making up for the ruined lives the internment had caused. Various investigations into the internment policy found that differences of opinion existed among government employees and advisers, and that those reports and opinions against internment were covered up.
It is often pointed out that Italian and German Americans were not interned, although we were at war with those countries during World War II, but in fact small numbers of German and Italian Americans were interned, sometimes in the same camps as the Japanese Americans!
After Canada followed the American lead and interned Japanese Canadians under the Defence of Canada Regulations, the Canadian government seized the property of the internees, justifying this grab by claiming the sale of this property would fund the government relocation program. While the American “relocation” or “internment” camps have been characterized as actually being concentration camps, the Canadians did without the pretext and sent Japanese Canadians to prisoner of war camps, including stables, barnyards, and unheated shacks. The Canadian atrocity did not end until 1949 when full voting and citizenship rights were finally restored to Japanese Canadians. Mass deportation to Japan was mandated for many Japanese Canadians after the War! Intense discrimination and restrictive laws also followed the War.
In 1988, the Canadian government, facing the same sort of activism that prompted US apologies and reparations, issued an apology and a payment of $21,000 to each surviving internee.
Today, with hindsight, the rough treatment of Japanese Americans and Japanese Canadians seems harsh and racially motivated, and had no substantial evidence of being necessary other than hysteria. Question for students (and subscribers): Is the current situation with Muslim Americans and Muslim Canadians likewise a case of hysteria and racial hatred over-ruling logic and facts? Please feel free to give us your opinion about the World War II internment of Japanese in Canada and the US, and whether or not such action (to a greater or lesser extent) should be taken to regulate Muslims in the US and Canada in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Inada, Lawson Fusao, Patricia Wakida, et al. Only What We Could Carry: The Japanese American Internment Experience. Heyday, 2014.
Reeves, Richard. Infamy: The Shocking Story of the Japanese American Internment in World War II. Picador, 2016.