History repeats?

In a time filled with anti-immigration sentiment and perceived threat, how important it is to remember another similar time in our recent history.  On February 9, 2015-12-16 14.46.401942, President Roosevelt singed an order to incarcerate everyone in the U.S. of Japanese ancestry.  Less than 2 months after Pearl Harbor.

President Obama has resisted temptation to act more aggressively after the recent attacks, and hopefully, he will also remember the lessons of history, to remain strong.  As they say, “act in haste,…”

Officer training program at Yale, 1942.  Photo by Samuel Kravitt.

Officer training program at Yale, 1942. Photo by Samuel Kravitt.



The Sterling Library at Yale has a small but powerful exhibit of ephemera from Japanese and Japanese-Americans who were interned during the war.  The materials tell the story, often with Yale-related interludes, of the evacuation to the assembly centers, launching points to the war relocation centers, and then the imprisonment for the rest of the war.

One student left Yale for the camps.

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Propaganda pieces were produced to keep anti-Japanese sentiment high.

Look at how the Japanese faces are portrayed in this fact sheet produced by the American Council on Race Relations for use by the media. Talk about playing one type off another.  Yikes!

According to the label, the fact sheet also included “pro-Japanese American testimonials.”  Perhaps this was meant to be a balanced perspective?


Not every white American supported the move, just as today, many plead for tolerance toward Muslims, to not blame peaceful, U.S. citizens for what extremists do.

Eugene V. Rostow, a Yale law professor, wrote “Our Worst Wartime Mistake” for Harper’s Magazine in 1945.  He suggested that incarceration had frightening legal implications broader than the immediate.

Caleb Foote produced this pamphlet in 1943, with photographs by Dorothea Lange.  You can see her style at work, really instantly recognizable.

Foote himself was imprisoned as a Quaker violating the Selective Service Act.



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And this pamphlet from the American Baptist Home Mission Society pretested internment, while also offering services in the camps.  Remember these materials were saved by people who had been interned, so it must have held deep meaning.

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Second generation Nisei were shown as productive Americans in pamphlets like this one.





Life in the camps, as remembered by children and adults, was hard work and rough living conditions (after all, the camps were thrown together in a matter of weeks from derelict out buildings).  Internees also showed an admirable resilience and adaptation.  Older adults started gardens in the dry soil.  Children went to school and played pranks, just like anywhere.  How about these boys aiming spitballs at a bobby-soxer girl?  Pretty all-American, eh?

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I love this drawing.  Note the blonde girl seated second to the left.  Apparently, children of those who worked at the camps attended school with the Japanese.  Some of the teachers were conscientious objectors and lived in the camps, too, which I had not heard before. This drawing was made in 1944 and lived on in a scrapbook.  It shows the 4th grade Citizenship class.  All part of the Americanization agenda.

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Nancy Karakane wrote and illustrated an essay in 1943 called “Into the Desert,” which tells the story of Masako’s relocation to Poston.  She gives her white best friend a ‘white trinity cord,’ her most precious possession.  Nancy’s scrapbook went to the Junior Red Cross near the camp, “as a gesture of friendship and understanding.”  From the mouths of babes.



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The entrance sign for the library.  Moments of beauty in bleakness.  The below shows the reality.  Armed guards in towers, hand drawn in a scrapbook.

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Chalres Erubu “Suiko” Mikami, watercolor of Topaz Valley, UT.   Mikami taught at the Topaz Art School.

Sketch of the barracks. by W. Ogino, 1943

Sketch of the barracks. by W. Ogino, 1943

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Not all the Japanese thought alike about the war, their imprisonment, and their choices.  The new musical “Allegiance” on Broadway addresses some of these political differences and their repercussions.

On December 6, 1942, a protest in the camp at Mazanar turned into a riot in response to a beating of Fred Tayalma by a rival faction member in the camp.  One year after Pearl Harbor, the media caught the story, and you can see how incendiary the headline was.

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Some were finally allowed to fight for the U.S. in the war, beginning in 1944.  26,000 Japanese Americans served, men and women in the Women’s Army Corps.






Published April, 1974

Published April, 1974

Finally, the exhibit shows the process of the release.  A pamphlet called “When You Leave the Relocation Center” was handed out, along with $3 a day for meals while in transit.  The pamphlet, produced by the War Relocation Authority, provided help on employment, going to school, returning home, and living as ‘aliens’ under ongoing wartime regulations.

In this pamphlet 30 years after the war, the term “concentration camp” is used.  During the 1970s, Manzanar was one camp that received pilgrimages from internees and their descendants.  A powerful book about these experiences is “A Farewell to Manzanar” by Jim Houston, a writing teacher I had about 20 years ago, and his wife Jeanne, who was interned.


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Ansel Adams, Mazanar



A Christmas card in watercolor sent from Poston camp.

3 thoughts on “History repeats?

  1. This is so touching. I am reading the book about the family camp where mothers a children could be with their husbands which was in Chrystal city, Texas near the Mexican border. it housed German, Italian and Japanese families. I had not re alized there was one in Texas. Had you?

  2. I have been wondering about this lately. So sad for those families. It worries me that most Americans probably don’t remember/realize this happened in our country.

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