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Introduction To Executive Order No. 9066--Duke Tanaka and the Japanese Internment Camps

By Jack Goddard

Milestones Vol 33 No. 1

There are many humorous things in the world, among them the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.

There was no poetry in campunless you can say
mud is poetryunless you can say
dust is poetryunless you can say
blood is poetryunless you can say
cruelty is poetryunless you can say
injustice is poetryunless you can say
imprisonment is poetry!

Duke Tanaka


Let's suppose that you are a United States citizen and a high school sports star earning a full ride to a major university. Or, perhaps you just married the girl of your dreams and bought that cute little house with the white picket fence around it, ready to pursue that "American Dream." Maybe you're chatting to your teen about the "birds and the bees" for the first time. Or, imagine that the nest is finally empty and you are ready to sit back, relax, maybe travel a little.

Then comes the attack on Pearl Harbor during the early misty hours of Sunday morning December 7, 1941.

Suddenly, there is a rap on the door and two non-smiling dudes from the FBI rain on your parade. After trashing your house, they instruct you to keep an eye out for Executive Order No. 9066 a day or two later for further instructions. You read it on a telephone pole telling you to report to a central place. It was rush-rush. Mr. Duke Tanaka said, "We couldn't take anything with us except some basic bedding (no mattresses), linen, extra clothing, silverware, plates, bowls, cups, essential personal items and toilet articles." No family pets were allowed. Many children saw their pet given away or disappear to be destroyed.

Of course, one could not have a personal vehicle. That had to be given away or junked. It was reported that one woman couldn't take her vast amount of expensive wedding dishes with her so, rather than sell them for a pittance, smashed them all. The value of the property lost by Japanese Americans will probably never be known. It's been estimated that the value was probably 10 to 15 billion dollars.

Most lost everything. That is the basis of at least one fairly recent novel called Snow Falling On Cedars by David Guterson. The Pen/Faulkner Award winning book is a good and interesting read. Mr. Tanaka volunteered that his family managed to sell their large three-story home for $3,200.00. But, not every Japanese family was that lucky. Most lost everything they had-never to see it again.

After arriving to where you were told to go, your government puts you and your frightened family on a train. "It was very fearful," Mr. Tanaka described. "We didn't know where we were going. They had boards covering the windows, and, for good measure, blindfolded us." I'm sure some had kept up with the goings-on in Europe and tearfully realized what was happening to Jewish folks after they took a train ride.

This, without any doubt, was the most difficult story I've ever written. It smacks of deep racial prejudice and overtones for starters. As a matter of fact, a commission appointed by President Jimmy Carter agreed. A study in the 1980s, came to the conclusion that, "Race, war hysteria, a failure of political leadership and widespread ignorance contributed to this policy." It must have been s-o-o-o traumatic.

It is horrendous being betrayed by the authority figures you may have helped put into office in the first place, just because you had the wrong genes. The mere thought of being herded like sheep behind barbed wire is beyond belief. Gazing up at the clouds and seeing armed guards had to be terrifying.

The "American Dream" had become the "American Nightmare."

The Japanese Americans, demonstrating that they were loyal, and patriotic, walked quietly into the camps. It is what they found that was so revolting. Mr. Duke Tanaka, a New Sewickley resident, remembers first going to the Tandoran Assembly, in San Bruno, California. It was far from being ready for human habitation.

"We were put in newly emptied horse stalls. They even had manure in them. We could bring only sheets so we laid them on the straw. Those were our seats and beds." Duke and his family were eventually transferred to Camp Topaz in the middle of Utah. Mr. Tanaka pinpointed it as "being in Twin Falls County." His secret?! "I kept very busy. They made me recreation director for 10,000 prisoners. That helped," he laughed.

The Camp's "apartments" were very low key. To begin with, they had no running water. Others didn't have electricity for days. The heating system (if any) varied and the only furniture was army-style cots. Many managed to get wood scraps after a while and make more furniture. Today's generation calls it a crisis if the power goes out and they miss their favorite television program. Not being able to chomp down on the fast food item of their choice would be another disaster. Perhaps the saddest part was that it was supposed to be for their own safety. Drunks with clubs would target Japanese. There would be signs such as "$500 Reward, Japs, Dead or Alive".

The launch of what has been labeled, "The worst mistake in United States military history" was the infamous Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941. Within two weeks, politicians and other "citizens" were calling for the harsh internment of Japanese Americans. The 20 year old Tanaka was born here. Thus, he was of the Nisei Generation which also made him as much a citizen as FDR himself. But, it didn't matter, he too was looking up at those bright flood lights.

Let's rewind a bit. Following the attack, Congress put tremendous pressure on Roosevelt. Several accused him of "coddling Japs" while others called for all Japanese to be deported. Most all agreed that something had to be done. The music industry came out with "We've gotta trap and slap that dirty little Jap."

FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, of course, personally got into the fiasco. Only he wanted Yankee star Joe DiMaggio to be sent back to Italy first before dealing with the "Japs." The "Yankee Clipper" was baseball's darling at the time and had just set his 56 game hitting streak. (This writer thinks J.Edgar was ticked off because of all the publicity Joe got that summer.) Although he wasn't able to deport Joe, he did manage to freeze his bank account and harass him.

The media was great at fueling the flames too. Most publications, insensitive to the core, called the Japanese "Japs"; "Yellow Vermin"; "Nips"; and/or "Mad Dogs." And, they weren't the Globe or National Enquirer either.
Two days after the attack, the well-known syndicated columnist Westbrook Pegler even went so far as to suggest, "We should set up camps and select 100 victims and kill them for each hostile action involving Japan." I was disappointed to discover in Roger Daniels' very informative Prisoners Without Trial that newscaster Edward R. Murrow had this to say at a Seattle function. He said, "I think that if Seattle does get bombed you will be able to look up and see University of Washington sweaters on the Japanese boys doing the bombing." He apparently believed the rumors that downed pilots at Pearl Harbor were wearing Stanford, UCLA or Notre Dame Class rings.

Then a popular newsman, Walter Lippmann, apparently dealt the death blow. On February 12, 1942, he wrote, "It is a fact that the Japanese Navy has been reconnoitering constantly off the west coast." That opened the gates, and FDR, one week later, on February 19, with the stroke of a pen, sent 120,000 Japanese Americans to barbed-wire fortresses.

Mr. Tanaka, looking at the ground, emphasized, "We were there four and a half years." After the war, it was confirmed that Lippmann was wrong too since German vessels were closer, some even on the east coast, than any Japanese ship during all of February 1942.

Mr. Tanaka, meanwhile, was keeping busy. "I taught weight lifting, basketball, and judo. I learned judo when I was about five years old." He was also granted special permission to send for his 100 phonograph record set so he could teach ballroom dancing three nights a week.

As one might surmise reading his resume, Duke excelled in Japanese high school sports. "We were required to attend that after regular school. My aunt was my teacher," he winked "and I must admit I took advantage of that to skip a little." But, the lean athlete did show up to race in the low and high hurdles. "I pole vaulted some too" he added. When the snow did "fall on cedars," he played basketball.

Meanwhile, back at the camp, as bad as it seems, there were some positive things. The most important was the fact that new American citizens born there numbered 5,918, far exceeding the 1,862 who died of natural causes. Plus, those that yearned to teach, could do so now. Can you imagine the uproar if a Japanese American taught little Johnny or Gerri in the early forties? Teens could now be student body leaders. Kids could play sports, even be captains of various teams. Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops and leaders were born.

For reasons unknown, "WASPS" have always believed they are superior to people of color, be it brown, red, black or yellow. Just the idea of tossing a group, who were quiet and kept to themselves, behind a fence, is shocking to me. The fact that two thirds were citizens like Mr. Tanaka is appalling.
The cordial and hospitable octogenarian also vividly recalls that, "we ate in mess halls" that in itself had to be a monotonous setting for monotonous food. "They fed us pork fat but no meat, cabbage, rice and Vienna sausages." He laughed and continued, "I can't even look at one now!" Officials set a limit of 38.7 cents per day for each inmate-and, that was for all three meals. Many prisoners, as soon as possible, managed to put in a small garden supplementing this dreaded diet.

"Our toilet facilities" the ever smiling Duke stated "were outhouses. They were infested with deadly scorpions and spiders. Whew, they were downright dangerous. Prisoners Without Trial even points out that the toilet and bathing facilities were minimal in all camps. They were unsanitary to say the least, and reportedly even fell far short of the Army's own standards of cleanliness. One woman wrote that, "The toilets are one straight board with holes about a foot apart with no partitions at all. The younger girls wouldn't go to them, at first, until they couldn't stand it any longer, which was very bad for them."

Army experts noted that kitchens didn't meet their standards either. Dishwashing was not effective due to there being no running hot water. Hospitals had no cribs for babies and older children.

This writer will always remember the war frenzy as I was growing up in North Sewickley. The News-Tribune always printed those black silhouettes of Japanese aircraft day after day. Several bakeries used them as stickers for store-bought bread. Milk bottle caps were made with these images on them. Also, I watched my mother and older brother frantically put sheets over the windows so the Zeroes wouldn't dive-bomb us. I was a mere tot but still could never see the Japanese taking a chance to come clear across our country to bomb our factories. Besides, Germany was closer and they worried me more.

Although 120,000 Japanese were held at first, the number slowly dropped. The decline began in 1942 when four grants were issued: 1. Students going to college; 2. Agricultural workers; 3. Linguists; and 4. Those who wanted to return on a Swedish liner to "The Land of the Rising Sun."
Camp population dropped to 107,000 in 1943 and fell to 93,000 in 1944. The January 1, 1945 total was 80,000. There were still 58,000 confined in late August of that year-and, the war was over! All camps but one finally closed down by December 1945. Tule Lake, California, saw its last inmate walk out of that remote prison in March, 1946.

The nightmare was over!

Japanese Americans may not have realized it but they remained under a cloud for 35 years. President Gerald R. Ford finally terminated Executive Order 9066 in 1976. Personally, I think it takes a lot of gall to ask men, watching their elders go through this, to fight. They did though. And, did they ever. A total of 65,000 young men volunteered for the military service. How ironic.

They formed the 100/442nd Regimental Combat Team. The joke, over time, comes through louder and clearer. The bureaucrats had their best fighters locked up. Pardon my chuckle, but this unit became the most decorated of the war. They, to their credit, had 560 Silver Star winners, 52 Distinguished Service Cross recipients and won seven Presidential Unit citations.
A proud Mr. Tanaka closed, "they were tough, do you know they won more Commendation War Medals than were presented in all previous wars." He then let out a big heavy sigh, "I had bad eyes so I couldn't go in."

Historical Encyclopedia of World War II. French translation.
Prelude to Downfall. Saul Friedlander, Germany.
Prisoners Without Trial. Roger Daniels
Snow Falling on Cedars. David Guterson.
The Catcher was a Spy (Chisox Moe Berg) Nicholas Davidoff.
The Day Man Lost. Pacific War Research Society. (Japan)
Trading With The Enemy. Charles Higham.
World War II Super Facts. Don McCombs, Fred L. Worth.