In 2010 my family moved to South Central Idaho. Shortly after we moved here we added two new regular pilgrimages to our routine of celebrating summer and Independence Day. Near our home is one of United States’s scenic wonders and brightest spots, Shoshone Falls. Its beauty and power never cease to amaze or inspire me. Just a few miles farther down the road are the remains of one of the United States darkest spots of shame, the remains of the Minidoka Japanese Internment camp.
When I was a child my parents taught me that I lived in the “Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave,” they taught me to be patriotic, and to love my country. But they also taught me that being patriotic and loving my country includes acknowledging our wrongs and never forgetting those whose freedom that we have taken away.
The entrance to the Minidoka Internment camp, also called the Hunt Internment camp is about a 25 minute drive from my home. This internment Camp is just one of the sites where United States Citizens of Japanese descent living on the West Coast, were imprisoned during World War II. The given reason is that they might spy for or aid the enemy, but as no effort was made to mass round up people of German or Italian descent it is painfully obvious that racism was the real reason for their imprinsonment. I will not attempt to tell the story or the history of the internment here. Many historians, people who lived through it, and other experts all ready have done that far better then I can. To get started I might recommend the National Park Service Website for the Minidoka camp. Here is the national archives site. The Musical “Allegiance” has been made about the internment, Activist/actor George Takei has been very involved with this project. All I want to do here is share a few historic photos and some pictures taken by myself and my father, with a song and maybe a little commentary on how this relates to current events shared at the end.
Before sharing the photos I wish to make one observation. Most everyone knows the famous quote by George Santayana “Those who cannot learn from history are Doomed to repeat it”. I am afraid that we are starting to repeat it. The lesson that we should have learned from our internment of loyal American citizens is that every American should be guaranteed their full civil rights all of the time. BUT we have not learned the lesson. Signs once said, “No Japs” or “No Chinese” or “No Blacks”. Now the signs say “No Gays”, AND THIS HATE and EXCLUSION is LEGAL! Some even want LGBTI people to be rounded up into camps. And hate filed public officials en masse are refusing to serve LGBTI people or are resigning to avoid doing their jobs and serving them.
Below is the text of Executive Order 9066, that allowed for the rounding up and excluding of Japanese Americans. I pray that we Americans that we will learn the lessons of history and never exclude any of our fellow human beings ever again.
Executive Order No. 9066
Authorizing the Secretary of War to Prescribe Military Areas
Whereas the successful prosecution of the war requires every possible protection against espionage and against sabotage to national-defense material, national-defense premises, and national-defense utilities as defined in Section 4, Act of April 20, 1918, 40 Stat. 533, as amended by the Act of November 30, 1940, 54 Stat. 1220, and the Act of August 21, 1941, 55 Stat. 655 (U.S.C., Title 50, Sec. 104);
Now, therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me as President of the United States, and Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, I hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of War, and the Military Commanders whom he may from time to time designate, whenever he or any designated Commander deems such action necessary or desirable, to prescribe military areas in such places and of such extent as he or the appropriate Military Commander may determine, from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion. The Secretary of War is hereby authorized to provide for residents of any such area who are excluded therefrom, such transportation, food, shelter, and other accommodations as may be necessary, in the judgment of the Secretary of War or the said Military Commander, and until other arrangements are made, to accomplish the purpose of this order. The designation of military areas in any region or locality shall supersede designations of prohibited and restricted areas by the Attorney General under the Proclamations of December 7 and 8, 1941, and shall supersede the responsibility and authority of the Attorney General under the said Proclamations in respect of such prohibited and restricted areas.
I hereby further authorize and direct the Secretary of War and the said Military Commanders to take such other steps as he or the appropriate Military Commander may deem advisable to enforce compliance with the restrictions applicable to each Military area herein above authorized to be designated, including the use of Federal troops and other Federal Agencies, with authority to accept assistance of state and local agencies.
I hereby further authorize and direct all Executive Departments, independent establishments and other Federal Agencies, to assist the Secretary of War or the said Military Commanders in carrying out this Executive Order, including the furnishing of medical aid, hospitalization, food, clothing, transportation, use of land, shelter, and other supplies, equipment, utilities, facilities, and services.
This order shall not be construed as modifying or limiting in any way the authority heretofore granted under Executive Order No. 8972, dated December 12, 1941, nor shall it be construed as limiting or modifying the duty and responsibility of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with respect to the investigation of alleged acts of sabotage or the duty and responsibility of the Attorney General and the Department of Justice under the Proclamations of December 7 and 8, 1941, prescribing regulations for the conduct and control of alien enemies, except as such duty and responsibility is superseded by the designation of military areas hereunder.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
The White House,
February 19, 1942.
The next several photos show families that have been “processed” and have been “tagged” and are waiting to ship out in rail-cars
I will share modern photos of the living quarters below. The barracks were about the width of a “Single Wide” Mobile Home and not quite twice as long. As many as 16 families were put into each unit.
Our guide told us that the dust and mud were so bad that showers were almost pointless. For people for whom cleanliness and dignity were very important, this was a big thing. Our guide also told us that in the winter the internees would wait for the ground to freeze before showering so that they would at least stay somewhat clean.
The Minidoka Camp had a swimming hole and seven baseball diamonds, they tried to make prison life as normal as possible.
Those internees who would sign a loyalty oath could leave the camps to work BUT they had to return each night, they could only legally earn as much as an Army Private no matter how skilled they were, and they faced much prejudice.
The following account from a Japanese laborer was far to typical of what was encountered in Southern Idaho during the war:
We visited the town of Rupert one evening to purchase some of our personal items, and we met with so much prejudice we never returned again. We were so disappointed that so many of the store fronts had signs, “Japs Keep Out.” (Cassia County, Idaho: The Foundation Years p. 195).
THAT DAMNED FENCE
(anonymous poem circulated at the Post on Camp)
They’ve sunk the posts deep into the ground
They’ve strung out wires all the way around.
With machine gun nests just over there,
And sentries and soldiers everywhere.
We’re trapped like rats in a wired cage,
To fret and fume with impotent rage;
Yonder whispers the lure of the night,
But that DAMNED FENCE assails our sight.
We seek the softness of the midnight air,
But that DAMNED FENCE in the floodlight glare
Awakens unrest in our nocturnal quest,
And mockingly laughs with vicious jest.
With nowhere to go and nothing to do,
We feel terrible, lonesome, and blue:
That DAMNED FENCE is driving us crazy,
Destroying our youth and making us lazy.
Imprisoned in here for a long, long time,
We know we’re punished–though we’ve committed no crime,
Our thoughts are gloomy and enthusiasm damp,
To be locked up in a concentration camp.
Loyalty we know, and patriotism we feel,
To sacrifice our utmost was our ideal,
To fight for our country, and die, perhaps;
But we’re here because we happen to be Japs.
We all love life, and our country best,
Our misfortune to be here in the west,
To keep us penned behind that DAMNED FENCE,
Is someone’s notion of NATIONAL DEFENCE!
Even though their freedom had been taken away from them the Japanese internees were still expected to support the USA by having their men who were of age enlist in the army. According to our guide, when the war ended and “Honor Rolls” first began to be produced, the names of the Japanese American soldiers were left off. Eventually the soldiers from the various camps got their “Honor Rolls”
Some Historic shots of the Residential units.
The Internees worked hard to make the camps their homes. When the war ended some wanted to stay. They were again forced out. The land was subdivided and WW II veterans were awarded lots to give them the land for farms. WW II veterans of Japanese decent, whose families lived in the camps, were excluded from these drawings.