Eugene Cho

day of remembrance – japanese internment camps

Slipped my mind but February 19 marks “A Day of Remembrance” and numerous cities around the country are hosting events throughout this week and next. From the Densho website:

In 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “The principle on which this country was founded and by which it has always been governed is that Americanism is a matter of mind and heart; Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race or ancestry.”

A year earlier, however, Roosevelt had authorized incarcerating more than 110,000 innocent people based on their ancestry, in what he called “concentration camps.” Although two-thirds were U.S. citizens, they were targeted because of their ancestry and the way they looked. How could this happen?

In 1941 the United States entered World War II after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Without evidence, key U.S. leaders claimed that all people of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast of the U.S. posed a risk to national security. Justifying it as a “military necessity,” the government forced U.S. citizens and their immigrant elders to leave their homes and live in camps under armed guard.

In 1983, however, a U.S. congressional commission uncovered evidence from the 1940s proving that there had been no military necessity for the unequal, unjust treatment of Japanese Americans during WWII. The commission reported that the causes of the incarceration were rooted in ” … race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership.”


The pic above is an internment survivor who shared her story at Quest during our Faith & Race class several years ago.  The stories were all very powerful.  How did this ever happen?  And what can we do to ensure that this will not happen can stop happening to Muslims and Arabs in our contemporary context?  Another good resource:  PBS Documentary – Children of the Camps.

[h/t Enscriptchun and Reappropriate] Also, Barack Obama released a statement:

CHICAGO, IL – Senator Barack Obama today released the following Day of Remembrance statement to commemorate the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

“This is a day of remembrance not just for Japanese Americans, but for all Americans.  The internment of Japanese Americans during World War II was one of the darkest moments in our nation’s history – a moment when fear led us to compromise our most fundamental rights.

Today, as we once again weigh the demands of security and liberty, let’s remember that it’s in times like these – times of great national challenge – when our ideals of justice and equality are tested most, and when it’s most important that we uphold them.

These are ideals that Japanese Americans have always upheld with dignity, and these are ideals that I will uphold each and every day as President of the United States.

Filed under: politics, , ,

23 Responses

  1. Billy Kangas says:

    Hey there,
    I noticed your post on Jesus Creed about coffees you enjoyed so I came over here to see what you were up to. I’m always looking for people with interests in God and in Coffee.

    I work primarily in the church, but I moonlight at a coffee shop or two and have a pretty healthy obsession with the black stuff. I’m curious as to how you get your coffee.

    I write about coffee at
    I write about God at

    I’d be really interested in what you’d have to say on both!
    -Billy Kangas

  2. j says:

    tried so hard not to blog on your site but, for this i had to share my thoughts with you and rest of the blog community.

    All countries have made mistakes in the past. German government formally apologized and are still trying to make financial settlement with victims of Nazi terror. US fomally apologized as well as financial settlement. Whether the financial settlement is big or small, these countries have sought to seek for forgiveness. Whether to forgive and move on is each individual’s right.

    What is being done by Japanese government for the astrocity that they have caused during WWII. Starting with Nanking massacre to sexual slavery of Chines, Koreans, Philippinos….Japanese government has yet to formally accept responsibility nor even recognize these events. In fact, they are altering the history that is written in school text books.

    The day of rememberance should not just be used to reflect on Japanese – American’s but rather also remember the victims of social, political victims of WWII caused by Japan.

  3. me says:

    here’s a little more info on the story of “comfort women”:

  4. Matt EHH says:

    I appreciate J’s bringing up the Japanese facism during the war. I am half Japanese by blood and a fourth generation American by nationality, so I have some personal ties to the discussion.

    Though for me, its painful and shameful to recognize the Japanese Empire’s brutal aggression in Asia in and leading up to the war, the truth needs to be explicit to honor the victims and for the healing and redemption of both the oppressor and the oppressed.

    I think the context of the remembering the incarceration camps can be misleading though to link the Emperial Army’s crimes. The US removed and held its own citizens, who were designated as threats solely because of their race. The consequences of that decision are still being felt in the Japanese American community today. The “level” of suffering in a forced relocation compared to the Rape of Nanking may not be equal (or even close), but the distinction should remain. To link them together, makes the story about a race of people and not the powers of fear, facism, and racism which really are the enemy.

    Let the truth of the Japanese army be told, but we should not let the weight of that story overwhelm the American narrative as well.

  5. me says:

    “Let the truth of the Japanese army be told, but we should not let the weight of that story overwhelm the American narrative as well.”


  6. j says:


    Thanks for your point and well noted. I can see where some Asian Americans & Americans would want to ensure this tragedy remains distinct. And I can appreciate the fact that US government is trying to ensure this tragic history does not repeat. I have no issues there.

    However, each brother and sisters are accountable for one another. Meaning, Japanese and Japnese Americans are accountable for one another. It was the very brothers of Japanese Americans who were in APAC victimizing the helpless. And it is their offsprings that are now, trying to erase the meories of the tragedy. However, what are Japanese Americans doing to teach the correct historical refernece to this. At the very least, when the VT shooting happend, Korean and Korean Americans have embraced the fact that this was a tragedy caused by a Korean…regardless of what citizenship the shooter held. And yet, Japanese trys to delete the hostory and Japanese Americans really have no voice nor expression on what has happend in APAC during WWII….and yet, seeking for venue to speak about their harsh reality of internment camp, while my sisters, mothers, grandmothers, were suffering in the hands of the relatives of Japanese Amercians…sorry, no sympathy coming from this blogger.

  7. chenster22 says:

    when i was growing up i heard the hatred my grandparents had for the japanese. they were in china when japan was starting it’s occupation. i harbored a deep hatred and bitterness for japanese people growing up. i even did a senior final report on the nanjing massacres.

    when i came to college, i made (and still am friends with) many amazing japanese friends. it hurt me that my anger and bitterness was still buried deep beneath me, but i couldn’t separate what they did during wwii with the great friends i had here. it wasn’t until i did some research on the internment camps and learning about how not one japanese was found to be a “spy” or in collaboration with the imperial japanese. that immediately opened my eyes to the two different cultures and differences and how general and unfair for me to put my hatred and blame towards the japanese people that lived here.

    i believe in accountability, and i know it’d be hard for me to accept that my country did terrible things, even if it wasn’t my generation. i think there shouldn’t be a “level” or “comparison” between the wwii atrocities and the internment camps. people who were affected through both instances were affected deeply and painfully, and that can’t be taken away from both parties. of course my own personal bias, i just feel plain angry when i think about the wwii atrocities, i can’t deny the pain and suffering the japanese americans suffered during the internments.

    the bitterness and anger i still hold is towards the mainland japanese government. they’ve tweaked and altered their history books, blaming america for starting the war with japan and denying nanjing, and all the war atrocities that they’ve committed. i believe VERY STRONGLY that a wave of healing and forgiveness can begin if they just freaking acknowledge it. if only they were less cowardly.

  8. zoku says:

    Matt, well put.

    I think the 2 incidents are separate and to link them together is unfair. Linking them together also would take away the seriousness of each of these incidents. To do so would take away the power remembering each of these events has. When we begin to integrate and combine things together, each separate thing begins to blur and impact of each individual thing lessens. A phrase that the Bainbridge Island group has used with respect to the internment is “Nidoto Nai Yoni” – Let us never forget. Let us never forget what has happened in the past so that we will never repeat it again in the future.

    I guess many would say that Japanese Americans and Japanese people should be accountable for one another and their actions However, I don’t believe that’s right. If we want to bring it to that level, how about we link all white people in this country and in this world to the slavery of Blacks in American prior to 1861. Should white people today in the United States, and for the matter that “j” points out, all white people, be responsible for the actions of those 150 years ago? I don’t think they should and it’s not fair.

    It should be important to remember however, that Executive Order 9066 was a racist act. It was not written specifically for the Japanese, but it was only applied and carried out upon them.

    “I hereby authorized and direct the Secretary of War, and the Military Commanders whom he may from time to time designate, whenever he or any designated Commander deem 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 restriction the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion.” ~FDR, EO 9066

    In order to make it a constitutional “act” it could not target a specific racial group, which in itself is okay. However the issue lies in the fact that it only was applied to people of Japanese ancestry, including American citizens. If this government really wanted to prevent any potential enemies or “threats”, then they should have also carried out this order against the Germans and Italians in this country. But oh wait, that’s not possible since they made up a large population of this country. What would this country have said if Joe DiMaggio would have been placed behind barbed wire as well? You can’t have one of American’s greatest sports heroes in prison because of race right?

    The bigger issue here is the gross breach of civil liberties this country has ever committed and remembering that is what’s important, especially since this country always prides itself on it’s freedom.

    ~i probably could have just blogged this but ya….

  9. gar says:

    “Let the truth of the Japanese army be told, but we should not let the weight of that story overwhelm the American narrative as well.”

    x2 word from here too.

    Definitely key to both tragedies is a continuing education of what actually happened. When I lived in Japan, it’s pretty shocking how many Japanese (especially the younger generation) have no idea of the truth of the Japanese military’s atrocities in Asia, especially Korea and China. I believe a lot of the blame needs to be placed on many members of Japanese government, especially the LDP – conservative members of that political party have engaged in the active whitewashing of history (such as censored textbooks) and denials.

    Here in the US, I believe we as a country have made more progress in recognizing the tragedy of the Japanese American Internment, but there’s still plenty left to do. After all, you have folks who argue even today (*cough* Malkin *cough*) that grossly violating people’s civil rights is OK if that happen to belong a certain racial group. Even on the reappropriate blog, in the comment section, there’s a pro-internment commenter arguing that the JA Internment was OK and even necessary, and that Japanese Americans shouldn’t complain because Imperial Japan or Nazi Germany was worst. Is the bar for the USA really so low?

    Anyways, I’m still hoping and praying nothing like the internment happens in my lifetime – not to Muslims, not to Latinos, not to anybody…

  10. j says:

    Asian Americans label themselves as Chines Americans, Japanese Americans, Korean Americans…can some explain to me WHY. Is it possible that they are proud of the blood that runs in each individuals body? Is it possible that most see the importance of their heritage and not to forget? Many Asians after 4 generations of living in US, why do they call themselves as Japanese American or Chinese American? Because, within them, they STILL do have emotional ties with their mother land, generation after generation. When something goes right in China or Japan, most are quick to strengthen their footing and emphasize on the fact that they are Chinese, Japanese or Korean. However, if something goes wrong in their homeland, than they are quick to emphasize their status as Americans.

    Comments by Zoku “all white people should be accountable for 150 years ago?”…Yes, white america is being held accountable. And is still. Why, because as of result of actions 150 years ago, there are still social injustice and segragation. Whether it is social or economical, there are still social injustice.

    Regardless of how you lable yourself, Chinese American, Japanese American, Korean American…at the end of the day you are still Chinese, Japanese or Korean. Or else take the label out and call yourself an AMERICAN. Than, you would have no connections with your mother’s mother land and therefore, you will not be held accountable for the actions of your mother’s mother land. As long as you put other ancestry in front of AMRERICANS, you are making yourself the dinstinction from rest of the Americans and the history will repeat itself. We are Asian Americans!

  11. zoku says:

    I guess I should have made my statement more clear in the fact that I was referring to all the white people on the earth. So should every single white person on this plant be held accountable? I’m not sure if white america is really being held accountable for their actions. If they were, why do the same issues and charges of racism keep coming up? It’s not necessarily happening today explicitly but there are many incidents of subtle racism that keeps being perpetuated by the institution, so nothing is happening.

    As for the why Asian Americans “label” themselves the way they do, it comes down to this: When you ask anyone to describe an American, and in particular, what “race” is an American, the response is White. To be an American means you have to be white. Asians, Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans are not seen as American. This is not a hypothesis but a fact. People of color are not considered and/or seen as American. So for Asian Americans, including the “label”: Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, etc, it’s a marker of your identity. It identifies who you are. If you take away that “label” and just call yourself an American, your basically stripping yourself of your identity. You aren’t really seen as just an American and if you call yourself just American, many people start to question why you’re doing that. You end up stripping everything away and you’re left with nothing.

    Asian Americans should be proud of their culture and of the heritage. I’m not sure if all Asian Americans would necessarily tie their culture to the motherland. I think that it tends to differ depending on someone’s generation. Many Chinese and Japanese are 3rd, 4th and 5th generation. Koreans tend to be 1st and 2nd generation with greater ties to Korea. It’s important to remember that Japanese Americans have virtually assimilated in the US due to the internment camps. In order to prove their loyalty to the US, they gave up many aspects of their culture to show those who doubted, that they were 110% American. Basically this assimilation was forced upon Japanese Americans because people doubted their loyalty. Just like how many people turned against the Muslim community after 9/11 and the cycle continues once again.

    Nidoto Nai Yoni…

  12. j says:

    i think Japanese American being assimilated in to US due to internment camp is an extreme hypothetical hypothesis. Using the experience of internment camp and due to that experience as being the catalyst for all Japanese American having assimilated is flawed.

    Isn’t it possible that Japanese Americans, more prevelant, in wanting to assimilate based on their age of belief that a nail that sticks out will be hammered. The consensus is more important than individualism in Japanese belief. So therefore, instead of wanting to stick to their culture and stick out like a sore thumb, they chose to assimilate by giving up their heritage. The success of assimilation is not just based on how many generation that has lived in US but whether each individual’s belief. And isn’t it possible that some culture of asian ancestry has extreme sensitivity of keeping their heritage alive rather than embracing american culture for it’s entirety?

    Concerning comments of you having to be white to be a true American, what age are you living in. In few years, whites will be the minority in America. Demographic is shifting where “color” folks becomes the majority. In California, this has happened already. White America is being held accountable for but the result has been very disappointing to say the least. Racism continues to plague America because each individual let’s it happened. It’s is each individual’s responsibility to fight it. However, the reason question is WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO FIGHT RACISM.

    Being proud of your heritage of Japanese American, Chinese American, Korean American means you are proud of the synergy between two cultures. That means you are appreciating what your mother’s homeland has become as well as accepting the fact that you are in America and call yourself Japanese American, Chinese American, Korean American. That means you are socially accountable for what takes place in both worlds and do your part.

    It is a tragic what has happened to JA, which lead in to internment camps. Whether that was the cause of assimilation or not, that is subjective. However, what Japanese has done during WWII is not subjective. It is fact. It is apparent that Japan has yet to correct the wrongs, as US has been attempting to due as well as Germans are. The question is do JA care…if they care about their heritage, which means they care about themselves as having Japanese blood in them, what are they doing to voice their opions like Chinese Americans or Korean Americans are doing. JA should not just focus and what has caused them the heartache through the assimilation process in to US, but a greater voice needs to be heard. While your mother and father was in interment camp, your uncles were creating bigger astrocity else where in this small world. While you are speaking of the experience in internment camp, you should also teach what your uncles were doing as well, the whole truth..instead of being silent and sticking only to your own suffering.

  13. bolim says:

    Stimulating conversation. Much to think about.

    Let’s remember that there were JAs who did volunteer and fight on behalf of the US forces (understandably in Europe but not by their choosing) in WWII. I have a JA student whose grandfather fought for the US during WWII while his very own brother was fighting for the Japanese against the US. It’s a shame that some were willing to die for their country and their own country sent their friends and family to internment camps.

  14. gar says:

    >i think Japanese American being assimilated in to US due to internment camp is an >extreme hypothetical hypothesis. Using the experience of internment camp and due to >that experience as being the catalyst for all Japanese American having assimilated is >flawed.

    >Isn’t it possible that Japanese Americans, more prevelant, in wanting to assimilate >based on their age of belief that a nail that sticks out will be hammered. The consensus >is more important than individualism in Japanese belief.

    So you’re saying that because the Japanese were so Japanese (the culture need to not stand out and want to assimilate) made Japanese Americans become more Americanized? Seems like a self-contradictory argument to me with some broad assumptions.

    If the forefathers of Japanese Americans were so anxious to “not stand out”, why did they even take the risk of leaving Japan for the US in the first place?

    I don’t think it’s that flawed to say that the internment experience is a trauma with lasting effects on terms of how Japanese Americans have assimilated more readily than other Asian American groups. The US government took an entire generation of people because of their ethnic background and basically put them in a prison-like environment, all while making their very conscious of the fact that because they were JAPANESE they were being deprived of their rights and imprisoned.

    They were removed from their businesses, their churches, their schools, and later – deprived of even their husbands, fathers, and sons. Children were forced to live in those camps, and children were also born in those camps. I have Japanese American friends who have told me stories how even after the camps, their grandparents were forbidden to speak Japanese by their parents for fear of being seen as Japanese rather than American and how many families, for fear of being seen as Japanese spies, destroyed any possession that was culturally Japanese – literature books, magazines, letters, records, clothing, dolls, food, etc.

    When a group of people are forced to strip themselves of their social institutions, their language, and artifacts, how can you NOT help by lose your culture?

  15. gar says:

    Oops, that last sentence should read:

    When a group of people are forced to strip themselves of their social institutions, their language, and artifacts, how can you NOT help but lose your culture?

  16. me says:


    you wrote: “Regardless of how you lable yourself, Chinese American, Japanese American, Korean American…at the end of the day you are still Chinese, Japanese or Korean. Or else take the label out and call yourself an AMERICAN. Than, you would have no connections with your mother’s mother land and therefore, you will not be held accountable for the actions of your mother’s mother land. As long as you put other ancestry in front of AMRERICANS, you are making yourself the dinstinction from rest of the Americans and the history will repeat itself. We are Asian Americans!

    honestly, i have no idea what you’re trying to say.

    so, if we have dual identities, we are responsible? so, if someone is arab-american, they are partly responsible or perceived as responsible for 9/11?

  17. j says:

    1) We should stop labeling ourselves JA, KA, CA…..but rather should just call ourselves Americans and label ourselves Americans. With these labels, we are segregating ourselves in to a little minority groups and we will continue to see ouselves being victimized.

    2) Yes, Arab Americans should bare should responsibility of the attacking of Americans in 9/11. I do not expect nor do i want to see Arab American being a victim to that of JA. However, the truth of muslim and what they can do to minimize or limit these attacks should be taught to their next generation.

  18. zoku says:

    so basically j, what you’re saying is that all christians should bear the responsibility for all of their colonization tactics around the world for the past hundreds of years too.

  19. Al says:

    For anyone who is interested there is an amazing documentary called Passing Poston. It is the tale of four former internees at the Poston Relocation camp during WW II. The film is a heart wrenching story, of the search to forgive a nation that turned its back to so many of its own citizens.

    Its a must see! Its showing at the Pioneer Theater on August 8th till the 14th.

  20. kelli says:

    It’s amazing to me how many people are unaware of these actions during the WWII. I have been researching this topic and am now writing an interesting piece on it that could develop into something bigger. I would love to hear more opinions on this topic as well as some possible personal experience stories from it that could add to this piece.

  21. kelli says:

    I fell across your blog while researching, Thank you for all your input.

  22. Rachel says:

    I am amazed by the bigotry of some of the above posters.

    I see few remember that we Americans bullied Japan in the 1850’s, forcing them with warships to let us use their ports for trade. (Perry)

    I see that few remember, that during the Great Depression we forced Mexican Americans to “repatriate” back to Mexico – many didn’t even speak Spanish and when they tried to return, we treated them as if they were never United States citizens (some were never able to return)

    “While your mother and father was in interment camp, your uncles were creating bigger astrocity else where in this small world. ”

    So ,using your theory, every single American who has a dab of German blood should apologize for the Nazi’s.

    Oh and every Caucasian should apologize for the atrocities committed against the Native Americans, African Americans and Mexicans.

    Also, every male should apologize for all the years that women were 2nd class citizens.

    The best apology anyone can give is to learn from the mistakes of the past so as never to repeat them.

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In our culture, we can be so obsessed with the "spectacular" or "glamorous." The Church often engagws in thia language and paradigm...but what if God has called many of us to small, ordinary things?

Will we still be faithful?
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I recently came across this picture taken by @mattylew, one of our church staff...and I started tearing up: This is my mother; in her 70s; with realities of some disabilities that make it difficult for her to stand up and sit down...but here she is on her knees and prostate in prayer. She doesn't have any social media accounts, barely knows how to use her smartphone, doesn't have a platform, hasn't written a book, doesn't have any titles in our church, isn't listed as a leader or an expert or a consultant or a guru. But she simply seeks to do her best - by God's grace - to be faithful to God. She prays for hours every day inteceding for our family, our church, and the larger world.

Even if we're not noticed or celebrated or elevated...let's be faithful. Our greatest calling as followers of Christ is to be faithful. Not spectacular. Not glamorous. Not popular. Not relevant. And not even successful in the eyes of the world.

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Then invest deeply. May our compassion not just be limited to the West or to those that look like us. Lifting up the people of Iraq, Iran, and Kurdistan in prayer after the 7.3 earthquake - including the many new friends I met on a recent trip to Iraq.

The death toll rises to over 400 and over 7,000 injured in multiple cities and hundreds of villages along the Western border with Iraq.

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It's been a tough, emotional, and painful week - especially as we lament the horrible tragedy of the church shootings at Sutherland Springs. In the midst of this lament, I've been carried by the hope, beauty, and promise of our baptisms last Sunday and the raw and honest testimonies of God's mercy, love, and grace.

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