THE FACTS ABOUT THE WAR RELOCATION AUTHORITY
An address by D. S. Myer, Director of the War Relocation Authority, before a luncheon meeting of the Los Angeles Town Hall, Los Angeles, California, January 21, 1944.
It is often said in this section of the country that we people from the Middle West and the East do not really understand the Japanese-American problem. After living with a big part of that problem day in and day out for about a year and a half, I am perfectly willing to admit that it is tough and complicated. But I still feel that it can be solved. And I believe that under the War Relocation Authority program we have already made encouraging progress toward an ultimate solution.
Looking back over the past year and a half, I find that our operations to date have included four major accomplishments. One was the establishment and development of relocation centers where the people of Japanese descent could be quartered following the evacuation. Second was a large-scale screening process which we carried out at these centers in order to identify those people whose records indicated that they might endanger the national security. Third was the segregation program under which we concentrated the potentially dangerous individuals and those who prefer to be Japanese rather that American in one center at Tule Lake. Fourth has been the relocation in normal American communities of about 17,000 of the many thousands of evacuees who proved eligible to relocate under our regulations.
This last accomplishment is the one in which I take the greatest satisfaction and the one which is likely to prove most important from the long-range point of view. Under our relocation program, the people of Japanese descent who formerly lived in a comparative narrow area along the West Coast are now being gradually dispersed across the remainder of the country. They are taking jobs on farms and in shops all the way from Salt Lake City to Boston, Massachusetts. They are playing a valuable role in our war production effort and many are already sinking roots in their new locations. As this process goes forward, I feel confidant we are moving toward the liquidation of a most difficult minority problem.
Relocation is and always has been our major objective in WRA. It is set forth as our primary function in the Executive Order under which we operate and is reflected in the name of the agency. But it has not been our only concern by any means. Despite reports you may have heard to the contrary, we have also been deeply concerned about the national security. We have recognized all along that there is in the evacuee population a considerable minority of people who have stronger ties with Japan than with this country and who might conceivably interfere with the war effort. And in conducting our relocation program we have taken every precaution to prevent such people from doing any harm.
When we first received the evacuees at relocation centers during the summer and early fall of 1942, we had no records by which we could identify the potentially dangerous or strongly pro-Japanese individuals in the population. We knew that in the months immediately following Pearl Harbor several hundred alien Japanese of this type has been picked up on the West Coast by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and sent to internment camps. But during the period while the evacuated people were in Army assembly centers, we were not able to carry this screening process any further. So we were faced with the problem of developing records and carrying out a screening program at the relocation centers.
The most important step in this process was a large-scale registration program which we carried out in collaboration with the Army at the relocation centers about a year ago. All adult residents of the centers were required to fill out questionnaires which provided information on topics such as education, previous employment, relatives in Japan, knowledge of the Japanese language, investments in Japan, organizational and religious affiliations, and even sports and hobbies. In addition, the citizen evacuees were asked whether they would pledge allegiance to the United States, while alien residents of the centers were called upon to promise that they would abide by the nation's laws and not interfere with the war effort.
All of this information has proved extremely useful in identifying those with pro-Japanese sympathies and those who might constitute a menace to the national safety. In addition, we have made effective use, in hundreds of cases, of information of the evacuees which we obtained from the evacuated area -- from former employers, neighbors, municipal officials and others. We have consulted the files of federal intelligence agencies and have used any material that was available in those files on adult residents of the centers. We have built up our own records on the evacuees through our local police or internal security system and from other sources at the centers.
In this way we have accumulated over a period of many months a large amount of detailed information in the background and attitudes of practically all evacuees beyond the age of 17 at the relocation centers. Through the use of techniques similar to, those which have been employed by the intelligence agencies over a period of years, we have been singling out those members of the evacuee population whose basic loyalties lie with Japan. We have made this comprehensive kind of check directly in connection with our relocation program. We have been granting leave permits only after consulting all available data on the individuals concerned. And we have consistently denied the privilege of leave to those whose records indicated that they were strongly pro-Japanese or might endanger the security of the Nation.
Within the past several months we have been carrying out a segregation program to separate the evacuees who are ineligible for leave in a center by themselves. We have segregated three major groups of people: (1) those who have applied for repatriation or expatriation to Japan, (2) citizen evacuees who failed to pledge allegiance to the United States during registration, and, (3) those with intelligence records or other records indicating that they might endanger the national security. In addition, we determined that immediate family relatives of people in all three groups should be accorded the privilege of living at the segregation center in order to avoid disrupting family ties.
The segregation process is now virtually completed. We still have a few hundred people at Manzanar and some of the other centers who are awaiting transfer to Tule Lake, and who will be moved in the immediate future. But the main movements were carried out in September and October of last year. They involved the transfer of about 9,000 people -- including segregants and their families -- into Tule Lake from nine other centers and the removal of about an equal number of non-segregants from Tule Lake to the other centers. Approximately 6,000 people remained at Tule Lake under the segregation process.
Since November 1, the Tule Lake center has attracted a tremendous amount of public attention -- more attention, perhaps, than all other WRA activities during all the months that we have been in operation. Since Tule Lake has become such a focal point in our program -- at least in the public mind -- I want to spend some time telling you about the center, the type of people who live there, and the events which took place there during the first few days of November.
First, let me say a few words about the population. Tule Lake is, of course, the center for disloyal evacuees. Most of the adult people there have indicated either by word or action that they prefer to be Japanese rather than American. But it is a mistake to think of the population at Tule as composed exclusively of agitators and potential saboteurs. Many of the residents are aliens of advanced years who have simply given up the struggle to become adjusted in this country and who want only to live out the rest of their days in the land of their birth. Despite their pro-Japanese leanings, very few of them, in my opinion, are actually troublesome or dangerous. Then there is also another group at the center -- perhaps the largest single element in the whole population -- which is made up of children and others whose records contain no evidence of disloyalty but who are living at Tule Lake merely because of family ties. These people, along with the aliens, probably constitute a majority of the total population.
At the same time, however, it is true that we now have at Tule Lake some of the most troublesome elements that were previously scattered among ten relocation centers. There are, for example, a considerable number of young American-born evacuees who have received the major part of their education in Japan and who seem to have been thoroughly indoctrinated with Japanese militaristic ideas. This group has always been particularly maladjusted at the relocation centers and is plainly out of sympathy with the United States. In addition, there are a number of young people, born and educated in this country, who have become embittered by the experiences of the past two years and have decided to cast their lot with Japan.
Shortly after the major segregation movement was completed, it became apparent that there were at Tule Lake a considerable minority of actively disloyal evacuees who were mainly interested in hindering the American war effort by interfering with the orderly processes of administration. It was further clear, as time went on, that the evacuees of this type had banded together in a tight, well-knit organization for the purpose of gaining a dominant position in the community. The tactics employed by this group were similar to those used by big city gangsters. There were threats of violence, terrorism, and the other familiar techniques.
On October 15 a truck accident occurred at the center in which 28 farm workers were injured and one subsequently died. The dissident group immediately seized upon this incident and precipitated a complete stoppage of work on the harvesting of vegetables. Since we had a crop worth roughly half a million dollars, facing imminent destruction by frost, we decided to recruit a number of evacuee farm workers from the other centers to complete the harvest work at Tule Lake.
This was the situation that prevailed at the center on November 1 when the incident occurred. The events that took place in the afternoon of that day have given rise to so many wild rumors and exaggerated statements that we have spent considerable time and effort in checking on the accuracy of all the major allegations. We have interviewed 69 eye-witnesses who were present in various parts of the center on that afternoon. We have analyzed the statements made by these witnesses, along with other evidence, and are now in position to piece together a reasonably complete story on the events that actually occurred. Several points deserve specific comments.
In the first place, the crowd which gathered around the administration building on the afternoon of November 1 was not an angry mob. It was composed of whole family groups -- men, women, and even little children -- and had been summoned out by an unauthorized announcement that I was going to make a speech. It is now clear that this announcement was made by members of the dissident group for the purpose of bringing a show of pressure to bear on the administration. But there is no evidence to indicate that the crowd as a whole was aware of these plans or party to them. Essentially, the crowd was an unsuspecting tool which the organized group used in making a rather dramatic bid for power.
Another point which emerges rather clearly from the results of our investigation is that the stories about evacuees carrying knives and clubs have been, to put it mildly, greatly exaggerated. Of the 69 people we interviewed, 34 made no comment regarding weapons and 30 specifically denied seeing weapons of any kind. Of the remaining five persons interviewed, two testified that they each saw one evacuee with a knife of the whittling type; two testified that they saw evacuees with short pieces of pipe; and one testified that she "thought" she saw evacuees with butcher knives.
The stories about incendiarism have even less factual basis. We have discovered no tangible evidence of such an attempt and have received no conclusive testimony that would tend to bear out the many wild allegations. Of the 69 witnesses interviewed, only 20 commented on this question and 15 of these specifically denied seeing incendiary material. Three people testified that they had seen evacuees carrying boxes, but were not able to identify the contents. Two testified that "friends had told them" about seeing evacuees carrying straw.
Admittedly the situation was tense at Tule Lake on the afternoon of November 1, and we have never had any illusions that it was not. But I do not believe any fair-minded person, after examining the evidence we have collected, would call this particular incident a riot.
The events which took place on the evening of November 4, however, were of quite a different character. On that occasion, a group of several hundred evacuees, armed with clubs, entered the administration area in violation of an order from the Project Director and with obvious intentions of violence. In accordance with previous arrangements, we immediately called in the troops stationed outside the center and asked the Army to take over responsibility for internal administration until the community could be restored to a normal basis of operations.
This transfer of responsibility was carried out under the terms of a long-standing agreement we have had with the War Department covering the administration of relocation centers. Essentially, that agreement provides for a division of labor between WRA and the Army. Under normal circumstances, we are responsible for all phases of internal administration, while the Army guards the exterior boundaries and checks the passes of people moving in and out. However, when a situation arises -- like the incident of November 4 at Tule Lake -- where a show of force is needed, the agreement provides that we can call in the troops and turn the responsibility for internal administration temporarily over to the Army authorities.
There have been three incidents in evacuee centers over the past year and a half which have been termed riots. As it happens, all of them have occurred here in the State of California. The first one took place during the summer of 1942 at the Santa Anita Assembly Center under the Army jurisdiction. The second one occurred at Manzanar a year ago last December. And the third one was the incident of November 4 at Tule Lake.
The Manzanar incident of December, 1942 was similar in many ways to the recent Tule Lake disturbance. It was caused primarily by a comparatively small group of agitators and was culminated by the summoning of the troops. On that occasion we started immediately after the troops had moved in trying to get the community back on a normal basis. We rounded up the troublemakers, isolated them from the rest of the population, and eventually moved them to a special isolation center which was established first near Moab, Utah and later at Leupp, Arizona. Following the removal of these troublesome elements, Manzanar quickly became one of the most peaceful of all the relocation centers and has remained ever since. I believe you will find that the people of Owens Valley have no particular apprehensions about the center today even though there are several hundred segregants there awaiting transfer to Tule Lake.
At Tule we plan to follow roughly the same pattern which was used at Manzanar in restoring the community to an orderly basis. In this case, we are not moving the troublemakers outside the center because of transportation and other difficulties. But we are isolating the troublemakers as rapidly as they can be identified in one section of the center which has been fenced off from the rest of the community and will be guarded at all times. With these additional precautions, I feel confident that an orderly community can be developed at Tule Lake. I believe, as I have all along, that the majority of the people, regardless of their national sympathies, are interested in living peaceably together and that they will cooperate toward that and with the administration.
Now that the segregation process has been virtually completed, we are redoubling our efforts to speed up the relocation of the people at the nine other centers. We are hoping that in the near future we will be able to carry this job far enough along so that it will be possible to close one and perhaps two of the relocation centers. And we also have hopes that additional closings can be made later as the relocation program moves forward.
There has been a great deal of public misunderstanding about our relocation program -- about its origin, its purposes, and the reasons why we are placing so much stress upon it. Much of the adverse comment that has been made is undoubtedly motivated by patriotic intentions. But it is based, I believe, largely on fundamental misconceptions. And it is producing results which may be most unfortunate for the democratic future of the nation.
The idea of confining all people of Japanese descent in government centers has been strongly advocated by a considerable number of individuals and influential organizations on the West Coast and elsewhere. The reason most frequently advanced for such a course is that all people of Japanese ancestry, regardless of where they were born and raised, and basically disloyal to the United States and sympathetic with the aims of militaristic Japan. I heartily disagree with that contention. A great deal is being said about loyalty in connection with Japanese-Americans these days and much of the comment, in my opinion, represents the loosest and most dangerous kind of talk. Of course, there is no way of guaranteeing the loyalty of a person of Japanese descent, or, for that matter, of anyone else. There is no way of entering into the innermost recesses of a person's mind and fathoming his most fundamental attachments and convictions. The most that you can do is to judge a person's loyalty on the basis of the attitudes which he expresses by word or notion.
On such a basis, I believe there is ample evidence to disprove once and for all the notion that no person of Japanese ancestry can be loyal to the United States. There are in the Army of the United States today about 9,000 soldiers of Japanese descent, nearly half of whom volunteered for service. One unit, known as the 100th Infantry Battalion and made up exclusively of second generation Japanese-Americans, is now in action on the Italian front and has already won the highest praise for its bravery in combat and its skill in the handling of weapons. Another unit, which includes several hundred men who volunteered for service from relocation centers, is in training at Camp Shelby, Mississippi in preparation for active duty overseas.
The behavior of these men both in volunteering and in actual combat provides striking evidence, it seems to me, where their real loyalty lies. But if further proof is needed, let me read a few excerpts from letters recently written by some of these men who are in the armed forces upholding and defending our democratic form of government. This first one was written from Camp Shelby by a young man who volunteered for service from the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming. Writing to his parents who are still at the center, he says:
The future welfare of you and all of us who hope to remain in this land rests almost entirely on how the 100th, now in action as the vanguard for the American 5th Army in Italy, and the 442nd do in battle. We have got everything to gain by doing our utmost in battle, nothing to lose. We have a chance to prove to all who doubt our loyalty and sincerity to this nation that we too are Americans and therefore entitled to live as Americans in the truest sense of the word."This next one was written by a sergeant at the front to the commandant of his training camp at home. He says:
"I am now waiting for the zero hour. This is the opportunity I have been waiting for ever since that fateful day of December 7, 1941. How can any red-blooded American forget that day! We must and will, under the protection of Almighty God... win over the enemy and once more bring peace to this troubled world, so that those who gave their lives shall not have died in vain. I hope I can live up to the expectations of you and my friends. And believe me I will!"Much the same attitude is expressed in the statement made by a young doctor of Japanese ancestry who is a Captain with the 100th Battalion in Italy. Talking to a war correspondent at an advanced field dressing station, he said:
"The Japanese in the Pearl Harbor attack hurt us worse than anyone. They did really a dirty job on all the Japanese people living in the United States. We pay and will go on paying a terrible price for the sins of those Japanese. They made us lose the faith and trust of the American people. Now we men of Japanese blood in the United States Army are trying to win back that faith and confidence of America. We are more than willing, we are eager to fight the Germans, too. But it is not against the Germans that we hold our primary grudge. It is against the Japanese Imperial Army, Navy, and Air Force."In the face of evidence like this, it is extremely difficult for me to understand how any reasonable person can advocate the mass confinement of all persons of Japanese descent simply on the grounds of race.
Within the last few hours a specific announcement has been made by the Secretary of War concerning military service for Americans of Japanese descent. As you may know, Japanese-American boys have not been inducted into the armed forces through the usual Selective Service procedure since February, 1942. Volunteers have been accepted during the past year, but there has been no involuntary induction. The Secretary of War has just announced that, effective immediately, Americans of Japanese ancestry will be inducted into the United States Army through the Selective Service system. A list of those acceptable for service has been prepared and the men on the list will have their cases reviewed by their local boards; they will be reclassified and called up for induction as their individual turns come. It is expected that the men inducted in this way will be added to the 100th Battalion or the 442nd Combat Team and it is possible that other Nisei units will be formed.
In determining to accept involuntary inductees, the Army gives recognition to the excellent record of the Nisei already in service. But even more significant is the fact that a minority group of Americans have had restored to them individually the opportunity of fulfilling one of the highest obligations of their citizenship. It means much to the Nisei. It means even more to American democracy.
I spoke earlier of fundamental misconceptions. One of them which seems to persist, particularly in this section of the country, is the notion that the government originally planned a mass detention of the evacuees and that the WRA relocation program represents a sharp reversal of previous government policy. I want to deny this emphatically. As evidence to the contrary, let me remind you that for nearly one month after the original evacuation order was first announced, the people of Japanese ancestry were freely permitted by the Western Defense Command to leave the coastal area and resettle inland on their own initiative. It was only after this voluntary movement had given rise to difficulties that the controlled plan of evacuation and movement into government centers was put into effect. As the War Department has frequently pointed out, the sole aim of the evacuation was to move the people of Japanese descent from a sensitive military area and not to put them under lock and key.
Another highly important aspect of this question which is being overlooked by many of those who urge mass detention is the repercussions that such a step would have from a legal and constitutional standpoint. So far, the Supreme Court of the United States has not ruled on the constitutional validity either of evacuation or of detention in government centers. The Hirabayashi case which was decided last June merely upheld the constitutional validity of the curfew orders imposed by the Western Defense Command at the time of evacuation. The decision in that case was unanimous, but it is significant that Mr. Justice Murphy remarked, "This goes to the very brink of constitutional power." Moreover, practically all lawyers are agreed that the Constitution provides no basis for a mass detention program involving American citizens. This point was strongly emphasized recently by Attorney General Biddle when he testified before congressional committees regarding the implications of the Tule Lake incident. It was also brought out in a recent Circuit Court decision on the case of Miss Mitsuye Endo. Miss Endo, who was an evacuee resident of Tule Lake in the period before it became a segregation center, had applied for a writ of habeas corpus under the provisions of the Constitution for release from the relocation center. The court denied Miss Endo's application but did so solely on the grounds that WRA has a relocation program under which Miss Endo might have applied for leave from the center without going through the courts. If we had no such procedures and were engaged in a mass internment program, the decision might well have been different.
I do not mean to imply merely that mass confinement of the evacuees would present some rather complicated legal problems. It would do that, but its ultimate significance is much greater. It would mean striking at the very heart of the constitutional safeguards which now protect every last one of us against arbitrary governmental action. And it would mean a serious retreat from the principles of freedom and justice on which this nation was founded and which it is now fighting to defend. If we single out one minority element of our population and confine all its members purely on the grounds of race, we will be forfeiting our right to be regarded and even to regard ourselves as a truly democratic nation.
During the year and a half I have spent in my present job, I have learned a great deal about the Japanese-American problem in this country. And most of my knowledge, I assure you, has been gained the hard way. I have learned, among other things, that there are in this section of the country and elsewhere, many influential people and organizations who will go to almost any length to reduce people born in the United States of Japanese ancestry to the status of second-class citizens. In recent weeks and months, these individuals and organizations have been carrying on a persistent and vigorous campaign of race hatred. One prominent newspaper chain which has played a central role in this effort has been especially guilty of bad faith and un-American tactics. The writers and editors of this organization have seized upon every opportunity to distort the facts and create widespread public fears and animosities toward the people in relocation centers. They have succeeded in creating the impression that WRA is deliberately turning spies and saboteurs loose upon the nation, that armed evacuees are pouring into California in defiance of military regulations, and that people at the relocation centers are being better fed than the average American family. There is not one shred of truth in any of these allegations.
Regardless of the stories which you may have read, we in the War Relocation Authority are just as anxious as any Americans to see the militarism of Japan crushed and wiped from the face of the earth. And so, I might add, are many thousands of the people in the relocation centers. But we do feel that the war should not be waged on American soil and that manifestations of unreasoning hatred toward the Japanese-Americans are not a necessary part of our efforts to defeat the empire of Japan. In fact, it seems entirely plain to me that those who are deliberately stirring up feeling against the evacuees are doing a serious disservice to the national war effort. They are providing the enemy with propaganda material to be used in convincing other Oriental nations that the United States is conducting a racial war. They are fomenting hatreds and fears at a time when united action and cool concentration on the immediate job are more vitally needed than ever before in our history. They are creating an impression of national dissension and disunity that must be a stimulating tonic to the morale of the Axis nations. If the same amount of energy and ingenuity that have been expended on these campaigns of racial hatred had been channelized against the real enemy, I feel sure we would be much nearer than we are now to the day of final victory.
I am generally optimistic about ultimate solution of the Japanese-American problem. In the heat of current emotions on this issue, it may help to restore perspective if we remember that the people of Japanese ancestry in this country represent, after all, only a tiny fragment of our total population -- about one-tenth of one percent. Most of the ties which this group now has with the culture of Japan are through the older generation of aliens. As these people gradually die off and as the younger generation born and educated in this country grows to maturity, the situation will change rapidly. I also feel that the relocation program is a most important step toward ultimate solution. As the people of Japanese descent who formerly lived in this section are dispersed throughout hundreds of communities in the Middle West and the East, settling as individual families or in small groups here and there, I feel certain that they can and will be integrated into the economy of the nation.
But I am deeply disturbed about the growing trend toward racial thinking and discrimination toward minority groups which seems to be developing under the stresses and strains of the war. Democracy is never an easy form of government. Even in peace time, it can be made to operate successfully only if the people have the necessary energy, ingenuity and especially courage to make it work. It took courage to establish this democratic nation of ours and it has taken courage to build it up to its present high status. Now more than ever before, courage is needed, not only in our national leaders, but among our total population, if we are to emerge from this conflict without impairing and sacrificing some of our most cherished traditions and principles.
This is particularly true in connection with the Japanese-American problem. Because of the nature of the enemy in Japan, there is a natural tendency to substitute emotion for clear thinking and hatred for understanding in our efforts to deal with our own people of Japanese descent. Persecution of minority groups, I have always felt, stems largely from fear. And fear unquestionably is the underlying cause for much of the current agitation on this issue -- fear of economic competition and fear of a group that is not fully understood.
In this connection, I would like to read a few excerpts from a magazine article recently written by a resident of this State.
"What frightens me most today is not the recurring race riots, the economic pressures on 'minorities', the internment of Americans of darker-skinned ancestry whose loyalty to the ideology of white supremacy is doubted, nor even the whole scope and viciousness of the recent growth of race hatreds and the insidious beginning of propagandism for a white alliance for 'self-protection' -- not those so much as the white man's sudden consciousness of his own fear of other races of which these are but manifestations. I can see no hope for any 'minority' group, nor even for democracy itself, in the existence of this fear.Whether we like it or not, our handling of racial minority problems is not strictly a domestic issue. The actions we take and the attitudes we express will have and are having repercussions all around the globe. In our program, for example, we have had to keep constantly in mind the fact that we are dealing with Japanese nationals, in part, and that our treatment of these people might well affect the reciprocal treatment accorded to American soldiers and civilians in the hands of the Japanese. Shortly after the outbreak of war, the government of the United States and the government of Japan agreed through neutral diplomatic channels to meet certain specified standards in the treatment of each other's nationals who are interned or temporarily detained in government camps. These standards are set forth in the International Convention which was signed at Geneva, Switzerland by a number of governments in 1929. They originally intended to apply to prisoners of war. But, by mutual agreement, the governments of this country and of Japan have extended the applicable provisions to civilian nationals. Shortly after the Tule Lake incident the Japanese government broke off negotiations looking toward an exchange of nationals until the Spanish consular representatives could investigate the conditions in relocation centers. I am confident that the Spanish will find conditions in the centers generally satisfactory and that they will eventually report this fact to Tokyo. But this development does point up the very grave international implications of our program.
The War Relocation Authority has been accused of conducting a "social experiment" in its relocation program. On behalf of my own staff, I want to say that we are not quite sure what our critics mean when they use that phrase. We have always felt that we are merely trying to do a complex and rather thankless job in the most practical way we can and at the same time in harmony with the best principles of our democratic past. We have had to consider at all times that we are dealing with about 70,000 American citizens who cannot be deprived of their rights and privileges without due process of law. We have had to keep in mind the provisions of the Geneva Convention and the possibilities of retaliatory action against our people in Japanese hands. But the one principle, above all other, which has guided our actions and molded our thinking is the belief that there is a place in this melting pot nation of ours for all the people of good will and democratic faith who are now within our borders regardless of their racial antecedents. That is the bedrock principle on which we are conducting our program in the War Relocation Authority and which, as Director of WRA I will fight to defend.
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