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[TIMELINE] Internment of Japanese Ameicans (Seattle)

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  • madchinaman
    The Internment of Japanese Americans as reported by Seattle Area Weekly Newspapers A Seattle Ethnic Press Report by Luke Colasurdo
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 10 11:13 PM
      The Internment of Japanese Americans as reported by
      Seattle Area Weekly Newspapers
      A Seattle Ethnic Press Report
      by Luke Colasurdo

      On December 7, 1941 Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, thrusting the United
      States into both war and a state of hysteria. By the dawn of Monday
      December 8th, the FBI had arrested hundreds of Japanese immigrants,
      many of whom would spend the duration of the war in jail. These
      arrests would foreshadow the plight of Japanese Americans on the West
      Coast for the next five years.

      Almost over night the country had taken on a new sense of
      patriotism and a belief in contributing to an all out war effort.
      Along the West Coast, the supposed threat of Japanese dive bombers
      appearing in the sky at any minute was palpable. Night-time black
      outs up and down the coast were being enforced by the military. Soon
      all "enemy aliens," any Japanese, German, or Italian immigrants,
      would be locked out of areas that were deemed necessary to defense
      along the West Coast. The hysteria would finally culminate in
      President Roosevelt signing executive order 9102, which established
      the War Relocation Authority on March 18, 1942. This order authorized
      the military to designate areas along the coast from which all enemy
      aliens, both immigrants and native born, were to be moved inland to
      relocation camps. On March 24, 1942, the first civilian exclusion
      order was issued for Bainbridge Island, where forty five families
      were given one week to be evacuated by the military.

      Seattle area newspapers closely covered the evacuation.
      Their editorials fell into three categories: some were for
      evacuation, some were against evacuation, and some were ambivalent.
      This essay examines some of the smaller newspapers in the region,
      weekly newspapers that served specialized communities: the Seattle
      Argus, West Seattle Herald, Bainbridge Review, Northwest Enterprise,
      and Japanese American Courier.


      The Argus newspaper was a weekly publication edited by H.
      D. Chadwick. The paper gave a general outline of issues from week to
      week, highlighting areas such as business, courts, and city hall. The
      columns were a mixture of reporting and opinion, making the whole
      paper seem like an editorial. Though the Argus was for the evacuation
      order; the editor took an unconventional approach to justifying his
      beliefs. In a December 27, 1941 story entitled "Racial Prejudice",
      the Argus reported that there were reports of young Japanese
      Americans being beaten by white "hoodlums" and that these actions
      were outrageous. The article then made a distinction between Japanese
      and Japanese Americans: "socially and commercially ostracized, the
      Japanese nationals in this country face a bleak future, and for them
      we make no appeal at this time. The American born Japanese, however,
      are deserving of exactly the same tolerance that is enjoyed by, say,
      the American born Swedes. They are Americans too, they are not enemy
      aliens." The Argus drew a distinction between being an immigrant and
      being second generation Japanese American by arguing that only the
      latter was worthy of trust. The editor showed a respect for the
      American born Japanese, and although the issue of evacuation was not
      fully relevant at the time of this story, the implication is that
      only Japanese nationals would have to be evacuated.

      By February, the Argus had changed its mind. In a Feb. 14, 1942
      article titled "Young Japanese Americans," the Argus no longer made
      any distinction between American born and Japanese nationals:

      This paper has taken a pretty tolerant view of the young American
      Japanese in its discussion of enemies in our midst. A news story this
      week inspires us to repudiate every generous thought we have held
      toward these people. It is now revealed that there are more Japanese
      students than white studying German at Broadway high school, and that
      many of them took up the study of German after the war began. (Argus,
      February 14, 1942 p.1)

      The story went on to condemn the government for allowing "American
      born Japs" and nationals alike to "remain at large." Finally, the
      story concluded that not all Japanese and Japanese Americans may be
      guilty, but it was better to be safe than sorry: "if the innocent are
      interned with the guilty, it will not be a very serious matter. If
      any japs are allowed to remain at large in this country, it might
      spell the greatest disaster in history."( Argus, February 14, 1942

      Almost three months into the war, the hysteria along the
      west coast was beginning to shift direction. In the days following
      the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the perceived threat was supposed to
      come from the skies in the form of bombs and dive-bombing planes. As
      that threat seemed to be less immediate, an idea of a fifth column at
      work in the country started to take its place. Months earlier in
      December, Frank Knox, the Secretary of the Navy, told the press that
      he believed a fifth column of saboteurs was present in Hawaii before
      Dec. 7th. The fifth column was supposed to include both Japanese
      immigrants and American born Japanese, lending support to Japan in
      the form of spying, sending reports of American actions to Japan, or
      even sabotage. The Argus applied these ideas to local experience in
      its story, "The Fifth Column at Work," which stressed that "japs are
      employed at Harborview hospital. Japs are living in, and even
      operating, hotels on the western slopes of Seattle's hills. A jap
      stationed at Harborview, another at west Seattle and a third at a
      point in the white river valley could, by pre-arranged light flashes,
      establish a perfect triangulation for the guidance of enemy planes to
      the Boeing plant…and still we allow the japs to roam at will in this
      vital area." (Argus, February 28, 1942 p.1) The tone of this story
      is almost a plea for something to finally be done, and it is right
      around this time that the idea of evacuation is becoming more
      imminent. In fact, the February 28th issue is the last time the Argus
      makes such pointed opinionated stories against the Japanese
      Americans. There are a few stories in the next couple of weeks,
      mainly stating facts about what the evacuations will look like, and
      when they will happen. Once the issue of evacuation became formal
      federal policy, the staff of the Argus did not devote more time to
      the subject.

      West Seattle Herald

      The West Seattle Herald was another weekly publication.
      Its columns were very general; the front page had articles about one
      to two major national or local stories, then the rest of the paper
      and articles were specific to the west Seattle neighborhood which was
      almost completely segregated through informal and formal prohibitions
      against non-white homeownership or apartment renting. In the days
      following Pearl Harbor up until mid February, there was no mention of
      the evacuation of the Japanese Americans, nor any mention as to the
      way the paper felt about Japanese Americans. Almost out of the blue,
      on February 26, 1942 along the bottom of the front page
      read, "Complete evacuation of aliens -- a common sense move – why
      delay?" There was no article on the front page that would tie this
      statement into it. On page seven of the same issue there was an
      editorial entitled "GET `EM OUT!" The piece opens by sighting an
      incident in California where an enemy submarine was supposedly guided
      by lights on a hill near Santa Barbara which triggered the firing of
      anti-aircraft guns by the U.S. military. From this event, the
      editorial states complained: "And yet we are still soft pedaling on
      the issue of wholesale internment of alien enemies. When are we going
      to get tough?....so long as we permit alien enemies to remain in our
      midst we are playing with fire…..the government should initiate
      instant and drastic orders sweeping all aliens, foreign or native
      born, so far inland that we can forget them for the
      duration."(February 26, 1942 p.7) Although this is the only issue in
      which the paper or editor speaks to the internment issue, it is a
      clear example of being fiercely in favor of the government acting
      against the Japanese Americans.

      The Bainbridge Review

      On Bainbridge Island, there were a considerable number of
      Japanese American families—most of them connected to various kinds of
      farming. The Review's reaction to internment suggested that the
      Island's Japanese American population was deeply tied into every part
      of the community. Bainbridge Island was the first place in the United
      States from which all civilians of Japanese decent were evacuated by
      the military. This fact makes the Review's response to internment
      stand out. This was one of the few newspapers in the country to take
      an editorial position against internment. The publishers of the
      Review were Walter C. Woodward and Mildred Logg Woodward.

      In an editorial entitled "More Plain Talk," the Review lets its
      readers know where they stood:

      We spoke of an American recoil to Japanese treachery and wrote: and
      in such recoil of sentiment there is danger of a blind, wild,
      hysterical hatred of all persons who can trace ancestry to Japan…who
      can say that the big majority of our Japanese Americans are not loyal…
      their record bespeaks nothing but loyalty: their sons are in our army…
      it [the Review] will not dispute the federal government if it, in its
      considered wisdom, calls for the removal of all Japanese. Such
      orders... will be based on necessity and not hatred. (February 5,
      1942 p.4)

      The Bainbridge Review is the only area newspaper that spoke this way.
      This piece makes the connection between the Japanese Americans and
      how integrated they are in the society. The article ended by trying
      to reason that the hysteria that allowed people to consider
      internment should not lead to the taking away of the rights of so
      many loyal citizens, rights that are constitutionally guaranteed.

      Although no official word of an exact date for evacuation
      would come until the end of March, the March 5, 1942 issue of the
      Review made clear the fact that residents on the Island knew that the
      Japanese Americans would be leaving. In an editorial on the front
      page entitled, "Many Who Mourn," the Review put the issue into a very
      personal tone by reminding everyone of the bigotry involved in the
      evacuations. The review pointed out that the Japanese Americans would
      be shipped off to unknown parts where they would not be welcomed. All
      but one governor from the inland states opposed the relocation of the
      Japanese Americans to their states. This same editorial brought with
      it an apology to the Japanese American residents for not being able
      to do enough to have them stay, and expressed a sense of
      failure: "The review— and those who think as it does—have
      lost."(March 5, 1942 p.1)

      Then on March 23 came the order for the evacuation of all Japanese
      Americans from Bainbridge Island. The orders were now directed at the
      Review's own back yard, and from the articles and editorials in the
      March 26th issue, it seems as though the Review had a new position to
      fight for. In a front-page editorial entitled "Not Enough Time" in
      the March 26th issue, the Review shed light on many of the underlying
      problems with the evacuation orders. First, the Review emphasized the
      Constitutional rights of Japanese Americans by calling them citizens
      and putting "not aliens" in parentheses. Even if the law of the land
      discriminated against Japanese immigrants from becoming naturalized
      citizens, their children, the American born Japanese, were supposed
      to be afforded the same rights as all other Americans under the
      Constitution. Second, the Review noted that there were three months
      between Pearl Harbor and the evacuation orders, and in that time
      there wasn't any of the devious sabotage that people feared. It asked
      why, if the FBI had been investigating and arresting all those who
      were suspicious, everyone else have to suffer evacuation. The FBI,
      the Review noted, had already been to Bainbridge Island specifically
      to search homes and make arrests. The Review's blamed the government
      for giving the order but added that "we say this on our own accord.
      It is not an echo of anything we have heard a single Japanese say.
      They are taking this treatment without a single bitter word. At least
      we have heard none." This closing statement by the Review suggests
      that by enduring these orders, Japanese Americans once again proved
      their loyalty, even when the orders themselves were unjust.

      The evacuation of the Bainbridge Island Japanese Americans took one
      short week. However, one of the most heartfelt editorials would come
      out of that week. In the April 2nd issue, the Review published a
      story about the soldiers who evacuated the Japanese Americans. The
      editors begin by explaining that because of the war, it would not be
      appropriate to give the names and locations of the soldiers. It is
      promised that when the time is right, the review will publish all of
      the names of the soldiers and commend them for the humane way in
      which they conducted themselves in carrying out such difficult
      orders. The story goes on to quote one of the unnamed soldiers as
      saying that the island's Japanese Americans had shown the soldiers
      such kindness and hospitality that this was the hardest job he and
      his men had ever done.

      The Review did not speak for everyone on Bainbridge Island. Every
      couple of issues, it published a column entitled "The Open Forum" to
      give its readers a voice. In the April 2nd issue, J.J McRee
      criticized the editors as puerile, complained that it was not the
      place of the Review to question the actions of the government, he
      then ended by asking to stop his subscription. The following week
      brought a letter from Orville Robertson, in which he explained that
      he would find a new subscriber for the Review to make up for the loss
      of the gentleman the week before. He goes on to say that "by perusing
      an attitude of sympathetic understanding and fairness toward our
      citizens of Japanese ancestry, and our friendly aliens who have for
      many years chosen the American way of life, you are making an
      important contribution." (April 9, 1942 p.4) Among the readers of
      the Review who chose to write in, the majority agreed that the
      Japanese Americans deserved to be trusted as loyal Americans just as
      those who were not of Japanese ancestry. Also among the letters to
      the editor was testimony from evacuees who described their evacuation
      to and incarceration in California. The April 16, 1942 (p.4) issue
      published a letter from Nob. Koura, an evacuee, that thanked the
      Review for the stance that it took and for the help that it gave
      toward making the evacuation easier.

      The evacuations would continue in other parts of the area around
      Bainbridge Island; however the fight had been taken out of the
      Review. Once the Bainbridge citizens were gone, the Review turned
      back to the weekly happenings of Island life.

      Northwest Enterprise

      The Northwest Enterprise was a weekly publication and the
      region's most prominent African American newspaper. On Friday,
      December 12, 1941 the Enterprise published an editorial by E. I.
      Robinson titled "Let Us Keep Our Record Clear." In it, the editor
      spoke about how there was no need to lose one's head or commit crimes
      in the name of patriotism. He described the Japanese Americans as
      good citizens who tend to their own business. But while this piece
      was the only one of its kind to appear so close to December 7th and
      argued against harming Japanese Americans just because of their
      ancestry, the Northwest Enterprise did nothing to oppose internment,
      and did not mention the plight of the Japanese Americans again.

      Japanese American Courier

      The Japanese American Courier was a weekly newspaper
      published and written by Japanese Americans. James Y. Sakamoto was
      the paper's founder, its editor, its publisher, and its main voice.
      Under a microscope of suspicion after Pearl Harbor, and already
      marginalized by racism, Sakamoto and others at the Courier sought to
      assure the nation of Japanese American worthiness of citizenship
      rights and showed as many outward signs of their loyalty as they

      On December 12, 1941, in its first issue since war broke
      out; the Courier published a page 2 editorial by Sakamoto that spoke
      of meeting a common enemy. The common enemy was a way for Sakamoto to
      tell his readers that those Japanese Americans who chose to stay in
      the U.S. were now expected to do their part to help win the war
      against Japan. He pointedly wrote that if there were any ties of
      support to Japan, those ties were cut when Japan decided on war.
      This, along with other articles in the December 12th issue, very
      clearly state that the Japanese American people denounce Japan, and
      put their full support behind the United States.

      For the next several months after Pearl Harbor, the
      Courier was the one area newspaper that focused on the issue of what
      fate lay ahead for the Japanese American people in World War II.
      Editorially, the paper did not deviate from being loyal and patriotic
      at all costs. On Friday, March 6th, the title of Sakamoto's editorial
      spoke for itself: "Let's Obey Order Loyally." In this article,
      Sakamoto wrote that if Japanese Americans were allowed to stay, then
      they would be able to help and smash Japan in war, which he adds is
      what they would like to do. He also explains what must happen,
      whether they want to or not, "When that order comes from our
      government it must be obeyed loyally and cheerfully. A basic tenet of
      loyalty is to obey the orders of the government to which one owes his
      allegiance."(March 6, 1942 p.2)

      For Sakamoto, whether the evacuation orders were right or wrong was
      less important than how Japanese American conducted themselves..
      Sakamoto was also a founding member of the Japanese American Citizens
      League (JACL), another group through which Japanese Americans
      stressed loyalty and obedience to the United States. In his March
      13th editorial, Sakamoto publicized and applauded the support the
      JACL offered the government to help with evacuations. He quotes the
      JACL as explaining to the government that whatever needs to be done
      will be done cheerfully and smilingly. Sakamoto goes on to say that
      the cooperation is splendid and that the young Japanese Americans
      should accept the evacuation cheerfully and smilingly.

      Sakamoto's writing in his own newspaper contrasted sharply with his
      public pronouncements about internment. Though his editorials
      eventually embraced internment, he also publicly protested in a
      January 21, 1942 community meeting that internment "would destroy all
      that we have built for more than one-half century"[1]

      Sakamoto must have felt this loss keenly when the evacuation orders
      also brought an end to the newspaper he had founded to combat
      xenophobia, embrace what he saw as best in America, and promote the
      citizenship claims of Japanese Americans. In the final, April 24th
      issue, Sakamoto gave a farewell address entitled "Until We Meet

      With this present issue the Japanese American Courier suspends
      publication under present conditions, after 14 years of service. The
      foundation stone of the Courier has from the first been Americanism
      and the promotion of the welfare of the nation. Our deepest regret is
      that we shall for the present, not be able to carry on that work…
      after we have gone we ask our fellow Americans to remember and to
      realize that we are at war. We think our removal emphasizes this
      vividly…we contribute now with our cooperation with the government.
      And so, until we meet again, and may God bless America, our beloved

      Sakamoto returned to Seattle in 1945, but without the financial
      resources necessary to restart his newspaper. According to David
      Takami's historylink.org essay, Sakamoto and his wife "lived on
      government assistance until he found a job conducting a telephone
      solicitation campaign for the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store. He
      died on December 3, 1955, after being struck by an automobile on his
      way to work."
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