Cities of the Forgotten: Japanese-American Resistance in WWII Internment Camps

Eric Schooley
Digital History (HIST-381)
Dr. Leslie Madsen-Brooks

8 October, 2012

Cities of the Forgotten:
Japanese-American Resistance in WWII Internment Camps
A Research Project Plan

During World War Two, America committed one of the most heinous acts in our history: the practice of our government interring Japanese-American citizens at relocation camps for the duration of the war. While many of the internees in these camps volunteered for military service or accepted their fates, several did not, and maintained a vocal resistance during their incarceration.

1: The newsletters printed by the internees were a critical connection to a sense of community that is necessary for any type of resistance to be effective. Social gatherings, sporting activities, religious services played major roles in developing this sense of belonging, and the grassroots newsletters produced by the internees were the only available sources of news in the camps.

The Tule Lake Bulletin is a prime example of the types of stories published by these newsletters. I’ve included a later issue, in total, as an example. Here we will explore the same things we can see in newspapers from small communities across America: local sports, church meeting times, honorable mention for students, and police reports involving residents. Citation: Tule Lake Bulletin, March 2, 1944. http:/archive.densho.org (accessed September 21, 2012). http://archive.densho.org/Core/ArchiveItem.aspx?i=denshopd-i65-00437

A classified ad from an early edition of The Manzanar Free Press advertising lessons in the traditional Japanese instrument: Shakuhachi. This shows a desire to maintain cultural traditions. Citation “Shakuhachi Lessons,” Manzanar Free Press, June 20, 1942, page 4, http:/archive.densho.org (accessed October 6, 2012). http://archive.densho.org/Core/ArchiveItem.aspx?i=denshopd-i125-00025

An article written by an administrator of the Gila Flats Camp urging internees to do their part to beautify the “city.” Although this article is not written by an internee, it gives a good sense of the attempts made at community building. Citation: Fryer, “Residents Urged to Beautify City.” Gila News-Courier Vol. 1 No. 4, September 23, 1942, page 1. http:/archive.densho.org, (accessed September 23, 2012). http://archive.densho.org/Core/ArchiveItem.aspx?i=denshopd-i141-00004

2: There was an underground rumor-mill that, while not always accurate, was incredibly active.

Interview with Mr. Kenge Kobayashi, in which he relates the proclivity of rumors in his particular camp. Citation: Kenge Kobayashi interview by Alice Ito, July 4, 1998, http:/archive.densho.org, (accessed October 1, 2012). http://archive.densho.org/Core/ArchiveItem.aspx?i=denshovh-kkenge-01-0010

Interview with Mr. Jim Akutsu, where he relates a story of himself and three other internees petitioning camp administration for better food and living conditions. Citation: Jim Akutsu interview by Art Hansen, June 9 & 12, 1997, http:/archive.densho.org, (accessed October 1, 2012). http://archive.densho.org/Core/ArchiveItem.aspx?i=denshovh-ajim-01-0034

Interview with Mr. Cedrick Shimo, a Nisei soldier, recalling an “angry bull-session” among soldiers about the plight of their interred families. Citation: Cedrick Shimo interview by Tom Ikeda & Martha Nakagawa, September 22, 2009, http:/archive.densho.org, (accessed September 22, 2012). http://archive.densho.org/Core/ArchiveItem.aspx?i=denshovh-scedrick-01-0017

3. Resistance, in fact, took many creative forms. Including, refusal to sign the infamous “Loyalty Questionnaire,” draft resistance, and hunger strikes.
Interview with Mr. Jim Tanimoto, in which he relates his interviews regarding his refusal to sign the “Loyalty Questionnaire” and the consequences. Citation: Jim Tanimoto interview by Tom Ikeda & Barbara Takei, December 10, 2009, http:/archive.densho.org (accessed October 6, 2012). http://archive.densho.org/Core/ArchiveItem.aspx?i=denshovh-tjim-01-0022

Another interview with Mr. Jim Akutsu about the beginnings of unrest concerning the draft laws of 1944.Citation: Jim Akutsu interview by Art Hansen, June 9 & 12, 1997, http:/archive.densho.org, (accessed October 1, 2012). http://archive.densho.org/Core/ArchiveItem.aspx?i=denshovh-ajim-01-0025

Interview with Mr. Gene Akutsu, brother of Jim, describes his arrest and time in jail for resisting the draft. Citation: Gene Akutsu interview by Tom Ikeda, April 17, 2008, http:/archive.densho.org, (accessed October 1, 2012). http://archive.densho.org/Core/ArchiveItem.aspx?i=denshovh-agene-03-0009

Interview with Mr. Fred Tadashi Shingu where he tells a story of a hunger strike at the Tule Lake facility in 1943. Citation: Fred Tadashi Shingu interview by Tom Ikeda & Martha Nakagawa, July 29, 2010, http:/archive.densho.org (accessed September 23, 2010).
http://archive.densho.org/Core/ArchiveItem.aspx?i=denshovh-sfred_2-01-0020

Concluding Paragraph:
The experiences of Japanese-American inmates at these internment camps was unfair, unjust and completely deplorable. However, the people in these camps insisted on maintaining their dignity and their identities. Through grassroots organization, they not only kept alive cultural practices, they invented new communities and support networks in some of the worst conditions. It would be a mistake to imagine these people, these American citizens, going quietly into these horrible camps, they fought their internment every step of the way, sacrificing their reputations, their health, and even their lives to improve conditions and get free of the camps.
Annotated Bibliography of Secondary Sources:
1. “A More Perfect Union, Japanese Americans & The U.S. Constitution,” The Smithsonian Institute, accessed September, 2012, http:/American history.si.edu/perfect union/experience/index.html
This interactive website designed by the Smithsonian Institute is a very good overview of the entire debacle. This source would mainly serve my project by helping me to establish an emotional connection to these events for my readers.
2. Daniels, Roger. Prisoners Without Trial: Japanese Americans in World War II. New York: Hill and Wang, 1993.
This book examines the internment of Japanese Americans in several camps and is incredibly useful for basic background information on topics including: the “Loyalty Questionnaire,” group identification through ethnicity, age and gender, and the treatment of long-term internees.
Reflection:
Like all research projects, the hardest problem to surmount with this project was simply choosing a topic to study. Unlike any other project I have worked on, this problem was multiplied tenfold. When one goes to research any topic in a more traditional, analog method, one’s choices are limited by the materials at hand, or the money/time budgeted for research. With the advent of digitization, these restrictions have effectively been lifted. This leaves us with an interesting problem: in the past, our fields would have been winnowed to a more manageable level before we were ever involved, but now that process is left undone and we are responsible for sifting through many more sources, and therefore many more researchable topics, than ever before. This means more time is required to research and choose a topic in the digital world than in the analog world. Of course, once I found a researchable topic, and then threw it and the next five out in favor of the final topic, I was faced with new problems.
An unforeseen obstacle I encountered was my unfamiliarity with the organization systems in various databases. At first, I thought my skills were lacking and I might need some remedial help, but after perusing several sites and databases, I realized the problem wasn’t my perceived misunderstanding of organizational structure, but more likely the fact that no two databases seem to work the same way. Get one figured out pretty well, and be ready to start the learning curve all over for the next.
Another interesting fact I found, I’d hesitate top call it a problem, is this: anyone who’s gone to the trouble of digitizing all the sources will have necessarily spent some time analyzing them. This means that in order to find an original, high-quality research topic, I had to dig deeper than I had planned to. Why even write a paper if there’s nothing new to say on a topic? There seems to be a fine line in digital research. If a topic is largely digitized, it follows that there will be a good deal written on it. The inverse of this is: if there is still a good deal to be said on a topic, there is probably not much in the way of digitized sources. Similarly, it seems that if you were interested in a particular topic, there might not be a large variety of organizations that have digitized their content. So, as seen in my project plan, many sources can come from one organization. While this might make research simpler, it certainly does not make for an attractive bibliography.
The project I exclusively worked with is the Densho Online Archive. These wonderful humanists have collected hundreds of hours of interviews, miles of documents, and official government papers concerning the Japanese-American experience, specifically focusing on the internment of citizens of Asian descent by our own government during World War Two. This collection of primary sources has remarkably little in the way of interpretation. That’s where I come into it. The archive is divided by topic, or camp, or time period, but all paths lead to the same sources. This allows for a historian to see connections the previous researchers have made, but more importantly, it leaves pathways for new intellectual connections to emerge.
In the end, I suppose it might be foolish to say, “the digital revolution is making it easier than ever to do research.” While the sheer amount of sources online can be beneficial, the tools used don’t really change the job to be done. There will always be a line between “research” and “good research.”

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