Densho is a Japanese term meaning “to pass on to the next generation.” Densho is also the name of a Seattle-based organization that works to preserve and share the history of the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans. Members do so to promote equity and justice today. Densho offers an American story with ongoing relevance: during World War II, the United States government incarcerated innocent people solely because of their ethnicity.
The Densho organization individualizes the term “Japanese American Internment” by documenting the lives and experiences of those who were incarcerated. One of these is Frank Emi, a Japanese American citizen born in Los Angeles in 1916. (Please see the 1944 image of Emi below). Emi did not believe that an American citizen should be forced to fight for freedom and democracy abroad when denied those rights in his own country. According to the Densho Encyclopedia, “Frank Emi was the one of the leaders of a resistance movement who dared question the legality of drafting Japanese American men, already incarcerated in remotely located concentration camps, into the U.S. Army during World War II. Convicted of conspiracy to violate the Selective Service Act, Emi served eighteen months in a federal penitentiary and the rest of his life defending his stance” (Newman). Emi’s resistance to the draft and subsequent incarceration as documented in the Densho Encyclopedia is the subject for analysis in Discussion Board Forum 4.
When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941 there were 127,000 ethnic Japanese living in the United States. Most lived on the West Coast, “segregated from the mainstream of American life. In the western states where they were concentrated around urban areas, most Japanese Americans could not vote, or own land. 47,000 Japanese aliens, known as Issei (native born Japanese living in the US), were ineligible for American citizenship under law. Only their children, or Nisei (US born children of native-born Japanese) could become citizens” (Davidson 527-29).
Following the Pearl Harbor attack, “West Coast politicians pressed President Franklin Roosevelt (FDR) and his administration to remove the Japanese from their communities. It did not seem to matter that about 80,000 Nisei were American citizens and that none had been convicted of espionage. In response, the US War Department in February 1942 drew up Executive Order 9066, which allowed the exclusion of any person from designated military areas. The order was applied only on the West Coast against Japanese Americans” (Davidson 527-29). FDR reluctantly signed the order, creating the Wartime Relocation Authority which quickly initiated efforts to justify the incarceration of Japanese Americans through propaganda films.
This notorious executive order resulted in the interment of most Japanese Americans “in ten camps in remote areas of seven western states. No claims of humane treatment could change the reality; these were concentration camps. Internees were held in wire-enclosed compounds by armed guards. Tar-papered barracks housed families in single rooms fashioned out of tar-papered shacks. It was home” (Davidson 527-29).
Frank Emi, his wife, and infant daughter were sent to the Heart Mountain “War Relocation Authority” camp located in northwestern Wyoming. (Please see the map image and the image of the camp below). There, Emi worked to interfere with the efforts to draft Japanese American men into the American war effort. Emi himself was not subject to the compulsory draft because he had a dependent child. Emi acted because he “believed that the restoration of full citizenship rights to incarcerated Nisei had to occur prior to compulsory military service” (Newman). For his actions Emi was convicted of conspiracy to violate the Selective Service Act and was sentenced to four years in a maximum-security federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?
Please proceed with the Discussion Board Forum 4 assignment in this way:
Read the brief essay about Frank Emi’s civil disobedience online in the Densho Encyclopedia. A PDF version of this essay is available at the link below for your convenience.
Read the brief extract (link below) from the Final Report – Japanese Evacuation from the West Coast 1942. This brief document gives you the US government perspective as to why the internment action was necessary and justified. The extract is from “Chapter II, Need for Military Control and Evacuation” of the original report.
Optional! Watch the 6:57 minute Comedy Central/Drunk History YouTube video (link below) that dramatizes Frank Emi’s civil disobedience. Note the warning about images of alcohol consumption and adult humor in the video.
Real Optional! Listen to a 2:17 minute audio recording of the director of the War Relocation Authority justifying the incarceration of Japanese Americans. This audio is from the opening moments of the 9:26 minute 1943 film produced by the War Department titledJapanese Relocation, also available at a YouTube link below below.
Navigate to Discussion Board Forum 4 – Frank Emi and Japanese American Internment and respond to this inquiry:
When the US War Department began drafting interned Nisei men in 1944, Frank Emi was not subject to the draft because he had a dependent child. His acts of civil disobedience were directed at efforts to draft other eligible Nisei men. Emi believed these men should have their rights as US citizens restored prior to compulsory military service. If you had been in Emi’s place, would have done the same thing? Were his actions worth several months in a federal penitentiary? Why do you say that?
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