There were no concentration camps in America

2012-09-23T00:00:00Z There were no concentration camps in AmericaBy ROGER W. LOTCHIN Professor of History, University of North Carolina Casper Star-Tribune Online

I  want to call your attention to a new addition to Wyoming culture. It is a museum of the Heart Mountain Japanese American Relocation Center between Cody and Powell in World War II.

As you probably know, the Japanese-Americans on the West Coast were evacuated from their West Coast homes to camps in the interior West and Arkansas. That was done as a national security measure because the U. S. government doubted the loyalty of many of the “Nikkei,” as the group was then called, and feared the military prowess of the Imperial Japanese Navy.

The point of the museum is to prove that the camps were “concentration camps” and that they were established because of racism. Neither charge is true and neither has ever been proven. It is beyond question that many of the first generation Nikkei (a term comprising all Japanese-Americans) were loyal to Japan and some even went so far as to repatriate themselves to that country during the war and many more stated their intention to do so. The first generation had extensive pre-war ties to the Imperial Japanese government through the Japanese consuls in the United States. The pre-war Japanese claimed to have an extensive spy network on the West Coast and just before the war the government rolled up a net headed by a man named Itaru Tachibana. We don’t know whether a net existed after that point, but we do know that the Imperial Japanese servants thought that they had one. So did the American government. The United States and its allies suffered tremendous losses in the first six months of the war and the government thought that it could not fully trust the Nikkei in case the Imperial Japanese launched a raid on the West Coast. That was what caused the relocation of the Nikkei.

How many Japanese- Americans were disloyal is not known, but I have never read a piece of evidence from a reliable witness which said that all of them were loyal.

I would admit that relocation was a bitter experience for the Nikkei but it was not caused by “racism;” it was caused by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and other

U.S. and allied possessions. The Heart Mountain Museum does not say this; it says that American racism caused the relocation.

Racism, as it was understood at the time, meant a belief in the biological inferiority of a group. I have never read a shred of evidence that shows that either the American or western publics in general or the decision makers who decided on the camps thought that the Japanese here or in Japan were biologically inferior. Anti-Japanese feeling certainly was present, but not biological racism. Americans and westerners were angry about the attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent Pacific War, in which their sons might have to fight and die, but their anger was mostly nationalist, not racist.

They were angry at Japan as a nation. To argue that racism caused the camps is to let the Japanese fascist government off the hook for the war that it caused.

And the camps were not comparable to any historic concentration camps, either those in Cuba, South Africa, or the Philippines at the turn of the 19 century, nor the World War II camps run by the Nazis. These camps were horrible in the extreme and the American camps were nothing like them. They were humane, if Spartan institutions, with all kinds of privileges that never existed in historic concentration camps. These rights included freedom of speech and religion, K-12 education for children, free medical care, free flow of information, plenty of food, clothing allowances, radios, some short wave, telephones, the right to visit or be visited, and a leave policy that allowed for both short-term and long-term leaves.

Several thousand young Japanese-Americans were allowed to leave the camps to attend college where they were almost universally treated well. None of these rights existed in the historic concentration camps referenced above. Between the American and Japanese governments the only one to operate anything close to concentration camps for civilians were those where some 5,000 American citizens were interned by the fascist Japanese government in the Philippine Islands after Japan conquered them early in the war.

Read “Captured” by Frances Cogan. By the time of the Allied re-conquest of the Philippines, most of the Americans in those Japanese camps were starving. They were only saved from death by hunger by liberation by American Army. Starvation was a universal characteristic of the historic concentration camps and no one in the WWII Americans relocation camps was starved by those running the centers.

Calling the relocation centers “concentration camps” is an outrageous misrepresentation. Even the Commission on Wartime Relocation and internment of civilians convened by the U. S. Government in the 1980s to investigate relocation specifically repudiated the term “concentration camps.”

Yet 30 years later this museum and many historians are still accusing the United States of running home front concentration camps.

That the Japanese- Americans suffered loss in the camps cannot be denied, specifically loss of property, loss of income, and loss of reputation. For some these losses were grievous. But the reason for that loss was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and other American territory in the Pacific.

The Japanese government in World War Ii was a fascist government and America was at war against fascism. Without the Japanese fascist initiation of the war there would have been no relocation. All the reasons for relocation usually trotted out by this school of history-weak political leadership-hysteria, racism, greed were tied to the war; they were not independent causes. This conclusion is inescapable because there was no significant movement to expel the Japanese from their West Cost homes before their mother country unleashed World War II on the United States.

And the field of Japanese relocation history is a part of a much larger sub-field of American history that seeks to paint America as a fundamentally racist place. Specifically, they seek to portray racism as the basis of both American policy and identity. The racism/concentration camp school is a typical academic endeavor, which has achieved an orthodoxy of interpretation largely by excluding opposing views. It could never have attained this dominance if the field allowed even minimal competition.

The Japanese-Americans have every right to their opinions about relocation, but so do the rest of us.

Roger W. Lotchin is a professor of history at the University of North Carolina

Copyright 2015 Casper Star-Tribune Online. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(19) Comments

  1. annmac
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    annmac - January 24, 2013 3:35 pm
    Are you kidding me. This man needs to pick up a history book. Or use google. the fact remains these people were taken against their will with no trial or crime having been committed. Today there are over 800 concentration sites in the USA alone , dubbed FEMA detention centers. The government swears they are for "our protection" used in case of some emergancy where martial law need to be instituted. The 7th calvary told the Sioux at wounded knee 127 years ago they were disarming them for their own protection. After some refused they slaughter 267 indians on their own land 200 of which were women and children. Then they handed out 20 medals of honor for their bravery. Wake up america...
  2. MadeAccountJust2CallThisGuyAnIdiot
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    MadeAccountJust2CallThisGuyAnIdiot - October 10, 2012 3:47 pm
    Thank God my future kids and their future kids will never live in NC nor attend UNC. You are simply awful. I'm confident you wrote this article to get the attention you clearly lack when in your classroom while you're putting 100's of kids to sleep.
  3. James Madison
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    James Madison - October 05, 2012 10:06 am
    The History Professor fails to examine the important fact that camps did exist that rounded up American citizens without trial or evidence. Regardless of his absurd claim to know the inside of the minds behind US legislators that authorized the detention of Japanese Americans based on national origin and race, the point they were arrested for their alleged thought/loyalty is unconstitutional and immoral. Thought police tactics are okay?

    This is what the National Defense Authorization Act will permit in the future. Future professors will justify the camps are not concentration camps, but simply detention camps to indefinitely detain American citizens without trial or evidence (not based on race).

    Does it really make the fact that in America land of the free, home of the brave, that our government can get away with acting like a fascist regime and round up citizens under suspicions to read our thoughts and minds?

  4. carlover
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    carlover - October 05, 2012 5:55 am
    Wow, and they say histroy is written by those who survived. and not the real heros who died. i can tell you this as a young man, my uncle louie worked on the place heart mountian,. he told me stories of great hardships these people endured and the out right abuse of prisioners. he himself was one of the many who tared the roof on the buildings housing them and when the tar would leak as tar does though the wood roof, it would burn the people below inside. the states did not care if they were burned or not. some were severly burned on their faces, heads, backs and shoulders. this was a consintration camp with armed guards, so sir you need to check some facts.
  5. Eric WY
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    Eric WY - October 03, 2012 7:44 am
    Dear Professor, go across campus immediately and find your colleague Eric Muller, Professor of Law. Save yourself: he can perform the necessary intervention that will rid you of your delusions.
  6. SarekOfVulcan
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    SarekOfVulcan - October 03, 2012 7:23 am
    Mr. Lotchin, you are certainly entitled to your own opinion. You are not, however, entitled to your own facts.
  7. Mtn_DEW
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    Mtn_DEW - October 01, 2012 8:17 pm
    I don't think we can/should argue about what seem to be historical facts.
    There are and have been lots and lots of scumbag politicians. Far too many of them make excellent arguments for term limitations.
    I strongly believe there should be a national initiative or referendum to establish term limitations and limiting their lifetime benefits.

    "Yes, we did produce a near perfect Republic. But, will they keep it, or will they in the enjoyment of plenty, lose the memory of freedom? Material abundance without character is the surest way to destruction."

    Thomas Jefferson
  8. Big Evan Diehl
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    Big Evan Diehl - October 01, 2012 8:09 pm
    Do you feel better now, Professor Lotchkin? We haven't tortured anyone in the past few years, either. And whenever a Hellfire missile is pickled off a drone by a video gamer in Nevada it always kills only bad guys. And George Bush invaded Iraq to get Saddam's WMD, AND HE GOT IT! LOTS OF IT! IT WAS EVERYWHERE OVER THERE!

    Tell yourself whatever you have to, Professor, but spare the rest of us your revisionism.
  9. wyomingbrian
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    wyomingbrian - September 30, 2012 9:04 pm
    Can we agree that Mr. Thurmond was a racist? And that he switched parties once the Dems supported civil rights for black folk? He had the longest filabuster the Senate floor ever saw fighting against....civil rights. So I was wrong about him admitting to being in the kkk. What I should have said was that Mr. Thurmond would have made a nice addition to the kkk as his views mirrored theirs.
  10. Mtn_DEW
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    Mtn_DEW - September 30, 2012 4:49 pm

    And, in case you didn't know, Strom Thurmond was a Democrat until after 1964 but he was NEVER a member of the KKK (according to all the sources I've read). He actually fathered a mixed-race child at the age of 22.

    I try to never "defend" politicians. I only try to choose between the least slimy ones (which isn't easy when you only have a couple of choices on the ballots) .


  11. wyomingbrian
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    wyomingbrian - September 30, 2012 12:50 pm
    Mr. mtn dew, just so you know there have been many racists from both political parties in recent American history. Byrd (democrat from West Virginia) and Thurmond (Republican from South Carolina) were both proud KKK members in their youth. Learn about the racist "Dixiecrats" becoming republicans once the civil rights movement frightened them. The two party system guarantees "the choice" to pick between two losers.
  12. hidden
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    hidden - September 29, 2012 4:36 pm
    This is, by far, one of the funniest things I've read on the internet all week. I am a 23 year old with nothing but a bachelor's degree and even I'M able to find the myriad holes in this Onion article of an essay.

    I'm not sure if you're trying to stir up buzz for an upcoming book or if you really just don't know things, but let's open a book or two, watch an oral history, ANYTHING, before we start writing articles.

    If you don't feel like doing that, I am REALLY excited for whatever else you decide to write!

    And thank you for this gem! "Anti-Japanese feeling certainly was present, but not biological racism." Just cause they hated people because of their race, didn't mean they were racist. It just meant they hated them because of their race. Got it.

    "And the camps were not comparable to any historic concentration camps, either those in Cuba, South Africa, or the Philippines at the turn of the 19 century, nor the World War II camps run by the Nazis." OH I see what you're doing. Because the term "concentration camp" was a Nazi-endorsed euphemism for death camps, the joke behind this article is that you're a Nazi. GOT IT. That adds a whole new layer of humor to it.

    "By the time of the Allied re-conquest of the Philippines, most of the Americans in those Japanese camps were starving." Ok. Ok, I'll give you this. It's only fair that we lock up 3 year olds, the elderly, and a few hundred thousands to atone for something a foreign country is doing. This is fair. Good thing we're implementing it now by persecuting anyone who looks remotely Muslim. They definitely deserve it after what Afghanistan is doing to our boys in uniform, amirite?

    "The Japanese-Americans have every right to their opinions about relocation, but so do the rest of us." Which is good! Because most of you (including at least 3 presidential administrations) agree with us as well! Glad we're straight on that one.

    Gosh this is such a quotable piece...
  13. Executive Order 9066
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    Executive Order 9066 - September 27, 2012 6:48 pm
    Roger Lotchin is wrong about so many things, it's hard to know where to start. But lets start with the phrase "concentration camp," which was the language that the U.S. government used to describe the encampments built to incarcerate/hold/detain a group of people during a time of war--there's an excellent NPR piece that explains just why the term "concentration camp" is both historically accurate and appropriate to use with respect to Japanese Americans incarcerated during WWII:

    There are also many scholars, professors at reputable universities like Lotchin's own UNC Chapel Hill, who have written numerous books that disagree with his claims in this essay. Roger Daniels (quoted in the NPR piece), Greg Robinson, John Howard, Paul Spickard, Eichiro Azuma, Michi Weglyn, and Lotchin's own colleague Eric Muller have all written books, articles, essays both academic and popular that discuss the unconstitutionality of the incarceration, the racism inherent in Executive Order 9066 (the order FDR used to suspend the constitutional rights of every person living on the West Coast--the military under General DeWitt decided that the only group who qualified for evacuation and incarceration were people of Japanese descent--aliens and non-aliens, the government couldn't bring themselves to say they were locking up U.S. citizens).

    A few German and Italian nationals may have been illegally incarcerated--but there was never a mass evacuation and incarceration of German AMERICANS and Italian AMERICANS (women and children and whole families) as there were Japanese AMERICANS.

    Finally, the idea that it's justified to suspend the constitutional rights of 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry because it was for "revenge" over Pearl Harbor is, in fact, an instance of racism. Believing that it's OK to treat one race in an inferior manner based on their racial difference is inherently the definition of racism.
  14. jc45
    Report Abuse
    jc45 - September 25, 2012 12:01 pm
    Mtn_DEW, Thank you for the links. I‘m not a real fan of Wikipedia but some of the information was new to me and very interesting. One thing that I noticed was that the German and Italian concentration camps held mostly alien personnel and not US citizens of German and Italian ancestry. The Japanese camps were primarily filled with second generation US citizens of Japanese ancestry. I am glad that the Germans were not treated the same as the Japanese, because that means that I may have been born in one of these camps. The POW camps and the terrible treatment of our Native American brothers and sisters are different subjects.
  15. Mtn_DEW
    Report Abuse
    Mtn_DEW - September 23, 2012 3:44 pm
    Let's also remember what happened to the "native Americans". They had their lands seized and were put on "reservations".

    "A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have."
    Gerald Ford, presidential address to a joint session of Congress, 12 August 1974


  16. Mtn_DEW
    Report Abuse
    Mtn_DEW - September 23, 2012 2:28 pm


    If you were implying that there were no internment camps for the Germans and Italians, you would be very wrong.


    Concentration camp

    The Random House Dictionary defines the term "concentration camp" as: "a guarded compound for the detention or imprisonment of aliens, members of ethnic minorities, political opponents, etc.", and, the American Heritage Dictionary defines it as: "A camp where civilians, enemy aliens, political prisoners, and sometimes prisoners of war are detained and confined, typically under harsh conditions."

    I also find your snide comment about the Tea Party to be disgusting. But, then, I consider the source.
    The "Jim Crow" laws were established by white DEMOCRATS following the Civil War. It's a well documented fact that the Democratic party has been the party of racism in the United States.


  17. 7wilson
    Report Abuse
    7wilson - September 23, 2012 10:06 am
    The profession should return his PhD for someone who will use it. The US concentration camps for the internment of the Japanese Americas was primarily racist. These good people were not concentrated under armed guard because of anything they said or anything they did. They were subject to armed concentration simply because of who they were.

    The professor colors his apologist argument by claiming that the US was at war with fascism - yet willfully omits that the fascist attempt to overthrow the US government in 1934 went unpunished, unsanctioned. Some "war" against the fascists.

    Let's try being objective. The British colonies in North America did not being with slavery. But later when slavery became economically advantageous - first in the British Caribbean, it was soon imported and legalized in the rice, and later cotton plantations in the US. It's disingenuous to pretend that 350 years of enslaving primarily people of African descent and 100 years of Jim Crow, and the concentration camp internment of Japanese Americans (to say nothing of the lying treaty-treatment of the Indians) leaves anything other than the objective observation that, aside from some flowery words, that in practice the US was a racist nation.
  18. Cody Coyote
    Report Abuse
    Cody Coyote - September 23, 2012 8:39 am
    The author is a college professor. North Carolina. Read it again then go visit the Heart Mountain Camp about 14 miles up the road from where as I write. Talk to the old timers. Read the accounts of the day. Consider all that.

    Then ask one more question. Where were the stateside containment camps for the Germans and Italians ?

    Heart Mountain was not exclusively racist , but it was primarily racist . It was also an example of extreme Nationalism, which is as bad or worse and joined at the hip with Racism. As in the workings of National Socialist Party in aggressive Germany , which really was racist fascism. Ask a Warsaw Jew about the consequences of using nationalism to implement racism with extreme prejudice.

    Professor Lochtin's narrowminded essay here says overtly as much about the failings of the American education system as it does about our American collective national prejudice and bigotry . Jim Crow is alive and well in North Carolina, and elsewhere. You can find him/it in the Tea Party and all across the cultural landscape in those who can barely hide their hatred of the first sitting half-black President. Land of the Free? ---hardly.
  19. Pigdog
    Report Abuse
    Pigdog - September 23, 2012 5:25 am
    When they round up the idiots to put in a camp you will be on the list.
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