World War II was a dark time in history. Countless lives were lost or destroyed both on and off the battlefield. World War II cannot be discussed without mention of the Holocaust and the Nazi’s despicable crimes against Jews. Meanwhile, Americans don’t seem to be taught, or choose not to remember, the internment of Japanese Americans after the events of Pearl Harbor. The United State’s crimes against its own citizens is being forgotten, but archeology is saving this history from being erased.
Executive order #9066 ordered the internment of Japanese Americans into camps along the western portion of the United States. They were imprisoned for crimes they had not committed and lost all they had worked for in the United States. Their houses were no longer theirs, most of their possessions were lost, they couldn’t work, their culture was being taken away from them, and they were seen as the enemy by their former neighbors. Over two-thirds of the prisoners were American citizens, and their interment was against their rights (Camp). The Japanese Americans relocated to these camps did not know how long they would be staying, or what would be waiting for them when they got out. They suffered at the hands of their own country and it isn’t widely acknowledged by history.
Life within the camps was kept hidden from the outside. Pictures were controlled or not allowed, letters were censored, and prisoners constantly supervised (Camp). This led rumors to spread that the internees were living well, even better than average Americans during the struggles of the war. Archeology is helping reveal the truth of that life was like for the people forced to live there.
Not much is left of these camps, but archeologists are finding remnants that can tell us how Japanese Americans lived and dealt with their internment. Excavation of now vacant camps show evidence that the people housed there attempted to make the most of their stay. They were only permitted to bring one suitcase with bare necessities and forced to sell the rest of their possessions, an essential robbery of their life and heritage since many personal items left behind reflected Japanese culture. So it makes sense that Japanese Americans would try to create their culture where they could. Exterior areas were given a Japanese style with gardens ponds and walkways. Evidence at one Colorado camp even shows that the Japanese Americans altered the soil with eggshells to grow traditional Japanese vegetables (Camp).
Archeologists have also found evidence of high security around the camps. Guard towers and fences gives evidence that those living there were not free to leave, and were in fact prisoners. At some camps prisoners were forced to work; at the Kooskia Camp in Idaho Japanese Americans were forced to build a highway (Banse).
Most people kept in the camps had to start entirely new lives upon their release, forced to acclimate to American life once more. Even after the release of Japanese Americans their suffering continued. They faced racism and xenophobia that hindered their ability to move on and start again. The least history could do is acknowledge the suffering Japanese Americans went through.
2012 Archaeologists Resurrect Nearly Forgotten WWII Internment Camp. Northwest News Network
Camp, Stacy Lynn
2015 Landscapes of Japanese Internment. Historical Archeology Volume(50):169-186
2015 Colorado Japanese-American Internment Camp Opens Forgotten History. The Associated Press
2011 The Archeology of Internment. Archeology
Scenes from Japanese Internment Today
Archaeology of the Japanese American incarceration