In the days and weeks immediately following Sept. 11 numerous incidents of taunts and violence were reported throughout the US aimed at Afghan Americans, Arab Americans, Indian Americans and others with some in the government and media arguing for detaining immigrants considered suspect while polls were showing that Americans supported racial profiling.
Voices unafraid to speak out against such hate crimes and injustice were heard throughout the land and in particular within the Japanese American community. "We went through some similar things in World War II when we were evacuated and incarcerated," Yuri Kochiyama, who spent more than two years in an American internment camp during World War II and who now works as an activist on behalf of political prisoners, told the San Francisco Chronicle's Ryan Kim. "Because we experienced harassment, Japanese Americans and all people of color should support one another."
As an apolitical nine-year old living in tranquil West Los Angeles, Calif., I was unaware on Dec. 7, 1941, that I was about to be a witness to not only the last world war, but also a stark and early lesson in how patriotism, racism and national security can be skillfully exploited by powerful economic and political corporate interests in the pursuit of greed.
It was only a few weeks after Pearl Harbor that World War II would become omnipresent in our daily lives. There was the military patrolling our streets protecting an important nearby airplane factory and a middle-of-the-night scare of having to evacuate our homes because "enemy aircraft" were reportedly spotted off the Southern California coast.
What made the biggest impression, however, on those of us living in that area of Southern California in early 1942 was the almost overnight disappearance of so many of our neighbors and fellow citizens of Japanese ancestry.
Once a community of many gardeners and nurserymen that catered to the needs of the nearby affluent neighborhoods, whole blocks suddenly disappeared. Lurid stories of spying, the purported discovery of basement arsenals of weapons and tales of attempted sabotage dominated conversations.
Thus, began that infamous chapter in California's and the nation's history when Franklin D. Roosevelt in early 1942 issued Executive Order 9066, which saw 120,000 West Coast Japanese American citizens forced from their homes, businesses, and farms into concentration camps for the duration of World War II. There, not only were thousands of American citizens disenfranchised of their constitutional rights, but with the removal from their homes and their land, a significant segment of the family-farm class structure of California agriculture would be dramatically and forever altered.
Despite all those historical land ownership restrictions put on the Japanese in California, by 1940 over half of the state's Japanese-American population were rooted in the soil. Although there were 5,135 Japanese farm operators in 1940, largely because of the 1913 Alien Land Act, only 1,295 were land owners.
Japanese farmers, by engaging in intensified cultivation, tended to raise the productivity of the land and its yield, along with also raising land values. In addition, they had also proved to be a barrier to those large growers who desired to buy or lease additional land in an effort to get larger and larger. The fact that such productivity efforts were already a well-established fact in California agriculture was seemingly ignored by those same small growers blinded as they were by racial prejudice fanned by agribusiness interests.
Of the 240,000 acres the Japanese American farmers operated, 80,000 were owned and 160,000 were leased, a combined total of less than three-tenths of 1% of the state's farms. Yet, these farms yielded seven times more dollars that the average California farm as the Japanese planted 75% of their land, while the average state farmer planted only 25% of their land.
In a 1975 study by California's Davis Research Group, researcher Richard Johnson observed: "Thus, the small-scale intensive farming methods which were brought across the seas with the Japanese were proving far more effective than the large-scale technological-chemical farming which was being developed by the agricultural colleges and applied by most California growers."
Japanese-American farmers had been producing 90% of the state's strawberry crop, 73% of the snap beans, 75% of the celery, 70% of the lettuce, 60% of the cauliflower, 60% of the spinach, and 50% of the tomatoes. They also grew cantaloupes, carrots, onions, nursery stock, peas, cranberries, radishes and sugar beets.
By early fall of 1941, the Western Growers and Shippers Protective Association (now the Western Growers Association) in conjunction with the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce were engaged in a concerted effort to pressure the US Attorney and the War Department to remove the Japanese from California farming and were urging the state Congressional delegation to pass a resolution to ban Japanese from the West Coast. All those efforts came to a successful climax on Dec. 7, 1941
The first step in interning the nation's West Coast Japanese Americans after the beginning of World War II came as many of the evacuees were sent to the Santa Anita Race Track in Arcadia, Calif. Here, on what was once the 4,000-acre home ranch of the Southern California libertine land baron E. J. "Lucky" Baldwin, the ranch where my German immigrant grandfather was employed and where my father spent his boyhood, over 20,000 dispossessed Japanese Americans were forced to live in horse stalls for nearly a year.
By August 1942, they and thousands of other internees who had been confined in 13 other temporary centers were transferred to 10 isolated California "relocation" camps at Manzanar, Topaz, Poston, Jerome, Gila, Heart Mountain, Tule Lake, Rohwer, Minidoka, and Granada for the war's duration.
Meanwhile, the highly productive and intensely cultivated land that had been quickly confiscated from them, land for which they never would be fully reimbursed, was placed under the jurisdiction of the Farm Security Administration. FSA records indicate that 6,664 pieces of Neisi (Japanese immigrant) agricultural property, totaling 258,000 acres, were involved in the seizure. Property losses alone were later estimated at $400 million, with less than 10% ever repaid after the war.
While the government sought to portray this massive "relocation" as simply an act of "national security," ironically in Hawaii, nearly 3,000 miles closer to the enemy and considerably more vulnerable to sabotage and invasion, Japanese Americans were not subject to such internment.
Liberal commentary would later seek to explain the government's actions as yet another example of the racial prejudice that has so frequently been seen throughout the Golden State's history and which has so often reared its ugly head in American society. Compelling evidence suggests that neither the "national security" nor the "yellow octopus" argument was the principal motivating factor for causing this flagrant abuse of rights.
For the most part the primary reason for these American citizens' incarceration has remained generally concealed and quietly camouflaged in jingoistic rhetoric. Fueled by California's long-standing Alien Land laws and the immediate wave of hatred and perceived danger that swept the US after Dec. 7, Austin E. Anson, managing secretary of the powerful Salinas Valley Grower-Shipper Association, was immediately dispatched to Washington, D.C. hours after Pearl Harbor to urge federal authorities to remove all individuals of Japanese ancestry from the area.
Anson drew a frightful scenario for the War and Navy departments, the attorney general, and every congressman he could get to listen to him. He described how the Salinas Valley sloped off into Monterey Bay making it an ideal landing place for an invading army. He told of how the valley's Japanese could support such a landing by blowing up bridges, disrupting traffic, and sabotaging local defenses.
While many in Washington, caught up in the war hysteria, believed Anson, law enforcement officials at the Justice Department and Attorney General's office did not. Edward Ennis, director of the US Justice Department's Enemy Alien Unit, some 42 years later, related to 60 Minutes' Ed Bradley how indeed there was "no factual basis" for moving against Americans of Japanese ancestry at that time. "We were very clear about that, we told the president we didn't believe there was any need to remove these farmers who were helping feed the civilian population and the military and it was really nonsense.
"I think DeWitt (Lt. Col. John L. DeWitt, commander of the western defense command and the government's coordinator of the entire internment program), who said 'a Jap is a Jap,' honestly or very mistakenly believed that he was protecting the country from possibilities of sabotage, espionage, and even invasion by taking such action, but he didn't move in that direction until he learned by political events, not military events, political events, that he would be supported in such an action."
Those "political events" and the motivation behind them were apparent to the former Justice department official. "The farmer-grower association going to Congress asked for getting rid of these people. This was largely a movement by a lot of different people to use the opportunity to get the Japanese farmer off the West Coast."
Responding to Bradley's query as to "why did they want to get rid of them, competition?" Ennis declared, "they got all their land, they got thousands and thousands of acres of the best land in California! The Japanese were just pushed off the land!"
Thus, as Ennis asserts and as Anson earlier explained to Frank J. Taylor of the Saturday Evening Post in May, 1942: "We're charged with wanting to get rid of the Japs for selfish reasons. We might as well be honest. We do. It's a question of whether the white man lives on the Pacific Coast or the brown men. They came into this valley to work and they stayed to take over. They offer higher prices and higher rents than the white man can pay for land. They undersell the white man in the markets. They can do this because they raise their own labor. They work their women and children while the white farmer has to pay wages for help.
"If all the Japs were removed tomorrow, we'd never miss them in two weeks, because the white farmers can take over and produce everything the Japs grow. And we don't want them back when the war ends, either!"
As author and researcher Anne Reeploeg Fisher pointed out in her 1965 book Exile Of A Race: "The 'farmers' from whom Anson spoke, were the Montgomery Street Farmers --- Montgomery Street, San Francisco being the Wall Street of the West --- considered one of the most powerful aggregations of wealthy corporations in the US."
Others also actively joined in the push for the removal of the Japanese as "a threat to national security." They included California State Attorney General Earl Warren (later to become governor and chief justice of the US Supreme Court), the Joint Immigration Committee, the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the California Farm Bureau, and its close ally, the militant, quasi-fascist Associated Farmers.
The latter organization, upon whose executive committee Anson served, was the subject of a study in 1938 by the Simon J. Lubin Society of California Inc. and later in the 1940-41 LaFallotte Congressional hearings. They showed that the initial funds for the organization were raised by Earl Fisher of Pacific Gas & Electric and Leonard Wood of the California Packing Company (nee Del Monte Corp.)
Some of its major contributors and backers at both the state and local levels at the time included Sante Fe, Western Pacific, Union Pacific, and Southern Pacific railroads; PG & E and Southern California Gas Co.; Bank of America and Transamerica Corp.; the State Chamber of Commerce, and Joseph DiGiorgio, among others.
Research by the Davis Research Group also found that several corporate agribusiness interests as well as members of the Western Growers and Shippers Association received confiscated Japanese land at practically no cost.
In the early months of the war when it was already apparent to the intelligence community that no acts of sabotage or espionage were being recorded by Japanese Americans, Lt. Gen. DeWitt was nevertheless posing a curious hypothesis. Given the fact that many Nisei lived near "strategic points," he argued, such as air fields, power lines, military installations and oil fields, "the very fact that no sabotage has taken place to date is a disturbing and confirming indication that such action will be taken."
DeWitt's reasoning, contained in a Feb. 14, 1942, memorandum addressed to the Secretary of War, came rather ironically only two days after a nationally syndicated newspaper column titled "The Fifth Column on the Coast" first appeared which argued that the conditions on the West Coast were so grave that the civil rights of citizens of Japanese ancestry should be set aside.
Other national syndicated columnists echoed these same thoughts all having emanated from the pen of Walter Lippman.
It was in 1986 after 19 ex-interned Japanese Americans successfully sued the US government for improperly concealing information developed by naval intelligence in 1942 that the internment was not a military necessity. Judge J. Skelly Wright noted in his decision that, "we have learned that extraordinary injustice can provoke extraordinary acts of concealment. Where such concealment is alleged it ill behooves the government of a free people to evade an honest accounting."
On Sept. 17, 1987, the 200th anniversary of the US Constitution, the US House of Representatives passed a bill 243-141 formally apologizing for the internment and appropriating $1.2 billion in reparations to the 66,000 surviving Japanese American detainees.
It was none other than Earl Warren who would after the war reflect that this citizen internment was a mistake that demonstrates "the cruelty of war when fear, get tough military psychology, propaganda and racial antagonism combine with one's responsibility for public security to produce such acts."
A. V. Krebs operates the Corporate Agribusiness Research Project, P.O. Box 2201, Everett, Washington 98203-0201; email firstname.lastname@example.org; www.ea1.com/CARP/