9066 : FDR's Raw Deal
When we learned about WWII in school, they never mentioned the American concentration camps. They never mentioned Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, that time we forcibly relocated and imprisoned 110,000 West Coast dwelling Japanese and Japanese Americans (overwhelmingly US citizens) in the US interior and South, revoked their rights, made them give up their homes, farms, shops and possessions solely for their ethnicity under supposed “military necessity” (view the propaganda film here). They never had us memorize names like Topaz Internment Camp (Central Utah), Colorado River Internment Camp, Arizona Gila River Internment Camp (Phoenix, Arizona), Granada Internment Camp (Colorado), Heart Mountain Internment Camp (Wyoming), Jerome Internment Camp (Arkansas), Manzanar Internment Camp (California), Minidoka Internment Camp (Idaho), Rohwer Internment Camp (Arkansas), Tule Lake Internment Camp, (California), though they should have.
They never mentioned the hypocrisy of later drafting those Japanese men while living behind barbed wire, surveilled by rifle towers, then pitting them against some of the worst elements and the steepest odds of the European theater. I had never heard of the 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team, the segregated unit that these men constituted, nor that they were the most decorated unit in US Military History despite how instrumental they were in the victory of battles up the length of Italy. Perhaps these aspects of history have entered the curriculum by now. I can’t be sure, but they weren’t when I was in Middle School and High School 20 years ago.
This tragic history has constituted only whispers in the discourse about our dubious 20th century undertakings and a footnote of the Wartime narrative when they should be part of the main text. It wasn’t until I saw Ken Burns’ The War in 2007, at the age of 23, that I learned of the 9066 atrocity, which the film divulges thoroughly from the perspectives of surviving internees and Veteran’s of the 100th/442nd, including the late Hawaii Senator Daniel Ken Inoue who served in office for 58 years. This was the first in a series of encounters that shed brighter and brighter light on something I couldn’t believe wasn’t common knowledge. In 2013 I read Julie Otsuka’s The Buddha In The Attic, while it was being celebrated by One Book, One Philadelphia . In its final three chapters Otsuka affectingly portrays the start of the war, the curdling of an already sour or tacit reception of the Japanese in California communities, and the tragic commencement of 9066 from the pluralized perspectives of Japanese women. Otsuka tackles this subject head-on in her debut 2002 novel When The Emperor Was Divine. Later, in 2017 Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival provided a rich retelling of the 9066 experience through two documentaries, Relocation Arkansas and Resistance At Tule Lake. Relocation Arkansas uniquely delves into the residual trauma, the buried or underexposed histories within families and within academia, explores the paths of post-war relocation, and highlights efforts to heal the wounds of this trauma through preservation. This past year Fathom Events presented nationwide screenings of the Broadway musical Allegiance (2012) by Jay Cuo inspired by the internment experiences of star George Takei that puts us into the thick of things. Cuo creates a full, emotional and humanistic rendering of a complicated, sordid and bleak affair. The infusion of humor amidst heartbreak, resilience amidst hopelessness, and the testing of familial/community bonds (both inherited and found), is undeniably powerful.
Most cinematic explorations of 9066 are dated after the year 2000. Which is to say it is a latent and under explored subject, particularly in the motion picture medium which has the potential to imbue historical narratives with deep emotional heft, and thus set deep into the psyche. A Star Is Born has been made 4 times, yet there are barely as many narrative films that go to this particular place. Most of the films that exist are documentary, several are in the short film category, others are feature length major motion pictures. Thankfully some are even written/directed by Japanese Americans who have taken ownership of their own histories and excavate the residual/inherited trauma. Several first hand accounts, written as novels or memoirs like Tule Lake by Edward T. Miyakawa, have been the primary source for understanding the truth and minutiae of the experience.
Now is the time to hold 9066 in our memory, individually and as a nation, as we experience a re-evaluative zeitgeist in our culture, a willingness to tear down thinly veiled travesties and a refusal to be silent in the face of injustices, inequalities and racism, macro and micro. 9066 needs to be known, needs to be salient, needs to be both vilified for its inherent disgrace and honored for the sake of its victims’ resilience, adaptivity and also enduring pain, that we may never make this mistake again. Just recently “The Korematsu-Takai Civil Liberties Protection Act of 2019, a bill drafted by three Asian American Congresspeople, “US Sens. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, along with US Rep. Mark Takano of California -- all Democrats -- would bar Americans from being forcibly incarcerated based on their race or religion.” This Act is “necessary to safeguard individual freedoms, especially at a time when President Donald Trump has made divisive comments about Muslims and other marginalized groups.”
Though we have yet to repeat this same exact atrocity, it has descendants in practices like Redlining, Muslim bans, proposed walls, and many policies besides that exercise power through the restraint of access to care and benefits, education, affordable housing, freedom of mobility, etc. These are the more abstract but no less insidious institutional efforts to isolate, if not incarcerate, specific communities of color and religions from equal opportunity and safety. 9066 also had its antecedents. 9066 did not occur in a bubble, distinct from a context of “Yellow Peril” as represented in policies such as the Immigration Act of 1924 (which restricted and in some cases banned immigration to the US from Asian countries, including annual quotas not to be exceeded) The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 (not repealed until 1943!), and numerous extant (at the time) anti miscegenation laws between Asian and white people. This, coupled with the fact that (to this day mind you) we have Native American Reservations, the enduring foundational precursor to the audacious 9066, it should not be surprising that an early/mid-twentieth century US would do something like executive order 9066, yet still it shocks. We still need to remember this vividly, discuss it openly, and see it represented. I repeat… SEE IT REPRESENTED.
February 19th 2019 marked the 77th anniversary. Cinema76 presents here a resource for seeing much of the cinematic material dedicated to 9066 which preserve the truth of a national trauma, and which honor the lives of those who were lost, who endured, and who endure.
Witness: The Legacy of Heart Mountain (2014) by David Ono and Jeff MacIntyre, which premiered on ABC network television in 2014 is about the Heart Mountain War Relocation Center, named after nearby Heart Mountain and located outside of Cody, Wyoming, one of ten concentration camps used to incarcerate Japanese Americans during World War II. Imprisoned solely for their heritage, the film explores life behind barb wire for over 10,000 Japanese Americans. The documentary features interviews from internees and their family members.” (wikipedia) Witness: TLHM can be viewed for free on Vimeo.
Only the Brave (2006), written, directed and starring Lane Nishikawa, and co-starring Mark Dacascos and Tamlyn Tomita, is “A searing portrait of war and prejudice, 'Only the Brave' takes you on a haunting journey into the hearts and minds of the forgotten heroes of WWII - the Japanese-American 100th/442nd. In 1941, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, overnight Japanese Americans were put into internment camps for the duration of the war. Determined to prove their loyalty, 1400 Japanese Americans successfully petitioned the government to serve becoming the 100th Infantry Battalion. They were sent to North Africa, Italy and finally France were they performed an impossibly-dangerous rescue of the Texas 36th Division. During their two years of combat these men received an unparalleled 21 Medals of Honor, 9,486 Purple Hearts, 8 Presidential Citations, 53 Distinguished Service Crosses, 588 Silver Stars and 5,200 Bronze stars - making them the most decorated unit of their size in American military history. This is their story.” (imdb) Only The Brave can be rented or purchased on Amazon.
Resistance At Tule Lake (2017) “The dominant narrative of the World War II incarceration of Japanese-Americans has been that they behaved as a “model minority,” that they cooperated without protest and proved their patriotism by enlisting in the Army. Resistance at Tule Lake, a new feature-length documentary from Third World Newsreel (Camera News Inc.) and directed by Japanese American filmmaker Konrad Aderer, overturns that myth by telling the long-suppressed story of Tule Lake Segregation Center.” RATL is available on iTunes, dvd and Netflix dvd rental.
Farewell to Manzanar (1976) is a “Made-for-television movie about a Japanese American family in Manzanar during World War II. Based on the book of the same name by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston, Farewell to Manzanar aired nationally on NBC stations on March 11, 1976, and remains one of the few mainstream dramatic films centered on the Japanese American concentration camp experience.” Available on dvd (notably with Japanese subtitles)
Children of the Camps (1999) “captures the experiences of six Americans of Japanese ancestry who were confined as innocent children to internment camps by the U.S. government during World War II. The film vividly portrays their personal journey to heal the deep wounds they suffered from this experience.” The documentary is only the centerpiece of a greater intention of Dr. Satsuki Ina’s The Children of the Camps Project, which is “to facilitate a healing experience for the Japanese American community by holding workshops where former internees and their families can view the documentary and further explore the personal and inter generational impact of the incarceration experience, perhaps for the first time. As a response to cultural constraints and fear of repercussion, many have buried their pain and endured the psychological consequences of this unresolved trauma. To train mental health providers regarding the interplay of culture and oppression on the psychological well-being of ethnic minorities as exemplified by the coping strategies of the Japanese Americans in response to the WW II incarceration experience.” (PBS) Available to rent on Amazon Prime
Kommando 1944 (2018) is a 44min film by Derek Quick about a Japanese American soldier named Son taken as a Nazi POW, told in tandem with the 9066 incarceration of Japanese and Japanese Americans in domestic US concentration camps, including his own family, interred at Manzanar. Currently doing the rounds of global film festivals, Kommando 1944 is on track to beat records for numerous awards garnered and number of festivals played. “Derek Quick is a Native American Film Director and U.S. Navy/U.S. Coast Guard Veteran having served ten years before moving to Los Angeles to pursue Film making.” The film is currently only screening at festivals.
Come See the Paradise (2006) In this drama from director Alan Parker, on-the-lam Jack McGurn (Dennis Quaid) flees to Los Angeles and takes a job as a projectionist at a movie theater owned by a Japanese-American man (Sab Shimono). Jack falls for the owner's daughter, Lily (Tamlyn Tomita), but they are forced to elope to Seattle when her father forbids the relationship. The couple marry and have a daughter, but when World War II breaks out, Jack is powerless to stop his new family's forced incarceration. It depicts, importantly, allyship that comes at great cost to a man willing to defy his nation’s orders, pitting the valor of his dedication to his wife over the institutional valor of service. This title can be rented on Amazon, iTunes and youtube.
American Pastime (2007) Desmond Nakano wrote and directed this film about the “dramatic impact WWII had in the home-front as U.S. Japanese families were uprooted from their daily lives and placed in concentration camps in Western States in the early 1940s.” (imdb) AP takes place at the Topaz Camp in Utah, and was filmed not far from that actual location. Baseball is the titular pastime, as members form an in-camp league to endure their isolation and keep community morale high, even as members of the league are drafted into the 100th/442nd to fight and die in North Africa and Italy. Available to rent on youtube and iTunes, as well as dvd.
History and Memory: For Akiko and Takashige (1991) An artfully assembled documentary, Tajiri’s 33min film is “a poetic composition of recorded history and non-recorded memory. Filmmaker Rea Tajiri's family was among the 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans who were imprisoned in concentration camps after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Tajiri blends interviews, memorabilia, a pilgrimage to the camp where her mother was interned, and the story of her father, who had been drafted pre-Pearl Harbor and returned to find his family's house removed from its site. Throughout, she surveys the impact of images (real images, desired images made real, and unrealized dream images).” This film can be viewed for free on kanopy.com if you have an existing participating library membership. A 5 minute excerpt can be seen on vimeo.
Go For Broke! (1951) is a Hollywood production that shows in respectable detail, the 100th/442nd’s journey from camp to the front lines in Europe during WWII. Notably the Japanese roles are played by ethnically Japanese people, some of whom were Vets of 442nd. As expected of the time, and in fact a mainstream storytelling model repeated to this day (cue Green Book), our escort into this story is a white man, played by Van Johnson (the only billed actor on the poster). All told, Go For Broke! is notable for its frankness, its accurate (for the time) depictions of combat experience and military tactics without inflated heroics, and commendable for its sadly rare portrayal of Asian individuals in positive light. It may be telling that, despite earning a Best Screenplay Oscar nomination, M.G.M did not renew their own rights to the film, allowing it to laps into public domain. It didnt receive a television premier until 1979. The film can be found in very poor quality free upload on youtube, or rented from youtube as well as a bargain dvd by Alpha Video.
Go For Broke : An Origin Story (2018). A reclamation of the 100th/442nd narrative, taking back the title from the 1951 film, with a nearly all Asian cast that eschews the white protagonist and tells the story from the perspectives of the Japanese and Japanese Americans who lived it. “This award-winning film by Alexander Bocchieri tells the origin stories of the most highly decorated unit in US military history, the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and Military Intelligence Service. Dark clouds hang over the Japanese community in America after Pearl Harbor is attacked -- almost half the population in Hawaii is comprised of Japanese immigrants and their American offspring. The inspiring true story you've never heard, about heroes you didn't know existed. Ban Daisuke, Michael Ng, Chad Yazawa, Chris Tashima, Peter Shinkoda, Cole Horibe, Kyle Kosaki. Original score by Jake Shimabukuro.” This film can be rented or purchased on vimeo. Watch the stunning trailer for it here.
RELOCATION, ARKANSAS (2017) “explores the effect of the Japanese American incarceration experience in Arkansas during WWII on the generation that was born after the camps closed, the unlikely tale of those Japanese Americans who remained behind, and the even more unlikely tale of how a small-town Arkansas mayor of Italian descent became a legend in the Japanese American community. But with its themes of the complexity and hypocrisy of race relations in America, journeys toward forgiveness and healing, and cross community understanding, the film transcends regional and cultural constraints unlike any other film on the incarceration experience”. (PAAFF). Relocation, Arkansas can be viewed online through vimeo or purchased on dvd from the filmmakers.