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Packing for Camp: Loss and Compensation among Japanese-American Evacuees

Created by:
Sharon Musher
Richard Stockton College of New Jersey

TAH Teachers
Greater Egg Harbor Regional School District

Japanese American Internment

Grade Level:
9 to 12


On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which gave the War Department the authority to define war zones and exclude individuals from them who might constitute a threat to national security. The order itself did not specify the national origins of those who would be excluded, and evacuees included Germans and Italians. But the bulk of those interned were Japanese Americans. Between 1942 and 1946, the U.S. army exiled 122,000 people of Japanese birth or ancestry from California, Oregon, Washington and other West Coast areas, putting them into concentration camps.

During this period, the United States' Supreme Court twice ruled that it was constitutional to deprive American citizens of their civil liberties in the interest of national security. The Supreme Court would not reverse its ruling regarding the legal justification of internment until 1983. It would take six more years before the federal government would apologize to evacuees and financially compensate them for their losses.

This lesson uses a variety of primary sources to consider the experience of Japanese-American interment from the perspective of detainees. Students will consider what evacuees lost, what they maintained, how they were, and how they might have been compensated for their losses. They will examine how the federal government chose to balance civil liberties against national security during World War II and will consider contemporary comparisons to detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Documents for this investigation include the following: Executive Order No. 9066; Instructions to Persons of Japanese Ancestry regarding their evacuation; Dorothea Lange's photographs of internment; and the reflections on packing in preparation for the camps by two young female artists -- European-American Estelle Ishigo, who chose to be interned with her Japanese-American husband, and Japanese-American Mine Okubo, who kept a graphic journal of her experiences as a detainee.

Historical Context

When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, there were 130,000 Japanese living in the continental United States, more than two-thirds of whom were native-born American citizens (Nisei, or second generation Japanese-American). Even before the war, anti-Asian sentiment was rife. Native-born Japanese (Issei) were barred from citizenship, a number of professions and trades, and land ownership, and Chinese-Americans had been excluded from immigrating to the U.S. since 1882.

But the Japanese attack, the first attack by a foreign power on U.S. territory since the War of 1812, exacerbated racial prejudice. War hysteria, weak political leadership, and widespread ignorance of Japanese Americans contributed to FDR's order to detain people of Japanese birth or ancestry in ten relocation centers in remote areas of California, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Texas, and Arkansas. From March 1942 until 1946, the War Relocation Authority (WRA) administered these centers. Nearly 70,000, or almost 60% of those interned were American citizens. Many of the rest had lived in the United States for 20 to 40 years.

"Evacuated" families operated under strict orders regarding what they could and couldn't take with them. They were instructed to leave behind their pets, but bring along their bedding and toiletries. They could bring no more than they could carry and generally had very little time to sell their personal property and businesses or find alternative arrangements for them before their move. Thus, detainees lost both material resources and also personal treasures. They lost their mobility through curfews and internment, as well as their privacy in the small and cramped barracks they moved inhabited in the camps. They also faced indignities in daily life. Nevertheless, many evacuees managed to maintain their civic engagements, religious observances, scholastic development, aesthetic outlets, and even -- particularly for the 25,000 Japanese-Americans who served during World War II -- a sense of national loyalty.

By 1946, one year after the war's conclusion, the WRA had closed the camps and released all of the internees. The Evacuation Claims Act of 1948 granted those who had been interned a year and a half to file claims against the government for damages to and loss of property as a result of evacuation. But the $31 million the federal government paid for property paled in comparison to that which had been lost, equaling less than 10 cents per lost dollar. It was not until 1988 that Congress apologized for the nation's violation of civil liberties through the Civil Liberties Act and created an Office of Redress Administration to distribute $20,000 to each surviving internee.


evacuation, internment, personal possessions, living conditions, discrimination

Goals and Objectives:

Following this activity, students will be able to:

1. Analyze textual and visual primary sources to draw conclusions about life on the home front during World War II.

2. Describe the experience of Japanese-American internment during World War II.

3. Understand how internment affected internees both during the war and afterward.

4. Examine how artists used photographs, cartoons, paintings, and writing to document and criticize internment.

5. Evaluate the conflict between civil liberties and national security during periods of war in the past and present.


STANDARD 6.1 (Civics): All students will learn democratic citizenship and how to participate in the constitutional system of government of the United States.

STANDARD 6.2 (Civics): All students will learn democratic citizenship through the humanities, by studying literature, art, history, philosophy, and related fields.

STANDARD 6.3 (History): All students will acquire historical understanding of political and diplomatic ideas, forces, and institutions throughout the history of New Jersey, the United States, and the world.

Equipment, materials and other technology needed:

Chalkboard or white board for recording student responses.

Appendices A through F, government documents, photographs, and memoirs (provided at the end of this lesson plan).

If teachers opt to complete the follow-up activity, they should refer to the documents available at the following websites: The Historical Society of Pennsylvania's http://www.hsp.org/default.aspx?id=1088 and PBS's http://www.pbs.org/newshour/extra/teachers/lessonplans/world/guantanamo.html

Details of Activity

PART 1: Making a Packing List (20 min.):

Divide the class into groups of four students. Each group will constitute a family including a mother, father, and two siblings. Imagine that your family just learned that it would be evacuated in three days. You do not know where you are going or what you will need there.

Carefully read and review the documents in the Appendices, particularly the instructions in Appendix B, Civilian Exclusion Order No. 92 to make a packing list. You will only be able to bring what you can carry. In making your list, you should consider what others brought with them and how they spent their last few days prior to leaving for the camps. What will your family keep, sell, give away, and leave behind? You will need to negotiate with one another to select the most important items for each member of your family.

PART II: Sharing the List (20 min.):

One person in each family group will explain what the family chose to bring and why, justifying their choices according to the needs of each family member. The teacher should write on the board the key items students brought with them and ask students to discuss the similarities and differences across family groups.

PART III: Concluding Discussion (10 min.):

Based on the lists students have generated, the class should consider what the family groups collectively lost and what they were able to maintain as a result of internment. Teachers should encourage students to consider in addition to material objects less concrete items (such as autonomy, privacy, mobility, etc.). Ask students if they were put in this type of situation how they might feel toward the U.S. Would they still be willing to serve in the war effort, as 25,000 Japanese Americans did? What type of compensation might they demand? What does Japanese- American internment illustrate about the balance between civil liberties and national security? How should the U.S. balance the two?

Practice and Reinforcement


Have students explore long-time Philadelphia resident Sumiko Kobayashi's correspondence published on-line by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania at http://www.hsp.org/default.aspx?id=1088 to examine how Japanese Americans petitioned the federal government for a redress of grievances and built a coalition at the national and local levels for legislation and compensation to acknowledge the extent to which their internment breached their civil liberties. Ask students to consider the arguments for and against reparations based on Kobayashi's correspondence and what they have already learned regarding Japanese-American losses during internment.

In 1988, Congress passed the Civil Liberties Act, which apologized to Japanese-American internees and offered them each $20,000 in reparations. If Japanese-Americans are entitled to reparations, should other groups deprived of their civil liberties, such as African Americans during slavery, be compensated for their deprivation and suffering? What do Kobayashi's papers reveal about who determines who should be compensated how much and for what?

FOLLOW-UP ACTIVITY #2: From Tragedy to Farce? Comparing Detentions at Guantanamo Bay to Japanese-American Internment

Compare the Bush administration's detainment of terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay to Japanese-American internment during World War II. Ask students to research the case of Guantanamo Bay using the sources located in a lesson plan developed by PBS called "The Rights of Detainees at Guantanamo Bay" http://www.pbs.org/newshour/extra/teachers/lessonplans/world/guantanamo.html or use this material to develop a short lecture. Divide the class up into groups and have each group read a different source and share their findings. Based on their research and the teacher's introduction, ask the students the following questions:

1. What are the similarities and differences between detainment at Guantanamo Bay and Japanese-American incarceration?

2. Should Guantanamo detainees be entitled to the right of due process? Should they be compensated as Japanese-American internees eventually were for being held without due process?

3. When Congress passed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, one of the justifications for the act was to prevent similar recurrences in the future. What lessons, if any, were learned from Japanese-American internment? Do the detentions at Guantanamo Bay illustrate what the German political philosopher and revolutionary Karl Marx wrote In The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napolean: "History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce"? What does this mean and does it apply to these two cases? Why or why not?


This lesson plan is adapted from the Japanese American Internment Curriculum http://bss.sfsu.edu/internment/introinternment.html; the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Japanese-American Internment and Redress: Petition and Coalition Building at http://www.hsp.org/default.aspx?id=1088; PBS's "The Rights of Detainees at Guantanamo Bay" http://www.pbs.org/newshour/extra/teachers/lessonplans/world/guantanamo.html; and the Smithsonian Museum of American History's exhibition "A More Perfect Union: Japanese Americans and the U.S. Constitution," http://americanhistory.si.edu/perfectunion/resources/activity1.html.

See the following resources for more information about each of the following areas:

For more on The Japanese-American internment experience see the Organization of American Historians Magazine, Special Issue: "World War II Homefront," Spring 2002, especially the article by Roger Daniels, http://www.oah.org/pubs/magazine/ww2homefront/ww2homefront.pdf.

For more first-hand accounts of internment, see Mine Okubo, Citizen 13660 (orig. printed New York: Columbia University Press, 1946; reprinted University of Washington Press, 1983) and the art and writing of Estelle Ishigo, at the Japanese American Relocation Digital Archives, http://www.calisphere.universityofcalifornia.edu/jarda/browse/personal-experiences.html.

For more photographs of internment, see Dorothea Lange's photographs at The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco, "Dorthea Lange and the Relocation of the Japanese:" http://www.sfmuseum.net/hist/lange.html and the Library of Congress, "Women Come to the Front," http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/wcf/wcf0001.html:. For Ansel Adam's photographs of internment, see the Library of Congress's collection at "Ansel Adams Photographs of Japanese-American Internment at Manzanar:" http://lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/collections/anseladams/aamsp.html.

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