Printer Friendly

Enduring lessons of justice from the World War II Japanese American internment.

We supported our families; we honored our culture; we believed in our country. We never thought to display any civil disobedience. The U.S.A. was our home too.

--Reflections from an 80-year-old Japanese American internment camp detainee

In the spring of 1942, nearly 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry living along the west coast of the United States were ordered to evacuate their homes and abandon their businesses. These federal orders, giving Japanese and Japanese Americans just a few days warning before being rounded up and sent to internment camps, came less than four months after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent United States entry into World War II. Two-thirds of those evacuated from their homes were American-born citizens. More than half were children, exiled only because their parents had been born in Japan. (1) Evacuees were not told how long they would be held, nor were they charged with any crimes. (2)

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, giving the military commander power to select certain parts of the West Coast as military areas. People considered enemies of war or a threat to national security were forbidden access to those areas. On March 2, General John DeWitt, who had been named military commander, issued a proclamation designating military areas in the states of Washington, Oregon, California, and portions of Arizona. The proclamation, known as Public Proclamation No. 1, excluded certain persons from these areas, specifically Japanese, German, and Italian aliens. (3) On March 16, the states of Idaho, Montana, Nevada, and Utah also were designated military areas.

Then, on March 18, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9102 creating the War Relocation Authority, (WRA) which established the orderly evacuation of designated persons living in the restricted military areas. Just a few days later, on March 21, Roosevelt signed Public Law 503 making it a federal crime for anyone to disobey General DeWitt's orders. (4)

Throughout the spring and summer of 1942, Civilian Exclusion Orders directed all persons of Japanese ancestry, both immigrants and U.S. citizens, to report to control stations or assembly centers, consisting primarily of fairgrounds and horseracing tracks. (5) From there, Japanese Americans were transported to relocation centers, essentially prisons or internment camps constructed of wooden framed barracks situated in desolate, harsh, unsanitary sites. (6) The evacuees, separated from their extended families, former neighbors, and well-established lifestyles, were detained for almost three and a half years at 10 WRA camps scattered across the western United States. (7) The internees were gradually released throughout 1945, the year World War II ended. For most Japanese Americans, their re-entry into the U.S. mainstream was a slow and painful process. (8)

Honoring Fred Korematsu

One of the best-known Japanese Americans who fought the internment orders was Fred Korematsu. Korematsu, who was born in Oakland, California, was in his early twenties when he refused to report for transportation to an internment camp, even as his family and friends complied with government orders. Korematsu insisted that "it was wrong to subject innocent people to this treatment without trial or any evidence of criminal behavior" ... and that the evacuation order "should be declared unconstitutional." (9) Korematsu was found guilty of violating Public Law 503; his case was appealed all the way to the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court decision upheld the exclusion order, and Korematsu was found guilty of a misdemeanor. However, the case provoked strong reactions on all sides for many years to come. (10)

Over time, presidents Nixon and Ford signed bills repealing the law for which Korematsu was convicted. In 1983, Korematsu's case was reopened and the conviction set aside. (11) In 1988, President Reagan signed the Reparations Act acknowledging United States responsibility for the injustice to Japanese Americans and promising payments to all living internment camp detainees. Ultimately, in 1998, President Clinton gave Fred Korematsu the highest civilian award: the U.S. Presidential Medal of Honor. Fred Korematsu died in the spring of 2005 at age 86. His case resonates throughout the legal events playing out in the aftermath of September 11, 2001.

The events connected with the Korematsu case offer historical lessons on fairness and freedom with which to consider similar issues of justice that have arisen since September 11, 2001. As law professor Jerry Kang declared shortly after the 2001 attacks,
   It [Korematsu v. U.S.] has never
   been overruled ... the infamous
   decision is still considered 'good
   law.' I think we have too easily
   said that we have learned the
   lessons of Korematsu. If more
   attacks come on the order of 9/11,
   all bets are off. It's when the next
   shoe drops that we're really going
   to test the mettle of the nation. (12)

Jamin Raskin, another professor of law, stated,
   History makes clear that, when
   national security is at issue, civil
   liberties--rightly or wrongly--are
   among the first casualties.
   What seems unthinkable at
   one moment suddenly becomes
   plausible at another ... the notion
   of collective guilt once aimed at
   Japanese Americans might now
   be expressed not as wholesale
   internment but as a mandate for
   widespread profiling. People of
   Arab ancestry could be subjected
   to increased scrutiny, surveillance,
   or suspicion. (13)

Today many U.S. citizens struggle to protect minorities against discrimination and to safeguard civil rights. (Originally, only Quakers and the ACLU officially opposed the 1942 Executive Orders. Teachers may want students to consider if the outcome might have been different had more people and groups publicly opposed these actions.) The Patriot Act of 2001 has increased scrutiny of Arab Americans and various foreigners in the United States, placing limitations on liberties ostensibly to protect the greater society, as allowed by the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Teaching about Justice

The study of the Japanese American internment provides the opportunity to engage learners (in grades 4-12) designed for reflecting on fairness, freedom, and justice. Such exercises require today's students and teachers to step back in time and view the past through a different lens, in order to examine the world of 60 years ago.

The powerful lessons learned from studying this event strongly support citizenship education, democratic principles, and social justice. While some information on the World War II Japanese American internment camps is available for high school and university students, little is written for elementary and middle school students. Mukai has identified six key components for teaching the World War II Japanese American internment:

* Setting context through an examination of civil rights;

* Mapping the Japanese immigration experience in the early twentieth century;

* Exploring various perspectives on Japanese Americans from the media following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor;

* Delving into the questions related to the concept of loyalty;

* Identifying the roles and responsibilities associated with redress and reparations; and

* Analyzing diverse perspectives on the Japanese American internment experience. (14)

These components are incorporated into this unit, which investigates the events of this era through reading and responding to the literature, collecting oral histories, participating in a moot court, and reflecting upon a variety of independent writing response strategies. The lessons are outlined in the accompanying tables, yet teachers are encouraged to modify the suggested activities to meet the needs and interests of their own students, and, most significantly, to make the learning relevant to contemporary issues.

Responding to Literature

The research on teaching history using literature is increasingly abundant and offers many suggestions for guiding students in making connections with fiction, nonfiction, and historical fiction. Students can read about people like themselves, encountering events and experiencing challenges in a variety of sociocultural contexts.

This unit of learning requires students to familiarize themselves with a multitude of events and juxtaposed agendas. Students benefit by participating in open conversations exploring conflicting perspectives that influence society over time. To stimulate dynamic discussions, this unit features two texts: Korematsu v. United States; Japanese-American Internment Camps (Karen Alonso) and Farewell to Manzanar (Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston).

These two books vary in format and difficulty. The combination of texts offers students occasions to understand vocabulary, delve into contradictory viewpoints, question intricate issues, and initiate comprehension of the complex events of the time, particularly in contrast and comparison to today. Teachers are encouraged to preview texts, select an assortment of literature to cover the span of events, and facilitate a variety of appropriate reading response strategies (see Table 2).

Collecting Oral Histories

By incorporating oral histories, students discover a place or learn about an event for themselves rather than having teachers tell them about it. As Cynthia Cohen stated,
   Oral history is a way of learning
   about the present and past
   by listening to the stories people
   tell. Life stories represent one
   approach to educating children
   about their own history and culture--about
   the lives of people
   just like and much different from
   themselves. Oral history projects
   provide opportunities for children
   to acquire the skills and sensibilities
   they need for intercultural
   competence. (15)

This unit highlights two oral history interviews with different perspectives on this historical era: a Japanese American woman who was detained in an internment camp and a World War II veteran who served on a minesweeper in the South Pacific. Both individuals, now in their early 80s, conveyed clear memories of these times and the impact on their lives.

The Japanese American internment camp detainee spoke of her family's loyalty to the United States and of their willingness to volunteer for relocation. They wanted to support their country, and at no time engaged in civil disobedience despite the disheartening camp conditions. She emphasized the importance for today's young people to understand the contextual elements involved in World War II and the internment camps.

The World War II veteran, whose ship hit a mine and sank at the end of a large invasion of the island of Palau, described his experiences and shared his picture and artifact collection; he showed the class his Victory Medal, awarded at the war's conclusion to all military personnel who served from 1941 to 1946. On one side of the medal were the words: "Freedom from fear and want: Freedom of speech and religion."

Students compared and contrasted the experiences of the Japanese American woman and the World War II veteran. Both suffered as a result of having to leave their homes. Yet the veteran was honored for his sacrifice, while the Japanese Americans were humiliated and, in Korematsu's case, convicted of a crime. Ironically, at the same time as the veteran was fighting overseas to protect U.S. freedom, it was being denied to his fellow citizens back home.

Prior to collecting the oral histories, students should practice crafting and posing appropriate questions that demonstrate cultural sensitivity as well as knowledge of the historical context. An oral history interview depends upon students' abilities to listen carefully to each question and response, and to be able to adapt their questions accordingly, thereby guaranteeing a smooth progression throughout the interview process. It is helpful if students are encouraged to summarize the interview orally and in writing immediately following their data collection.

A Moot Court

Participating in a moot court enables students to gain a deeper understanding of the legal process by reviewing and reenacting particular cases. Students become familiar with the context and conditions of a case; they also learn specific legal language and procedures, dispelling myths that may have been acquired from television and films. Additionally, their involvement grows when they must dress the parts and are asked to role-play using the requisite dialogue. (16) A variety of valuable guidelines and resources for teaching the U.S. Supreme Court and Law-Related Education are available online. (17)

As a culminating in-class learning experience for this unit, students participate in a moot court based on Korematsu v. United States. The teacher should provide each student with copies of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. In a group discussion, students are asked to consider the experiences of Fred Korematsu or any Japanese American detained in an internment camps as well as that of members of the U.S. armed forces fighting to protect the country. (Students will relate to this assignment easily after reading the literature and collecting several oral histories.)

The teacher should divide the class into cooperative learning groups with three students in each group. Each group elects one member to act as the Supreme Court justice; the other two students act as advisors. One group is selected to narrate and monitor the overall proceedings. (A variation is to select two groups to present oral arguments for and against Korematsu.)

After reviewing their detailed instructions, the narration/monitor group presents the facts and instruct the justices and their advisors to discuss the case among themselves. Each group's task is to identify the rights and freedoms denied to Korematsu and to discuss whether they believe denial of these rights is justified. The justices make a ruling for or against Fred Korematsu and share their justifications.

The monitors facilitate the debate among the justices. Justices sit in a semicircle with their respective advisors sitting immediately behind them. All advisors are equipped with small pieces of paper and pencils for writing notes to hand to their justices. Justices are allowed to speak only one at a time and must wait to be called upon by the monitors. Once the debate has concluded, the justices confer among their advisors and render their decisions substantiated by their debate and reasoning. A whole class discussion can center on how the student justices' rulings related to the actual ruling and what might account for any differences. The class also may wish to discuss the case's aftermath and the circumstances that finally brought U.S. leaders to overturn Korematsu's conviction and to honor him, as well as to apologize and make reparations to interned Japanese Americans.


At the end of her book Farewell to Manzanar; Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston recognizes the importance of revisiting the camps to make the traces of the past comprehensible. (18) Similarly, investigating World War II and the Japanese American internment camps makes the past more salient for young learners to understand their present and prepare for their future. The injustices of the past are less likely to be repeated by informed, reflective citizens who value constitutional rights and civil liberties for all people. Teachers should model inquiry and sensitivity while delving into lessons that enhance and extend students' understanding of democratic principles, social justice, participatory citizenship, and constitutional rights.

Print Resources

Alonso, Karen, Korematsu v. United States; Japanese-American Internment Camps. Springfield, NJ: Enslow Publishers, 1998.

Banim, Lisa. American Dreams. New York: Silver Moon Press, 1993.

Brimner, Larry Dane. Voices From the Camps: Internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. New York: E Watts, 1994.

Bunting, Eve. So Far From the Sea. New York: Clarion Books, 1998.

Chinn, Steven A. When Justice Failed: The Fred Korematsu Story. Austin, TX: Raintree Steck-Vaughn Books, 1993.

Denenberg, Barry. The Journal of Ben Uchida, Citizen #13559, Mirror Lake Internment Camp. New York: Scholastic Inc., 1942.

Dudley, William. (ed.). Asian-American: Opposing Viewpoints. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven, 1997.

Fremon, David K. Japanese-American Internment in American History. Springfield, NJ: Enslow, 1996.

Hamanaka, Sheila. The Journey: Japanese Americans, Racism and Renewal. New York: Orchard, 1990.

Houston, Jeanne Wakatsuki and James D. Houston. Farewell to Manzanar. New York: Bantam Books, 1973.

Inada, Lawson Fusao (ed.). The Japanese American Internment Experience. New York: Heyday, 2000.

Inada, Lawson Fusao (ed.). Only What We Could Carry: The Japanese American Internment Experience. New York: Heyday, 2000.

Kodama, Tatsuharu. Shin's Tricycle. New York: Walker & Company, 1995.

Lutz, Norma Jean. War Strikes. Uhrichsville, OH: Barbour Publications, 1998.

Levine, Ellen. A Fence Away from Freedom: Japanese Americans and World War II. New York: G. E Putnam's, 1995.

Means, Florence Crannell. The Moved-Outers. New York: Walker, 1993

Mochizuki, Ken. Baseball Saved Us. New York: Lee and Low, 1993.

Morimoto, Junko. My Hiroshima. New York: Viking, 1987.

Nishimoto, Richard S. Inside an American Concentration Camp. Tucson, AZ: The University of Arizona Press, 1995.

Oe, Kenzaburo. Hiroskima Notes. New York: Grove Press, 1965.

Okada, John. No-No Boy. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1976.

Otsuka, Julie, When the Emperor Was Divine. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.

Savin, Marcia. The Moon Bridge. New York: Scholastic Inc., 1992.

Say, Allen. Grandfather's Journey. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993.

Shigekawa, Marlene. Blue jay in the Desert. Chicago: Polychrome Publishing Corporation, 1993.

Sinnott, Susan. Our Burden of Shame; Japanese American Internment During World War If New York: Watts, 1995.

Stanley, John. I am an American: A True Story of Japanese Internment. New York: Crown, 1994.

Takashima, Shizuye. A Child in Prison Camp. Plattsburgh, NY: Tundra Books, 1989.

Taylor, Sandra C. Jewel of the Desert: Japanese American Internment at Topaz. Berkeley; CA: University of California Press, 1993.

Tunnell, Michael O. and George W. The Children of Topaz: The Story of a Japanese-American Internment Camp. New York: Holiday House, 1996.

Uchida, Yoshiko. Desert Exile: The Uprooting of a Japanese-American Family. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1982.

Uchida. Yoshiko. Journey Home. New York: Philomel Books, 1978.

Yancy, Diane. Life in a Japanese-American Internment Camp. San Diego, CA: Lucent Books,

Online Resources

A More Perfect Union: Japanese Americans and the U.S. Constitution

Children of the Camps--documentary

Confinement and Ethnicity: Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites

Japanese American National Museum

Japanese-Americans Internment Camps During World War II.

Ansel Adam's photographs: Born Free and Equal

Manzanar National Historic Site

Museum of the City of San Francisco

American Heritage Center Primary Sources in the Classroom; Heart Mountain Relocation Center

Law Related Education


(1.) John Armor, and Peter Wright. Manzanar [photographs by Ansel Adams, commentary by John Hersey] (New York: Times Books, 1988), 3-4.

(2.) Karen Alonso. Korematsu v. United States; Japanese-American Internment Camps (Springfield, NJ: Enslow Publishers, 1998), 10.

(3.) Roger Daniels, Sandra C. Taylor, and Harry H. L. Kitano. Japanese Americans; From Relocation to Redress; revised edition (Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1991), xv-xxi; Michi Nishiura Weglyn, Years of Infamy: The Untold Story of America's Concentration Camps (Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1996), 29.

(4.) Alonso, Korematsu v. United States: Japanese-American Internment Camps (Springfield, NJ: Enslow Publishers, 1998), 31.

(5.) Jim Carnes, "Home Was a Horse Stall," Teaching Tolerance 4, no. 1 (Spring, 1995), 50-56.

(6.) Rogers Daniels, Prisoners Without Trial: Japanese Americans in World War H (New York: Hill and Wang, 1993), 66.

(7.) Roger Daniels, Sandra C. Taylor, and Harry H. L. Kitano. Japanese Americans: From Relocation to Redress: revised edition (Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1991), xxi.

(8.) Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and lames D. Houston. Farewell to Manzanar (New York: Bantam Books, 1973), 149-203.

(9.) Alonso, Korematsu v. United States: Japanese-American Internment Camps (Springfield, NJ: Enslow Publishers, 1998), 11.

(10.) Ibid., 70-88.

(11.) Ibid., 95

(12.) Eric Rich, "Arab-American Liberties Could Be Casualties of War," The Hartford Courant Co. (October 15, 2001)

(13.) Ibid.

(14.) Gary Mukai, "Teaching about Japanese-American Internment," ED447066.

(15.) Cynthia Cohen, "Oral Histories," Cultural Arts" Resources for Teachers and Students 3, (1999): 1, 3-4, 14.

(16.) Kathy Bell, "Using Moot Courts in the Classroom," Social Education 66 no. 1 (January-February 2002): 42-45.

(17.) Charles F. Williams, "The United States Supreme Court and the World Wide Web, Social Education 66, no. 1 (January-February 2002): 51-51.

(18.) Michael L. Cooper, Fighting for Honor," Japanese Americans and World War II (New York: Clarion Books, 2000).

Nancy P. Gallavan is an associate professor of Teacher Education at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville whose research specializes in social studies and multicultural education. She is an active member of ATE NAME and NCSS, and has served as chair of the NCSS Teacher Educational and Development Committee. She has authored more than 50 books, chapters, monographs, and articles. Teresa A. Roberts is a middle school English teacher at St. John School in Encinitas. California. She has bachelor's degrees in journalism and psychology a master's in theology, and a teaching credential from California State University San Marcos. A former Jesuit volunteer and development editor for high school teaching manuals, she is active in social justice issues.

With special recognition and appreciation to Sandra Switzer-Chapman. a kindergarten teacher in Carlsbad. California, for reading and reviewing this is integrated unit of learning
Table 1: Enduring Lessons of Justice from the World War II Japanese
American Internment

Unit Components

    Curricular Content                   Teaching/Learning Strategies

Oral Histories

1. Japanese American internment camp   1. Prepare appropriate questions
   internee with photographs (docu-
   ments)                              2. Practice appropriate
                                          interviewing and listening
2. World War II Navy veteran with
   photographs and medals (artifacts)  3. Summarize interview
                                          information including
3. Constitutional rights lawyer/          insights and limitations of
   expert or historian/expert on          personal experiences
   World War II

Moot Court

1. Access information related to the   1. Divide into groups and
   Japanese American internment, the      research information relevant
   Fred Korematsu court hearings,         to the Korematsu Supreme
   similar court cases, adult and         Court hearing
   children's constitutional rights,
   and moot courts                     2. Divide into groups and
                                          design a moot court on the
                                          Korematsu case

                                       3. Videotape moot court for
                                          class viewing
                                       4. Conduct moot court for other
                                          classes and/or family members

Unit Components


1. Summarize oral history data and share with class

2. Determine which questions and responses provided
   the most insight

3. Reflect upon importance of oral history interviews
   and primary sources

Moot Court

1. Have groups submit five to ten important facts relevant
   to the case

2. Have groups submit a draft of a moot court for
   Korematsu case

3. After reviewing the videotape, groups submit five
   essential events from the moot court

4. After presentation, groups submit five essential
   events from the moot court

Table 2: Enduring Lessons of Justice from the World War II Japanese
American Internment

         Curricular Content               Teaching/Learning Strategies

Reading Responses

1. Compare and contrast life inside    1. Use graphic organizers
   and outside a camp                     (i.e., Venn diagrams,
                                          outlines, and concept maps)
2. Note similarities and differences      to arrange information
   between life then and today
   regarding our sense of freedom      2. Record information garnered
   and rights for adults and children     from sources in reading
                                          response journals
3. Graph due process or ways of
   achieving fairness                  3. Illustrate due process
                                          through the court system
4. Conduct a survey and chart             and/or other institutions
   personal freedoms afforded             with a flow chart
   different members of U.S. society
                                       4. Record survey responses to
                                          most prized personal freedoms
                                          with charts and graphs

Writing Responses

1. Write a letter of appreciation      1. Share letters in class and
   to each oral history presenter         send letters to oral history

2. Prepare a chronology of events      2. In small groups, explain
   with map sites                         chronologies and maps

3. Create a sample journal entry       3. Combine all sample journal
   from the perspective of a child        entries and publish a class
   in an internmentcamp                   book

4. Compose a two-page paper            4. Read the paper with class
   describing a personal freedom          members

5. Design a medal honoring the         5. Discuss the medal design
   selected freedom                       with class members
                                          explaining honored freedoms
6. Assemble a portfolio containing        and selected symbols
   products created throughout the
   entire unit                         6. Present portfolio of entire
                                          unit to other classes and/or
                                          family members


Reading Responses

1. Display and explain information using graphic

2. Create and describe story boards showing
   causes and effects related to World War II

3. Design and introduce due process flow chart

4. Contribute a selected number of items to
   a classroom display showing personal freedoms
   among the class, school, families, etc.

Writing Responses

1. Design and apply a developmentally
   appropriate rubric for letter writing

2. Assess own chronologies; exchange and
   assess other students'chronologies

3. Share book with another class

4. Create a developmentally appropriate
   rubric for the two-page paper describing a
   personal freedom

5. Determine criteria for designing a medal
   and presenting it to the class

6. Design and apply an appropriate rubric for
   the unit portfolio

Table 3: Enduring Lessons of Justice from the World War II Japanese
American Internment

        Curricular Content              Teaching/Learning Strategies

Cultural Competence

1. Show sizes of internment camps and  1. Create a drawing or model of
   rooms that housed entire families      an internment camp and
                                          compare with average living
2. Identify typical items taken to        conditions of the time
   the camps; compare to items one
   might take today                    2. List typical items taken by
                                          Japanese Americans to the
3. Compare and contrast foods repre-      camps; identify items that
   senting various tastes, beliefs,       might be taken today
   and cultures
                                       3. Describe foods typically
4. Show similarities and differences      eaten by Japanese Americans
   between life in the 1940s and life     before and during internment;
   today, particularly in the areas       discuss cultural implications
   of technology and entertainment
                                       4. Contrast various forms of
5. Show similarities and differences      transportation,
   in the economics of the 1940s and      communication, and
   life today                             entertainment of the early
                                          1940s with those of today
6. Discuss forms of stereotyping and
   discrimination evident in the       5. Construct charts comparing
   1940s through today                    1940s costs of household
                                          goods and services with
                                          today's costs

                                       6. Share personal experiences
                                          related to stereotyping and


1. Explain drawings or models to students
   detailing the use of space for various tasks
   and activities

2. Share lists of items in small discussion
   groups describing the significance of the
   various items (both then and today)

3. In a small group discussion, describe a time
   when food served was in conflict with one's
   personal or cultural beliefs

4. In class, create a bulletin board of lists and
   illustrations depicting life in the 1940s

5. Add charts of costs to the bulletin board
   illustrating life in the 1940s

6. Share findings resulting from discussions
   about stereotyping and discrimination
COPYRIGHT 2005 National Council for the Social Studies
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2005 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Gallavan, Nancy P.; Roberts, Teresa A.
Publication:Social Education
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2005
Previous Article:"Telling tales": the teaching of American history through storytelling.
Next Article:Social studies and the social order: transmission or transformation?

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters