On-line Book
Book Cover
Cover Page


Table of Contents





Brief History

Gila River


Heart Mountain







Tule Lake

Isolation Centers

Add'l Facilities

Assembly Centers

DoJ and US Army Facilities



Appendix A

Appendix B

Appendix C

Confinement and Ethnicity:
Barbed wire divider
An Overview of World War II
Japanese American Relocation Sites

by J. Burton, M. Farrell, F. Lord, and R. Lord

clip art

Chapter 2
To Undo a Mistake is Always Harder
Than Not to Create One Originally

Eleanor Roosevelt

This essay is a draft of an article that had been written for Collier's Magazine by Eleanor Roosevelt. Mrs. Roosevelt visited the Gila River Relocation Center in Arizona in 1943 in response to charges that the Japanese American evacuees there were being "coddled" (Figures 2.1 and 2.2). The manuscript, courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library (Hyde Park, New York), was published in a revised form October 10, 1943. It is reproduced here from the original draft with only minor editorial changes.

We are at war with Japan, and yet we have American citizens, born and brought up in this country whose parents are Japanese. This is the essential problem. A good deal has already been written about it. One phase, however, I do not think as yet has been adequately stressed. To really cover it, we must get the background straight first.

In this nation of over one hundred and thirty million, we have 127,500 Japanese or Japanese Americans. Those who have lived for a long time in the Midwest or in the east and who have had their records checked by the FBI, have been allowed to go on about their business, whatever it may be, unmolested. The recent order removing aliens from strategic areas, of course, affects those who were not citizens, just as it affects other citizens, however.

112,000 Japanese of the total 127,500 lived on the West Coast. Originally they were much needed on ranches, and on large truck and fruit farms, but as they came in greater numbers, people began to discover that they were not only convenient workers, they were competitors in the labor field, and the people of California began to be afraid of their own importation, so the Exclusion Act was passed in 1917. No people of the Oriental race could become citizens of the United States, and no quota was given to the Oriental nations in the Pacific. They were marked as different from other races and they were not treated on an equal basis. This happened because in one part of our country they were feared as competitors, and the rest of our country knew them so little and cared so little about them that they did not even think about the principle that we in this country believe in — that of equal rights for all human beings.

We granted no citizenship to Orientals, so now we have a group of people, some of whom have been here as long as fifty years who have not been able to become citizens under our laws. Long before the war, an old Japanese man told me that he had great grand-children born in this country and that he had never been back to Japan, all that he cared about was here on the soil of the United States, and yet he could not become a citizen.

Eleanor Roosevelt and Dillon Myer, Gila River Relocation Center
Figure 2.1. Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, accompanied by WRA National Director Dillon S. Myer, visits the Gila River Relocation Center.
(WRA photograph, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley)
The children of the Japanese born in this country, however, were citizens automatically and now we have about 42,500 native born Japanese who are known as Issei, and about 85,000 native born Japanese American citizens, known as Nisei. Some of these Japanese Americans have gone to our American schools and colleges and have never known any other country or any other life than the life here in the United States. Sometimes their parents have brought them up, as far as family life is concerned, in the old Japanese family tradition. Age has its privileges and the respect that is due the elders in a family is strongly emphasized in Oriental life. So for a young Japanese American to go against his parents is more serious than for other children. As a rule in the United States we do not lay undue emphasis upon the control of the older members of the family, or the respect and obedience that is due to mere age.

This large group of Japanese on the West Coast preserved those family traditions, because since they were feared they were also discriminated against. Japanese were not always welcome buyers of real estate. They were not always welcome neighbors, or participators in community undertakings. As always happens with groups that are discriminated against, they gather together and live among their own racial group. The younger ones made friends in school and college and became a part of the community life, and prejudices lessened against them. Their elders were not always sympathetic to the changes thus brought about in manners and customs.

There is another group in this number of American born Japanese called the Kibei. The parents of this group had kept complete loyalty to Japan and some of them were acting as agents of that government in this country. Some of them longed for the day when they could return and live at home in Japan, so they sent their children, born in this country, back to Japan for their education. Some of these young people returned to this country in 1938 and 1939. They saw war coming in Japan and apparently were not loyal enough to Japan to want to go to war on the Japanese side, and neither did they have enough loyalty to the United States, since they did not grow up here, to serve this country. They form a group which is given scant respect either by their elders who are loyal to Japan or from the Japanese who are loyal to the United States.

Representatives of Councils greet Mrs. Roosevelt, Gila River Relocation Center
Figure 2.2. Representatives of Councils greet Mrs. Roosevelt, Gila River Relocation Center.
(WRA photograph, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley)
Enough for the background. Now we come to Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. We see the problems which faced the Pacific coast from this date on. There was no time to investigate families, or to adhere strictly to the American rule that a man is innocent until he is proven guilty. These people were not convicted of any crime, but emotions ran too high, too many people wanted to reek vengeance on Oriental-looking people. Even the Chinese, our Allies, were not always safe on the streets. A few of the Japanese had long been watched by the FBI and were apprehended on the outbreak of war and taken into custody.

In an effort to live up to the American idea of justice as far as possible, the Army laid down the rules for what they considered the safety of our West Coast. They demanded and they supervised the evacuation. A civil authority was set up, the War Relocation Authority, to establish permanent camps and take over the custody and maintenance of these people, both for their own safety and for the safety of the country.

To many young people this must have seemed strange treatment of American citizens, and one cannot be surprised at the reaction which manifests itself not only in young Japanese American, but in others who had known them well and been educated with them, and who bitterly ask: "What price American citizenship?"

Nevertheless most of them recognized the fact that this was a safety measure. The army carried out its evacuation on the whole with remarkable skill and kindness. The early situation in the camps was difficult. They were not ready for occupation. Sufficient water was not available, food was slow in arriving. The setting up of large communities meant an amount of organization which takes time, but the Japanese proved to be patient, adaptable and courageous for the most part.

Many difficulties have had to be met, but the War Relocation Authority and the Japanese themselves have coped with these remarkably well. There were unexpected problems and one by one these were discovered and an effort made to deal with them fairly. For instance, these people had property they had to dispose of, often at a loss. Sometimes they could not dispose of it and it remained unprotected, so as the months go by it is deteriorating in value. Some business difficulties have arisen which had to be handled through agents, since the Japanese could not leave the camps.

In reading the various accounts which have been written it struck me that practically no one has recognized what a tremendous variety of things the War Relocation Authority has had to develop to meet the innumerable problems created by the removal of a great group of people from one small section of the country and their temporary location in other parts of the country. When I read the accusations against the Authority for acquiring quantities of canned goods, and laying in stocks of food, I realized there was a lack of understanding of one basic fact, namely, that government authorities such as this have to live up to the law, and if it is the law of the land that we are rationed, we are rationed everywhere — in prisons, in hospitals, in camps, wherever we may be, individuals are rationed and even the War Relocation Authority cannot buy more than is allowed for the number of people they have to feed.

residential area, Gila River Relocation Center
Figure 2.3. Residential area at the Gila River Relocation Center.
(WRA photograph, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley)

The Armed Services in camp here in this country are probably exempt, but even they are now being put on short rations and I have had many complaints from boys that they were given field rations, which probably comes nearer to approximating the civilian ration. It is logical that in the Armed Forces, men who are undergoing training, physical and mental, should require more food that the civilian population. It is for that reason that civilian goods grow scarcer and we accept rationing in a desire to see that all civilian goods are more equitably distributed to all of us.

But no government authority dealing with civilians is free from the laws of the country as a whole. I think that is something that should be borne in mind when we read attacks as to the manner in which the relocation camps are run, and then see the government officials obliged to deny or explain how they happened to have a certain amount of this or that on hand. If you have a city of 14,000 people living in a camp such as the one I went to in Arizona, even in these days, you have to have more on hand than the average small community (Figures 2.3-2.5).

Continued Continue


Last Modified: Fri, Sep 1 2000 07:08:48 pm PDT

National Park Service's ParkNet Home