New Museum Recalls US Internment of Ethnic Japanese in 1940s

Posted August 20th, 2011 at 11:40 am (UTC-5)
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A new U.S. museum recalls what life during World War Two for thousands of people of Japanese descent the American government interned in camps, out of fear that they might sabotage the country's war effort.

Within months of Japan's surprise attack on (Pearl Harbor) Hawaii on December 7, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered nearly 120,000 people, most of them U.S. citizens – American-born ethnic Japanese into internment camps. Most were residents of the western United States, but they often were sent to camps far from their homes, in remote locations.

The museum opening Saturday is in the rural state of Wyoming, at the former Heart Mountain Relocation Camp. Artifacts have been collected to remember the 14,000 people held there – in flimsy barracks, encircled by barbed-wire fences, with armed guards watching the detainees from towers around the camp.

The $5 million museum project – the Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center – centers on a replica of the original barracks. The building uses the same thin tar-paper insulation as the original barracks. It displays old photographs of those held there against their will, a tin cup, sketches by the internees, a laundry scrubbing board, even a simple tic-tac-toe game constructed from wood scraps.

Before World War Two ended, a U.S. court ruled the internment camps were illegal, and they were quickly dismantled in 1945, when Japan formally surrendered to the United States and its allies. It was not until 1988 that President Ronald Reagan apologized for the internment system, saying the camps were a result of “race prejudice” and “war hysteria.”

The United States eventually paid out $1.6 billion to those interned at the camps and to their heirs.