World War II internment camps still have much to teach us


US newspaper headlines of the forced relocation of over 110,000 individuals of Japanese ancestry.

Rachel Pistol
University of Exeter

Read any newspaper in the United States or United Kingdom at the moment and it is likely to be full of news items related to refugees and immigration. Were you to open a newspaper in the 1930s, you would find very similar news stories. Despite the fact Second World War internment took place over 70 years ago, it could not be more relevant in today’s society.

Internment is a recognised function of war, and so the detention of enemy aliens during the Second World War was not unexpected. In times of peril, it can be hard to discern who is friend and who is foe, and there are inevitably casualties of war.

However, national security as a reason for action can sometimes be abused.

Such was the case with the mass internment of those of Japanese ancestry in the United States, a large proportion of whom were American citizens, supposedly protected by the constitution. There were multiple deaths in camp due to the poor medical facilities, notwithstanding the trigger happy guards – the most famous of these deaths perhaps being that of James Hatsuki Wakasa in 1943.

In the case of internment in Britain, the most readily identifiable victims were those who drowned when the Arandora Star, a ship transporting internees from the Isle of Man to Canada, was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat, in 1940.

It should be a sign of a society’s humanity as to how marginalised peoples are treated, particularly when the only ‘crime’ of an individual is his or her race, religion, or nationality. Continue reading “World War II internment camps still have much to teach us”