Japanese Internment

Historical content: 
The New Deal and World War II
Historical skills: 
Corroboration, Sourcing



Use this interview excerpt and your knowledge of history to answer the questions that follow.  


Norman Ikari, a Japanese American, served in the United States Army during World War II.  While completing basic training, his mother and brothers were taken to internment camps for Japanese and Japanese American residents of the West Coast.  Ikari received permission to visit his mother at the Poston War Relocation Center in Arizona.  In this 2003 interview excerpt, he describes the trip.

Source text: 

"It was a very unpleasant trip . . . I had a bad experience trying to get through the gates at the Poston camp, but I was able to visit with my mother.  I was in uniform, but I got challenged on the bus . . . This [military police officer] stuck his head in and asked if ‘all you Japs got passes.’  I thought: I need a pass to visit my mother?  I was floored.  After we visited a couple days, my brother’s young wife decided they ought to have a celebration for me.  There was another [Japanese American soldier] that was also visiting and we decided to go into [the nearest town] and get a case of beer, which was a huge mistake.  We walked into the nearest saloon and no sooner [had we] got through the door then the bartender waved us out: ‘No Japs!’ He called for his bouncers and two big bouncers came out from the back . . . We exited as gracefully as possible . . . We essentially got thrown out of the place."

Question 1: Explain why a historian might not think that Norman Ikari's account of racial discrimination reflects the experience of all Japanese Americans during World War II. 

Question 2: Three documents are described below. Explain whether each document could be used to support Norman Ikari’s account of racial discrimination during World War II.

a.  A 1944 report by the Institute of Pacific Relations, an organization with members from Asia and the United States, which detailed the poor conditions in the Japanese American internment camps.  

b.  A 1942 letter from an Italian American soldier to his mother describing difficult conditions during basic training for the United States Army.   

c.  A newspaper article describing the excellent living conditions in the internment camps for Japanese Americans.

About the Assessment

Like Morale After Fredericksburg, this assessment asks students to source and corroborate historical evidence. In this assessment, students evaluate an interview of a Japanese American soldier who recalls a visit to a Japanese internment camp. Question 1 asks students to evaluate whether the excerpt provides enough evidence to draw conclusions about the conditions facing Japanese Americans interned during WWII. To answer this question, students must source the document to determine whether the author’s account can be thought of as conclusive evidence. Question 2 asks students to evaluate whether additional documents could be used to corroborate the account.