Utah Communication History Encyclopedia

April 26, 2012

Topaz Internment Camp and how Japanese Citizens were Portrayed to the Public

by CLINTON CURTIS

In 1942 Millard County was very different from the way it is viewed today, because it was home to the Central Utah Relocation Center, commonly known as “Topaz.” Many residents of Japanese ancestry were relocated and isolated at Topaz as a safety precaution to the United States entry into World War II. A total sum of “120,000 Japanese Americans were placed in concentration camps, 70,000 of these internees were United States citizens by birth.” (Sundquist, 532) These residents of Japanese ancestry were rounded up by the United States Army and forced to leave their homes, occupations, and lives. They were told to pack one suitcase per person and be on their way. This Executive Order had been passed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, along with the support from the Justice Department and the War Department. Ten different Relocation Centers were erected in California, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Arizona, Colorado, and Arkansas during the spring and summer of 1942. (Sundquist, 532)

Just a couple days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans were forced into internment camps. One of these camps was right here in Millard County, Utah. Through all of this mayhem the news media were able to collect information and print what they found in their articles. Much of this information was very valuable to many Americans; knowing that the Japanese Americans were contained in internment camps helped them think that they were safe. The print media printed articles surrounding the entry into the internment camps, movement of internees amongst the internment camps, and the selective service for the Nisei who were currently held in the internment camps. The articles that I focused on were articles written and published by the Topaz Times, the camp newspaper that covered many important moments through WWII.

Photograph taken inside the Central Utah Relocation Center, commonly known as Topaz. Photo courtesy of Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, The University of Utah.

An article titled “The Nisei and the Selective Service” discusses the options that the Japanese Americans had concluding their placement in the internment camps. The Japanese American citizens who chose to work in war plants had to acquire a “War Plant Clearance,” although these permits were not given out to them frequently. The few who had been granted a permit had very strict rules to their release from the internment camp. The citizens were not allowed to return back to their homes, and they were not allowed in the Atlantic, Gulf, or West Coast. With this permit that they had been granted they were simply allowed to work in the war plant. The Japanese American men who decided to join the Armed Forces had very strict rules as well. “Other than a very small group of Japanese American troops who were allowed to serve with the Americans, a majority of the Japanese American troops were not allowed to serve with the other Americans and were enlisted to the 442nd battalion.” (Sundquist, 533)

Another article titled “Court Convicts Nisei on Draft Charge” helps give a picture of what happened to many of the Japanese American men who had signed up for the Armed Forces, but decided not to show up. George Jiro Sugihara, who was only 19 at the time and felt that he owed nothing to the United States Armed Forces, was charged guilty under the Selective Service Act for not showing up for his induction into the Armed Forces. This was only one article, but this article explains the consequences to the decisions that many Japanese Americans made, whether they decided to join the Armed Forces or stay in the internment camps.

While the Japanese Americans were staying at the internment camps their mail was supervised. An article by the Topaz Times titled, “Instructions Released on Internee Mail,” explained the process that the internees along with the internment camps took before sending their mail. All of the internees had to send their mail to New York with the title “Prisoner of war mail—free” at the upper right-hand corner. This new rule was established to censor what the Japanese Americans were allowed to say to either others in internment camps or others outside of the internment camps.

I was able to find two articles published by the Topaz Times that discussed stories by families who were reunited in internment camps. One of the articles was titled “5 Internees Here From New Mexico”; the other article was titled “9 Internees Join Families.” In both, the Santa Fe internment camp sent family members to the Topaz internment camp, so the families could be reunited. These two articles give you a background idea that the American internment camps did have sympathy. The internment camp directors made an effort to make sure that families had the opportunity to be reunited.

External view of Topaz. Photo courtesy of Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, The University of Utah.

During the year of 1945 when World War II ended, the Japanese Americans were allowed to leave the internment camp. Although this was a very joyous time for many of the internees, there were articles published about the dangers that the Japanese Americans faced upon returning home. A Topaz Times article titled “Shots Fired on Returnee’s Home” gave the readers an insight to the prejudice individuals were subjected to once they were released from the internment camp. Late one night at the Fresno, California, home of Setsugo Sakamoto, two shots were fired at his house. Mr. Sakamoto had just returned from the internment camp a month prior to this event with his family. This article shows that even though the Japanese Americans were released and freed from the internment camp, they still faced many dangerous hardships upon their arrival back to their homes.

The last article that I found very interesting was titled “A Letter.” This article explains that the government had started to compile the information about the Japanese American internees. This compilation would serve as a “permanent reference file of America’s history.”

These articles were a great representation depicting the news coverage during wartime. It is very important to see how the news coverage has varied from the past to present day. As communication majors the past affects our present and future. To see how the news was covered in the past can help you either adopt or revise the past and create a new style of news reporting for the future. I have been very surprised to read about the Topaz internment camp. Even though this was during a time when everyone was very suspicious, the internment camps still tried to make it easier on their internees. For instance, they would transport their internees in order for them to reunite with their families.

Clinton Curtis is graduating in August 2012 with a Bachelor of Science degree in communication and a minor in psychology. This information is very important to myself and to my family history. My grandfather was placed into an internment camp in Idaho and shortly after he was drafted into the war. My grandfather was specifically drafted into WWII under the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

Sources

“5 Internees Here from New Mexico,” Topaz Times, November 2, 1943.

“9 Internees Join Families,” Topaz Times, July, 13, 1943.

“A Letter,” Topaz Times, July 17, 1943.

“Court Convicts Nisei on Draft Charge,” Topaz Times, November 26, 1945.

“Editorial,” Topaz Times, August 15, 1942.

“Instructions Released on Internee Mail,” Topaz Times, February 12, 1943.

“The Nisei and the Selective Service,” Topaz Times, April 1, 1944.

“Shots Fired on Returnee’s Home,” Topaz Times, May 15, 1945.

“Photograph 1 inside Topaz internment camp”. Marriot Library Special Collections.

“Photograph 2 taken outside of Topaz internment camp”. Marriot Library Special Collections.

Robert Shaffer, “Opposition To Internment: Defending Japanese American Rights During World War II” Historian 61, no. 3 (1999): 597.

Dolores Flamiano, “Japanese American Internment In Popular Magazines,” Journalism History 36, no. 1 (2010): 23-35.

Eric J. Sundquist, “The Japanese-American Internment,” American Scholar (1999): 529-47.

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