After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, 120,000 people of Japanese descent were forced out of their homes and businesses and forced to move into relocation camps set up by the U.S. government. Two-thirds of them were American citizens. The government, fearing that some of these American citizens might be loyal to Japan, decided to round up everybody. Just to be safe, you see. The evacuees were forced to live in harsh desert conditions for the duration of the war, imprisoned behind barbed wire fences, while armed soldiers stood guard.
In 1996, the Densho Project was begun in an effort to thoroughly document the experience of those people who lived in the camps. Densho is a Japanese word that means “to pass on to the next generation,” or “to leave a legacy.” The project’s amazing online archive includes hundreds of hours of interviews with evacuees and thousands of historical images from the camps.
Of course, there was no real threat from the Japanese American community, and the U.S. government finally acknowledged that fact when President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which granted reparations to the survivors and included an apology. The goal of the Densho Project is not only to educate about the past, but to warn about the future. Given the state of affairs today, however, it’s not at all clear that people have learned the lessons of this shameful episode in America’s history.