From Fear to Ruin: Japanese-Canadian Internment During the Second World War
Families, turned on by their own communities, loaded into trucks, and sent to internment camps is an image that immediately stirs up ominous feelings, more so when we realize that this happened in Canada. Over 70 years have passed since the Japanese-Canadian population on the west coast was rounded up, deprived of its property and possessions, and interned in remote camps during the Second World War. While the significance of these events has grown over the years, they are also simultaneously fading from popular memory. The passage of time is slowly claiming an important historical lesson and September 22, the anniversary of the Canadian government’s 1988 Redress Agreement with the National Association of Japanese Canadians, is a day for Canadians to pause, reflect, and continue to remember this event.
For years, the story was that Canadian authorities, following Japan’s entry into the Second World War in 1941 and responding to the alleged Japanese threat to Canada, “evacuated” the perceived source of enemy espionage and sabotage – the Japanese-Canadian community on the west coast. More recently, however, new research has shifted the emphasis within the story, highlighting the scope of the internment, the racial dynamic of the event, and the internment’s continuing legacy through participants’ physical, economic, and emotional damages.
The conventional argument that the internment was a necessary or unfortunate requirement for national security in time of war ignored the sweeping and indiscriminate nature of the round-up. Whole families, including infants, were interned. Children, born in Canada and never having visited Japan, were deported to a country foreign to them. A rational security policy gave way to the expedient (and popular) removal of the community from the region and the expropriation of its possessions.
The internment’s racial component cannot be understated. When Japanese forces overran Canadian troops in Hong Kong in late 1941, the ensuing public outrage and suspicion was based on an already established hostile environment of racial prejudice. Japanese-Canadians faced xenophobic government and community leaders and were deprived of the right to vote, regardless of citizenship status, until 1948.
One of the biggest misconceptions about the Japanese-Canadian internment is that it remains solely in the past. However, illnesses contracted in the camps resulted in life-long medical problems, particularly for the elderly. Additionally, with nearly all Japanese-Canadian property seized and auctioned off without regard for its owners, Japanese-Canadians generations removed from the actual events still feel the economic impact. In many ways, the internment’s consequences remain present today.
The axiom that “those who forget history are doomed to repeat it” may be cliché, but this statement holds an essential truth. The physical, economic, and emotional scars of the internment linger and, as the event wanes in popular memory, its very real and very current challenges are ignored. What happened to Japanese-Canadians in the 1940s is not a relic of the past. The roots of that tragedy (ignorance, fear, paranoia, and anger) are just as prominent in the human mind now as they were 70 years ago.
My father was interned in the Slocan Valley . He is also a Canadian Army Veteran . I would like to know more about this part of our family history.
War is sad for who died