Japanese American, Issei, Nisei, Kibei, internment, government, war, loyalty, disloyal, loyal


By the end of 1942, the U.S. army and the national government had forcibly removed 120,000 Japanese descended individuals from their homes on the West Coast, confining them to ten internment camps across the nation. In an effort to construct a more accurate representation of the mindset of internees in the wartime era, my thesis hones in on conflict and division within camp life. I emphasize the heterogeneity of Japanese-American voices and push back against the oversimplification of the different internee subgroups: the Japan-born immigrants (“Issei”), U.S.-born citizens (“Nisei”), and Japan-educated Nisei who returned home before the war (“Kibei”). Throughout the course of the internment era, they have been characterized as “loyal” or “disloyal.” The continued use of these labels, both in the wartime period and in the subsequent scholarship on internment, minimizes the complexity of internees’ views. Their mindsets were shaped by the traumatic nature of removal, the treatment they received in the camps, and their fears about post-camp life. Depending on their individual experiences, internees chose to act in distinct ways. For example, some internees resisted governmental authority while others served as government informants. However, their choices were not necessarily indicative of undying loyalty to Japan or the United States. Through a case study of the Manzanar internment camp in California and the Poston internment camp in Arizona, I demonstrate that the “disloyal” and “loyal” labels provide an incomplete understanding of life in the camps. Deep disagreements shaped internees’ experiences, and the intricacies of the internment experience are silenced through racialized assumptions about people of Japanese ancestry. With conflict as a lens for viewing the internment experience, a much clearer picture wartime Japanese American experiences comes to the forefront.