Table of Contents
- Central Question and Abstract
- Supplementary Sources
- Historical Thinking
- For More Information
At a Glance
- Japanese Relocation
- Asian Americans, Daily Life, Ethnicity, Immigration, Legal History, Western States
- 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Using Historical Footage (Middle School)
What is the film’s argument and how is it made? What was the relocation and internment like for Americans of Japanese descent?
This example includes materials for helping middle school students understand the necessity of sourcing and asking questions of nonfiction film.
“The Japanese Relocation” was produced by the Office of War Information in 1942 to explain and defend Japanese internment to the American public. Students use information about the film’s origins to predict the film’s message before viewing it and then consider how the filmmakers’ choices help convey its argument.
Additional primary sources complicate and challenge the film’s portrayal of the event, and reiterate the necessity of sourcing historical accounts.
Film Clip: Japanese Relocation. Produced by the Office of War Information, Bureau of Motion Pictures, 1942 (Duration: 9:26 )
Partial Transcript [opening narration]: http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5153
Historical Thinking Focus: Sourcing, Closely reading film
EssayAbout This Topic
On December 7, 1941, Japan bombed the Pearl Harbor military base in Hawaii, killing more than 2,000 U.S. military personnel. The next day, Congress approved the declaration of war presented by President Roosevelt, and the U.S. officially entered World War II.
The war against Japan brought to the surface fears about people of Japanese ancestry living in the United States. Many key leaders—including Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox—began speaking out against a “fifth-column” of Japanese-Americans who lived in the U.S. and who could, they feared, side with Japan and undermine U.S. security at home.
On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 that gave the military discretion to ban any U.S. citizen from designated parts of the country. Citing the need for “protection against espionage and against sabotage,” the order authorized the military to prohibit select U.S. citizens from inhabiting a large coastal area stretching across the western United States.
Although the order was applied to some U.S. residents of Italian and German descent, it primarily affected people of Japanese descent. That year, the military removed over 110,000 people of Japanese descent—nearly two thirds of them U.S. citizens—from their homes in California, Oregon, and Washington and transported them to internment camps in remote areas of California, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Texas, and Arkansas.
From March 1942 to 1946, the U.S. War Relocation Authority (WRA) had jurisdiction over the Japanese and Japanese Americans evacuated from their homes. Men, women, and children were taken by bus and train to assembly centers, where they awaited reassignment to internment camps. During internment, families lived in barracks-like living quarters in facilities fenced off by barbed wire and guarded by armed soldiers.
(For detailed descriptions of the process of relocation and internment and to read first-hand accounts written by those living in the camps, see the Japanese American Relocation Digital Archives and Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project.)
On December 18, 1944, in Korematsu v. United States, the Supreme Court upheld Executive Order 9066, denying the appeal of Fred Korematsu, a Japanese American citizen who had been arrested for refusing to present himself for internment.
That month, President Roosevelt rescinded Executive Order 9066, and the WRA began a six-month process of releasing internees (often to "resettlement" facilities) and shutting down the internment camps. By 1946, the camps were closed and all of the internees had been released.
On February 19, 1976, President Gerald Ford issued a presidential proclamation terminating Executive Order 9066. Seven years later, the Congressional Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) reported that the causes of the internment were rooted in “race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership," rather than any real threat. The commission called for a presidential apology and payment to each of the surviving persons incarcerated under the executive order.
On August 10, 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed HR 442, which offered an official apology and payment of $20,000 to each person held under Executive Order 9066. These acts, several decades later, acknowledged the Japanese internment as a mistake, but these events offer a fine case study in a tension that has persisted throughout our history between national security concerns and preserving civil liberties and rights for all within our borders.About this Clip
This film clip was produced by the Office of War Information (OWI), a government agency created in 1942 to “promote, in the United States and abroad, understanding of the status and progress of the war effort and of war policies, activities, and aims of the U.S. government.”
This newsreel was shown in 1943 in movie theaters across the country. Audiences viewed the newsreel before feature films, much in the way that we see coming attractions before films in movie theaters today.Historical Problem
The newsreel argues that the wartime relocation and internment of Japanese Americans was necessary and that it was a smooth process created “with real consideration for the people involved.” Evacuees are depicted as meeting these events with cheerfulness and industry, accepting them as a necessary wartime sacrifice, and seizing opportunities to build “new pioneer communities.”
The newsreel’s authoritative tone and factual approach can obscure both its particular perspective and the fact that there were other perspectives regarding these events. Using additional sources with the newsreel helps students identify and challenge its argument while exploring perspectives of those interned.Student Ideas
Students can privilege documentaries as unbiased sources of information. These materials engage them in analyzing the argument within a documentary and connecting that argument to the circumstances of the film’s creation. They can then use these skills to analyze additional sources and perspectives regarding this event.
Supplementary SourcesOral History Interview: Kara Kondo
Interview with Kara Kondo (December 2002). Collected by the Densho Project.
Use this source to contest the argument made by the film. Ms. Kondo’s account directly challenges the characterization of the evacuation as an easy and relatively painless event for those evacuated. Students can also consider how the unadorned interview, with no music or accompanying visuals, helps retain the quiet, but powerful human emotion behind Ms. Kondo’s story.Japanese Relocation Poster
J.L. DeWitt, Commanding officer, May 3, 1942, Western Defense Command and Fourth Army Wartime Civil Control Administration. Published at the Presidio of San Francisco, CA (a military base).
Use this document to complicate the government’s claims that the relocation was done as considerately as possible and that it was a relatively easy transition for the evacuees. Students can consider the source information before reading and will likely predict that it will reiterate the government perspective. Yet, information included in the poster (6 days of preparation and the limits on what could be brought) challenges the film’s characterization of the events.
Students can also consider how the different audience for each source (film-going Americans vs. Americans to be evacuated) and purpose (explanation vs. implementation of order) affected the content and format of the source.JARDA: Japanese American Relocation Digital Archives
Challenge students to select one or two sources from JARDA: Japanese American Relocation Digital Archives and discuss how these sources contribute to their understanding of the evacuees’ experience.Timeline
Help students understand the sequence of events between Pearl Harbor and the 1998 official apology with this timeline (scroll down). See this additional timeline for events preceding Pearl Harbor.Graphic Organizer
Use this to guide students’ analysis of this footage and accompanying sources, discern the government’s argument in “Japanese Relocation,” and build a more accurate understanding of these events.
This newsreel, produced by the Office of War Information, argued that the wartime relocation and internment of Japanese Americans was necessary, efficient, and relatively smooth for the evacuees. This argument is not surprising given the producers and purpose of the film. Ask students to identify the origins of the film and make connections between its origins, purposes, and argument. Students can learn that documentaries put forth an argument, rather than merely describing events.
Using the additional accounts allows students to practice sourcing and continue to consider how factors like author, date of creation, audience, and purpose matter to understanding a historical account.Reading Film:
The government film uses a variety of techniques to craft a convincing argument. Students can initially watch it for content and argument.
For their second viewing, groups of students can focus on one film technique (for example, music, wording, visuals) and consider how that technique helps craft the argument. The music, visuals, word choice—all of these things helped craft a convincing argument for a 1942 audience.
Show students source information (Japanese Relocation. Produced by the Office of War Information, Bureau of Motion Pictures, 1942) and tell them background information—see the "About this Clip" section in the Essay—about the clip and ask these questions:
- What was the purpose of the film? Why was it made?
- What perspective or argument do you expect the film to make about Japanese relocation?
First View: What is the argument made in the movie? What evidence is included to support that argument?
Second View: How is the argument constructed? Divide students into groups and assign each group one of the following aspects of the film to examine in relation to the above question:
- Music and Sound effects
- Word choice (for example, loaded words like “burst” or “pioneer”)
- Tempo and pacing of the film’s story
What other sources are you interested in consulting to find out more about this topic and event?For Additional Sources
- See questions on each prepared document.
- What was the relocation and internment like for Americans of Japanese descent? (Use graphic organizer to help students answer this question.)
For More Information
Japanese Relocation during World War II. The National Archives provides a set of teaching resources in their “Teaching with Documents” series as well as a set of documents in their Archives Library Information Center.
The War Relocation Camps of World War II: When Fear Was Stronger than Justice. Part of the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places project, this collection of teaching resources includes images, lesson plans, and helpful background information.
A More Perfect Union: Japanese Americans & the U.S. Constitution. The Smithsonian National Museum of American History has put together an interactive exhibit that uses and organizes its collection of 800 relevant artifacts.
Japanese American Internment During World War II. This is a set of primary sources regarding the event pulled from the extensive Library of Congress’ holdings.