A Time To Fear

A Time to Fear(2004) This PBS documentary gem tells the story of 16,000 Japanese Americans who, during World War II, were interned in a poor, remote area of Arkansas. The contrast between the cultured, competent Japanese Americans (40% of these ‘security risks’ were children) and the Arkansas residents of Jerome (100 population) is stark. Overriding concerns of the Arkansas governor included: the impact of intruding Japanese Americans into a totally segregated rural area; competition for scarce jobs; and the fear that some of the Japanese Americans might stay after the war.

A massive camp was hastily built for soon-arriving internees. The traditional family lives of these Japanese Americans were severely disrupted. The men were no longer the providers and the unquestioned authority. The lack of privacy impinged on the way these families conducted themselves. One got the impression of thousands of uprooted people seeking to maintain some dignity in an artificial and hostile environment.

The internees were diligent and resourceful. This the local Jerome residents found disturbing and even threatening. One of many interesting vignettes related to teachers. Under Civil Service regulations teachers hired to teach at the internment camp were paid $2,000 annually. This prompted many of the best local teachers to leave their $900/year public school positions.

A heavy-handed U. S. security program required internees to fill out a lengthy security form. For a variety of reasons, about 25 percent of the male internees at Jerome refused to denounce the emperor. These people were sent to higher-security camps.

Some of the internees provided insightful narratives as to how they felt and what they did during their two years of internment. Evidently, many of the younger internees flourished. Also, in part to escape the boredom of camp life, young men in Jerome joined about 10,000 other Japanese Americans in the 442nd Regiment, which won more battle decorations than any other U. S. military unit. Initially, there was great friction between the internees and Hawaiians of Japanese descent. This ceased, when a battalion of the 442nd visited the Jerome internment camp and witnessed the conditions under which innocent Americans were obliged to live.

Reference was made to a late 1944 Supreme Court ruling that declared that these internees were no longer ‘dangerous.’ This prompted a swift dispersal of Arkansas internees. For some, there was no obvious place to go, since their land and assets had been seized. California seemed to principal location, with others heading for many mid-Western cities. The Jerome camp was abandoned, then subsequently dismantled. Now only the memories of the remaining survivors and Jerome residents remain. One intriguing point, that was mentioned briefly, was that Milton Eisenhower had been in charge of the creation of these Japanese-American internment camps, once the military, with President Roosevelt’s concurrence, had labeled these American ‘security threats.’

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