Densho Digital Archive
Steven Okazaki Collection
Title: Roger Daniels Interview
Narrator: Roger Daniels
Location: San Francisco, California
Date: November 18, 1983
Densho ID: denshovh-droger-02-0011

<Begin Segment 11>

Q: What was the movement of Japanese Americans from the different cities and where did they go to once they got out of their homes and then where did they go, to what camp did they go to after that?

RD: Well, with the exception of a few who went directly to Manzanar, which was unique in that it was both an assembly center and a relocation center, most Japanese Americans first went to an assembly center fairly close to their homes and then were sent on to a permanent relocation center. People from Southern California, for instance, wound up, many of them at Manzanar, many others in the three Arizona camps. People from the Bay Area, after going to assembly centers such as Tanforan, the old racetrack, wound up at Topaz. People from Portland, some of them went to Tule Lake, some of them went on to Minidoka. People from Seattle largely went to Minidoka but a also went, a few went to Tule Lake, and then there were always exceptions. For instance, for some reason or other, well, we know why, but the first people to be evacuated, the Bainbridge Islanders, were taken from Bainbridge Island to Puyallup and then a lot of them wind up way down south in Manzanar. And then some of them are later transferred to Minidoka with the rest of the Seattleites. What we must remember is even more important than cities is that there was a distinct attempt at family unification and that the family unit was, for the WRA, a major unit and I think that's very important. And when families were split up, living in different sorts of places, and if they wanted to, the WRA generally allowed them to come together as a unit. So the family unit was very, very important and most people did also go in community units as well. Not all, but most also went in community units so that there was some, some continuity with their life as had been lived there in the past, if they had lived in families and if they had lived in communities before the war.

Q: Could you tell us about the role of the WRA, War Relocation Authority, how effective was this administration in helping the Japanese Americans after they had gotten into the camp and after that?

RD: Well, most of the, most of the people, at least at the top who ran the WRA, were at least sympathetic to the Japanese. They were civilians, some of them were former New Deal official. But with a best intention in the world, in the world, it's very, very hard to be a kindly keeper. And that's the... which is the description that one historian has given to Dillon Myer, "kindly keeper." Now, it really depends on who you're talking about. Some of the WRA officials, for instance, were violently against the relocation. The anthropologist, Morris Opler, for instance, helped some of the lawyers write the briefs, the amicus curiae and other briefs and in the Hirabayashi and Korematsu cases and in the Endo case and were really very, very useful. At the lower level, WRA employees, many of them were recruited from the local population, went to, went there because it was a good war job, it paid federal rates, and many of them just had no use at all for "Japs." But in general, Japanese Americans were probably much better off being managed by a sympathetic civilian agency than an unsympathetic military one.

In addition, the various camps were run with different degrees of competence. And where there was trouble, such as trouble at Manzanar in December, 1942, that's evidence of incompetent local management. Other camps didn't have these kinds of troubles and one has to assume that that's at least partially due to the fact that they were better run. The old navy rule, you know, an unhappy ship is the captain's fault. Well, an unhappy concentration camp is a concentration camp commander's fault, although a "happy concentration camp" is a contradiction in terms, but there was, there was a mixed blessing. There were people who worked for the WRA as volunteers, for instance, a number of Quakers, some religious people, some secular, said gee, this is a terrible thing. Some teachers gave up better jobs to go in and teach school, so it's really a mixed bag. The WRA was hundreds of people. It could have been a lot worse.

Q: Roger, could you talk in terms of the PR on the WRA. What sort of impression, with their newsreels and their government films, were they trying to present of the camps?

RD: Well, with the WRA, you'll have to realize that it had several kinds of problems. One of its problems was that there was a big segment of the American population that felt that the WRA was quote, unquote, "coddling the Japs." That they were getting sugar, butter, food, that the general population wouldn't. In part, to combat this, the WRA not only -- and the OWI, the Office of War Information -- not only stressed very, very much the heroism of the 442nd, but tried to present life in the camps as sort of idyllic. They didn't show the dust storms, they showed smiling, happy faces. I remember one prophetic picture I saw in the National Archives, Dillon Myer is arriving at Topaz and somebody has a sign up, "Welcome to the Great White Father." And of course, the Great White Father would then later become in charge of all the Indians in the United States. So that was really a case of life imitating propaganda. But it's quite clear that there was propaganda involved, and that even more important, the kinds of propaganda that the WRA did in preparing the ways and interior cities, such as Chicago or in Cleveland or in Cincinnati, which I'm studying now, it's really important. And they did... the Japanese weren't just sent into these places. Hostels were set up, community leaders were talked to, jobs were set up, so the WRA was not a cipher. On the other hand, once you start managing people's lives for their own good, once you take on the functions of being a "kindly keeper," you're really negating democracy, because the notion of democracy is that people can make their own decisions and take care of themselves. So that you have the paradox of a democratic government setting up, essentially, undemocratic institutions, and the WRA was, of course, an undemocratic institution.

It was... for instance, to digress for a moment, many Japanese Americans worked in administration alongside of civilian employees. The Japanese Americans got nineteen dollars a month. The civilian employees, Caucasians, got whatever the going, the going rate for that particular job was, which was a hell of a lot more than nineteen dollars a month. The notion was always that Caucasian administrators knew what was good for Japanese much more than Japanese, than Japanese people could possibly do so. That's very important. So there's no way that that can be good. There was a kind of benevolence but it's the benevolence of certain kinds of charity, and there had to be tensions between the prisoners. The WRA liked to call them "impounded people," somehow that's better, and keepers and jailers. But there were varieties. There were those who did it better and those who did it worse.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.