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Eunbin Kim

Tetsuji Hanzawa and Japanese Internment

Published on

Tetsuji Hanzawa was one of the many Japanese residents in Hawaii in the 1940s where he lived for nearly 30 years since he came to the United States in 1913 as a permanent resident. Working as a store manager at a retail store, Hanzawa supported his family of five U.S born children and his mother while his ill wife, Uta Hanzawa, were residing in Japan for 15 years. He had not left the country since the entry except for a short visit to his wife in Japan in 1941, nor wished to, as he expressed his expectation to remain in the U.S permanently in the Alien Registration form written in 1940.

Yet Hanzawa’s plan to spend the rest of his simple yet family-oriented life in Hawaii seems to have been disrupted when he was classified as the “Alien enemy” by the government. As the tensions between Japan and the United States had begun to escalate following the Attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Japanese Americans and immigrants like Hanzawa were targeted for the U.S’ unilateral decision for repatriation and internment. Hanzawa’s A-File vividly illustrates the U.S government’s attempt to get rid of Japanese population during World War II, which reveals the discrepancy in U.S foreign policy promoting democratic ideals as well as the racial discrimination against the Japanese contrasting with the treatments of German and Italian Americans. Despite the promotion of democratic values by the American government, its infringement upon the civil rights of Hanzawa through compulsory travel orders and relocation to internment camps in the name of national security shows its self-interest over human rights during WWII. Hanzawa’s name on the list of invitational travel orders demonstrates that he was planned to be transported back to Japan and therefore was transferred to an internment facility in New Mexico where he had to file the Report of Alien Enemy for six times only in the year of 1945.

The Application for Non-Repatriation written in 1945 is an important document proving that not only Hanzawa had a chance to make an appeal for him to stay but also that the initial decision to repatriate him was unilateral. The U.S government approved Hanzawa’s application because he expressed his loyalty to the United States and had dependents and property in Hawaii.

However, the fact that they had attempted to deport a harmless resident like Hanzawa, especially after almost 30 years of living in the U.S, where he spent more than half of his life and raised his five children, shows the realistic side of U.S foreign policy that is often hidden by the display of democratic ideals by the government. Contrasting with the national narrative surrounding the U.S involvement in the Second World War — the just intervention to save Europe from the Nazis despite its prior commitment to isolationism — the incarceration of the people of Japanese descendants during the war was one of the most atrocious violations of human rights that the U.S government had committed. Hanzawa’s A-File serves as the proof of what Japanese individuals residing in the U.S at the time had to experience due to the true goal of U.S foreign policy often framed as benevolence: the sole benefits of the country itself. These documents highlight the U.S’ priority for national interest over human rights protection despite its emphasis on the fundamental rights of freedom.

This finding further leads to a question of why specifically it had to be the Japanese who were targeted for the extreme mistreatments. While it is true that all the citizens of the countries in Axis powers and the people with any relations to the countries were labeled as the “Aliens of Enemy nationalities” and suffered under the same regulations prohibiting them from traveling and possessing or using certain mediums such as camera, the Japanese were particularly singled out when considering the distinct effort by the U.S to remove them.

Although the United States was fighting the Nazis, the Italian Fascists, and the Japanese, the number of Japanese who were interned was relatively large compared to Germans or Italians. Over 120,000 Americans of Japanese background were evacuated from their homes, compared to about 11,000 and 10,000 for German and Italian Americans. Not only was there the difference in the degree of persecution among them, but also many Italian and German people were rather given the chance to prove their loyalty by serving in the U.S military during the war. In particular, more than 1.5 million Italian Americans served in the armed forces, being recognized for their loyalty and patriotism for the nation. Moreover, despite the existence of organizations like “German American Bund,” which consisted American citizens of German descent who openly promoted Nazi ideologies,German Americans were faced with standards not any harsher than the Japanese since each of the cases of German Nationals were examined by the Department of Justice, which was not even considered in the case of Japanese individuals like Hanzawa, who was directly sent to the internment camp without being able to submit any documents appealing for his loyalty (Farelly).

Staggering number of the Japanese people who were interned contrasts with those of Germans and Italians speaks the magnitude of how much the U.S government wanted to get rid of them as well as the intention behind the attempt. The anti-Asian prejudice dated back many decades before WWII. The “Yellow Peril” — the fear that Asians will disrupt the western values — existed since the 19th century in the U.S where Asians were seen as a threat to its white-only immigration policy. The first law to ban immigration solely based on race was the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, suspending Chinese immigration for ten years and prohibiting Chinese immigrants from naturalization. The racism and xenophobia in the U.S towards Asian Americans continued in the 20th century and also impacted the Japanese. Even though the majority of Japanese Americans and residents like Hanzawa were residing in Hawaii at the time, only about 1,330 Japanese from Hawaii were interned whereas approximately 120,000 people were at the risk of repatriation on the West Coast. This suggests the attempt at mass removal of the Japanese people in the West was racially motivated since if the U.S truly prioritized national security, most of the population should have been removed from Hawaii. Moreover, a government review initiated in 1980 reveals that there was no evidence of military necessity to support the removal decision and concluded that the injustice was fueled by racism (Nagata, Kim, and Wu). Looking at the A-File of Tetsuji Hanzawa alluded us to more than one person’s life and what he had to face as a Japanese immigrant in the United States during the time when Japan and the United States were one of the biggest enemies. It also provided insights on how numerous other Japanese people in the same circumstances had to experience because of the consequences of massive injustice that was committed by the government. Hanzawa’s documents highlight the irony of a democratic nation that emphasizes the core principles grounded in liberty, equality and justice, considering that it is the same government who created these documents to practice injustice and discrimination. Perhaps Hanzawa’s A-File would not even exist if such violations of the rights of the Japanese people did not happen. Although there still remains the question of the ethical dilemma of accessing the A-Files like that of Hanzawa, it is evident that his A-File could shed light on race-based historical trauma, unjust imprisonment of Japanese Americans, and the shameful act of the American government led by racism. Hanzawa’s A-File still remains as a crucial record of the history that should not be forgotten and the inhumane treatment towards an ethnic group that should be repeated in the future.