18-26 Segment 1: American Detainment: Lessons to Learn From America’s Internment Camp Shame

VP 18-26 A (2)


In light of the recent outrage over the ‘zero tolerance’ immigration policy and the separation of families at the southern border, some people have made a comparison to the Japanese internment camps during World War II. Richard Cahan, photo historian, former Chicago Sun-Times editor, and author of Un-American: The Incarceration of Japanese Americans During World War II, discusses the history of these camps and what we should learn from them.

Cahan’s book is a photo history of the Japanese internment camps, showing the conditions of life as a prisoner of the camps and what came before and after. The internment of Japanese Americans is often brushed over in education and history, but the pictures and stories of this shameful event are both impossible to ignore and essential to our collective healing.  Cahan emphasizes that this act was completely un-American, going against what America stands for. In this time, when it appears many Americans have a similar mindset to the Americans during the early days of World War II, Cahan says we should be especially vigilant not to repeat our past mistakes.

During World War II, 110,000 Japanese Americans were forcibly removed from their homes and settled in small, barrack-like dwellings with very basic facilities and no privacy. Eleven weeks after Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized the army to decide what to do with Japanese Americans. Because the army’s first concern is security and not civil liberties, the camps were a direct result of this decision. Right before the Supreme Court ruled that the camps were illegal, FDR opened them, and the Japanese Americans had to start over and resettle.

Seeing the reality of what happened in these internment camps should strike a warning bell in people’s minds, Cahan says. He encourages us to take a good look at our past history and learn from it.

To learn more about Japanese internment camps or to purchase a copy of Cahan’s book, visit the links below.


  • Richard Cahan, photo historian, former Chicago Sun-Times editor, and author of Un-American: The Incarceration of Japanese Americans During World War II

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