Dillon S. Myer: An Autobiography
This is a long work, but I'm only going to comment on the section that dealt with his role in the internment of persons of Japanese ancestry during WWII.
1. He was not in sympathy with the idea of the evacuation, but he was requested to do it and it was a Presidential request.
2. At first, he didn't know much about the Japanese Americans, nor the reasons why there was so much pressure for their removal. He later determined that most of the given reasons were “phony.”
3. Voluntary evacuation didn't work for various reasons.
4. Earl Warren, who played a major role in all of this, was Attorney General of California, and was planning to run for Governor.
5. A radio commentator named John B . Hughes and a man named Walter Lippmann were also involved in the anti-Japanese movement.
6. Agricultural labor was needed, so the decision was made to allow some from the camps to have temporary leaves.
7. One of the reason that some universities and colleges would not accept PJAs as students was that they were afraid they would get would get in trouble with the Defense Department, since they had Defense Department contracts.
8. He uses the term “relocation centers” rather than “internment camps.”
9. The policy to allow evacuees to find jobs outside the camps started on July 20, 1942.
10. In describing the assembly centers, he says they used bars and put in partitions. “The Nisei still talk about the smell of horse manure that they lived with during those months.”
11. The first relocation center was Manzanar. He points out that even though some relocation centers were not ready, they still had to ship the evacuees in due to very strict train and bus transport availability and schedules.
12. He believes that the good health facilities in the camps helped some of the evacuees to extend their life span.
13. He notes that anti-Japanese groups on the West Coast were very quick to be “...out sniping at everything that was going on in the centers. They were claiming that the evacuees were getting better meats than the men in the Army were getting and all kinds of crazy stories were being put out in the Hearst press and in other ways to harass the evacuees and WRA.”
14. Trouble at Poston and Manzanar:
“Our first real trouble spot developed in Camp I
of the Posten Relocation Center on November 14, 1942
when we had a community-wide strike and demonstra
tion, which was called by the Hearst press and others
a riot which it wasn t. This came about because the
F.B.I, had come into the center and had arrested two or
three people and they were put into jail and the com
munity got up in arms and demanded that they be . re
leased and when they weren t released immediately they
went on strike and consequently nothing was done for
about a week or ten days except to provide the basic
food and essential services required by the evacuees.
“This had hardly settled down when we had a incident at Manzanar on December 6, 1942 and this was
known pretty much as the Kibei rebellion. A group of
Kibei and a group of people who were running the
kitchens were involved. The chefs who had organized
themselves into a kitchen workers union began to
demand things. Here again this incident came about
because there some arrests were made in the center
and these people who were arrested were taken out to
Independence or one of the nearby towns.
“This group demanded that they be brought back to
the center and that they be released to the people in
the center. As a result of discussions that Ralph
Merritt, the director of the project, had had wivh
the leaders of the group he thought they had arrived
at a meeting of the minds and a compromise but he
found out an hour or two later that the leader had
simply announced another meeting later in the day.
When he found that they had broken their word and
were meeting again he called in the Army which he
had authority to do. Unfortunately, after the Army
came in some youngster climbed into a car and released
the brakes and ran it right down toward the soldiers
and some trigger-happy boy started shooting. Some
people were wounded and three people ultimately died
as a result of the shooting.”
15. Relocation Field Offices Established:
“About the same time we decided to go all out on
a relocation program outside of the relocation cen
ters. On January 4, 1943 the first two relocation
field offices, called area field offices, were
established to assist in helping people to relocate
outside of the centers through finding jobs, housing
and assuring them the opportunity to live peaceably
and to carry on as other civilians would carry on.”
16. The registration program for the Army started on February 8, 1943. He talks about the questionnaire and some “poorly worded” questions.
17. The people from the camps did not participate in sabotage.
“HP: Getting back to the allegation by the American Legion
that some of the people released from the centers to
take jobs elsewhere v/ere guilty of sabotage. Was
there ever an established case that a person from a
relocation center had become a saboteur?”
“DSM: No, there never was an established case of sabotage.
Not only as regards the people who had been in relocation centers who had lived on the West Coast but it
also included Hawaii, which had more people of Japanese
ancestry then we had in the United States mainland.
There were lots of rumors about sabotage but none of
them proved to be true. It took a long time to eliminate those rumors. Many people were still quoting
them weeks and weeks after they had been knocked down
by J. Edgar Hoover and others who had made the
18. On March 11, 1943, he sent a letter to Secretary Stimson of the War Department suggestion a relaxation of the exclusion orders. It was two months before he got a reply, and the answer was no. Not only was the answer no, but the guy wanted a program established to separate pro-Japanese evacuees from all the others.
19. In May of 1943 the decision was made to make Tule Lake a place for pro-Japanese evacuees and any others they felt were necessary to isolate from the other evacuees.
20. Eleanor Roosevelt visited the Gila River camp on May 6, 1943. Myer asked her to tell FDR about the problems they were having in the camps, and the replies they were getting when they asked for help. She did, and FDR intervened.
21. The Dies Committee:
“The Costello sub-committee of the Dies Committee
was appointed on June 3, 19^3 and they became a real
harrassing element over the period from May until
July 6th. They held so-called hearings in Los Angeles,
to which we were not invited. One or two of the people
from Posten were invited but the people who were testifying out there were mostly people whom we had fired
because of the fact that they had either not been loyal
to the service or who had left the center during the
“In one case a chap by the name of Townsend who
testified had left the center in a government car
because he was scared, to death, and was gone for a
week. When he came back fortunately the director of
the center had had enough experience that he sat him
down and interviewed him with a stenographic transcript of the interview and of course fired him.
“This ex-employee told all kinds of wild stories
at the time of the Los Angeles hearings which were
fed out to the newspapers...”
22. There was trouble at the Tule Lake center when there was a truck accident that resulted in one of the workers being killed. A farm strike by the evacuees followed. He went to the camp to speak to the internees, but while he was doing that a non-Nisei doctor was assaulted at the base hospital.
He never felt in danger, and he explains some of the lies that appeared in the Hearst papers about what actually didn't happen.
On November 4th there was actually an outbreak of violence, and the military was called in. They remained in control of the camp until January of 1944.
23. In November he met with the California American Legion group and tried to clear up some of their many misunderstandings. He says they were very “snide.”
24. On January 20, 1944, the draft was reinstituted for the Nisei.
25. On June 30, 1944, Congress passed legislation allowing the Nisei to renounce their American citizenship. Around 5400 did, but many of those had done so under pressure from various elements at the camps, and later asked to have their decision undone.
26. The Jerome camp was closed on June 30, 1944.
On December 17, 1944, the War Department canceled the West Coast exclusion order, to be effective on January 2, 1945.
27. Finding housing for the evacuees when they were resettling back out of the camps was not an easy thing to do. There was a housing shortage, and some people did not have much money. Some of the older Issei were afraid to leave the camps.
28. On January 2, 1945, the Supreme Court ruled that he evacuation order had been constitutional in the Koromatsu vs. United States ruling.
29. Oddly enough, there was another case, the Endo case.
“In the “Endo” case, which was a case
of a young Nisei girl who had asked that she go freely
from the centers without signing up of forms or any
thing of the sort, which we wanted heard long before
it v/as heard, much to our pleasure they, the Supreme
Court, held, that a loyal American citizen should not
be held under any circumstances.”
30. Some of the evacuees encountered trouble when trying to return to their homes or find new places.
“DSM: 1 have mentioned the fact that there were some
dastardly things perpetrated to keep people from
coming back. On January 8 an attempt was made to
dynamite and burn a fruit packing shed owned by a
returning evacuee in Placer County, California. This
was the first of about thirty incidents involving
violence. Most of these consisted of shooting into
the homes of returned evacuees between January 8 and
about mid-June. They weren't shooting at people.
They were using long range rifles, shooting into corners of houses hoping to scare people out and to discourage
“HP: Who do you suppose was doing this?”
“DSM: The people who were doing it were for the most part
young farmer lads and others up and down the Central
Valley who had either taken over some of the rented
land that they didn't want to give up or who didn't
want the competition. We pretty well knew who was
doing it in some cases.”
30. On September 4, 1945, after the war was over, the Western Defense Command finally revoked all individual exclusion orders. On February 23, 1946, the last group of people who wanted to return to Japan left for there. Tule Lake was closed on March 20, 1946.
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