NYT Reported Japanese Internment as ‘Pioneering Chapter in US History’


The New York Times (3/24/42) covers Japanese internment: “Good Humor Prevails.”

On this day in 1942 (3/24/42), the New York Times reported on one of the most shameful chapters in US history: the internment of US citizens and immigrants in camps solely because they or their ancestors came from Japan, a nation with which the United States was at war.

That wasn’t how the Times saw it at the time, however. “Good Humor Prevails” was one of the story’s subheads, below “Japanese Evacuation Trek Begins.”

Reporter Lawrence E. Davies described the first internees as “weary but gripped with the spirit of adventure over a new pioneering chapter in American history.” This rah-rah treatment continued throughout the article: The internees were said to have begun “assembling long before daylight near the Pasadena Rose Bowl, scene of many a great football game.” Their destination was “a new reception center rising as if by magic at the foot of snow-capped peaks.”

Only two internees are quoted in the article. One, Arthur Hirano, a former New York City chef, says: “This is a wonderful place. We didn’t expect such fine treatment.” Another, Mike Nishida, who is scheduled to join the US military, says, “I’m going up there to do any job they put me on in the meantime.”

The only sign of dissension comes from non-Japanese-American union members: “Union carpenters warned…that if Japanese evacuees were put to work on the job, they would lay down their tools.” Aside from that, this is the closest the article ever gets to suggesting that imprisoning innocent people in camps based on their ethnicity is in any way problematic:

A few sad friends and relatives gathered to bid their menfolk good-bye. Most of the faces showed little or no emotion, but conversations on every side emphasized the adventurous nature of the evacuation movement.

It’s fair to say the New York Times “emphasized the adventurous nature” of the round-up. The article is accompanied by a photo showing smiling internees boarding a train heading to the camp, guarded by a US soldier. The Times‘ caption over the photo: “Concentration Camp Special.”

 Concentration Camp Special

New York Times (3/24/42)

For a less jolly depiction of the roundup, see Dorothea Lange’s photos.

(Hat tip to Today in Civil Liberties History and Peter Hart.)