Introduction to Asian American History
12 December 2014
Primary Document Analysis: Meeting Minutes with Mr. Thomas E. Holland
In the 1930s, tensions rose between the Allied powers, Britain, France and the Soviet Union, and the Axis powers, Germany and Italy. The tension finally broke on September 1, 1939 and World War Two was in full effect. As the Allied and Axis powers waged war against each other, other nations began to be dragged into the fray, including Japan on the Axis side and the United States on the Allied side. On December 7, 1941, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, instigating the United States’ declaration of war against the Axis powers. Because of the attack on Pearl Harbor, many in the United States grew fearful of the Japanese, who they considered as foreign and untrustworthy. Racial prejudice and war time hysteria ultimately led to the detainment and incarceration of all individuals of Japanese descent in the United States living on the West Coast. Japanese were removed from their properties, stripped of their possessions, and relocated to areas away from the west coast. As a result of incarceration, the Japanese were allowed to form community governments to provide structure and leadership in a time of crisis and isolation. In this document, Mr. Holland, Director of Employment Division of the War Relocation Authority, has come to a camp to discuss the potential for Japanese internees to leave the camp through work. Representatives of the camp and military officials are present at the meeting to ask any questions or concerns they may have. Community governments in Japanese internment camps were ultimately controlled by sympathetic white military personnel, who were inadequately prepared to deal with the needs of Japanese because they believed that they knew what was best at all times.
Although white military personnel were an omnipotent force in internment camp governments, they were magnanimous to a certain extent and helped to alleviate concerns to the best of their abilities. In the document, Mr. Holland’s intentions in holding the meeting with Japanese community governments was to offer them the program of indefinite leave. Indefinite leave entitled an individual, after receiving clearance, the ability to leave the camp and seek employment in the United States. Mr. Holland showed concern when he said that “it is very important to file applications for clearance early”. He was offering advice to all the Japanese representatives as to how to expedite the screening process and exactly what was the best plan of action. As a white leader, Mr. Holland sacrificed his time to inform the internees of the program and showed zeal in wanting to reintegrate the Japanese into American society. Some may question the intentions behind such a program and condemn the entire process of the internment camps, because Americans were biased against Eastern civilization. However, by January 2, 1945, half of those evacuated had found new jobs and homes in mid-America and the East, demonstrating Japanese and American contentment with the program’s success. Although the Japanese were forced to be obedient to the whites, they were still allowed to voice their concerns and ask questions, which revealed the openness to criticism of white leadership. In the meeting with Mr. Holland, Japanese continued to ask questions as to the exact process of indefinite leave and in particular what kind of jobs were available. However, there were certain points of tension that arose when Mr. Holland addressed Dr. Takao about his inability to settle business in the west coast. Mr. Holland states that “If you are trying to go back to the West Coast, we have nothing to do with it . . . we must go by military rulings . . . what’s the time?”  Ambiguous responses were given and key concerns were circumvented in this conversation; Dr. Takao questioned Mr. Holland, but Mr. Holland was unprepared to answer and claimed he had no power over the situation in order to prevent confrontation. He brought up the time in order to end the conversation quickly for he detected the tension and concerns of the Japanese rising. Through this example, one can detect the inability of white leadership to handle certain situations efficiently for their response was to ignore the concern and continue to another topic or end the conversation in general; this leads to resentment and displeasure. The Whites seemed eager to aid the Japanese in the primary document, but the satisfaction of the Japanese was hard to gauge. The minutes were taken in a white dominated atmosphere and so the Japanese leaders may have felt uncomfortable responding in full, thereby downplaying Japanese resentment or anger towards decisions made by whites and improving the magnanimity of the whites. White leadership did its best to aid Japanese internees, and were in fact kind and caring, but overall were unable to address all their concerns fully due to bad preparation.
Also given that the Japanese representatives of internment camp governments, were mainly Nisei, they lacked confidence and relied heavily on white governance for support, thereby perpetuating the Whites’ feelings of superiority in decision making. Due to the initial fear of Japanese spies, many Issei were feared because of their alien status and potential ties with the Japanese government. As Japanese were all sent to concentration camps, Issei were relegated to positions of inferiority and the Nisei elevated to leadership status due to their citizenship status. Due to early WRA policy, Issei were not allowed to take leadership roles in internment camps, and instead Nisei were placed in the leadership roles. With Nisei simply having this role casted upon them, they were anxious and unsure of their ability to lead and of the decisions they made. In the document a majority of the Japanese Representatives had American names such as George and Kelly, not to mention their English was impeccable. These are signs revealing that they were in fact Nisei and anxious in their new roles as leaders. Also through the types of questions that the Japanese representatives asked Mr. Holland, the anxiety and uncertainty about resettlement are revealed. Questions that were asked include “Would it be possible to have statistics to determine the best place to go? – cost of living, etc.?” and “What will happen to the rest left here? If the plan works in good result, may the people who go out send for their families?”  The Japanese representatives continued to ask basic questions in regards to indefinite leave, revealing their naivety, and overall apprehension as to what the world outside the internment camp truly was. Nisei were handed the reins in order to facilitate a smoother functioning of the community governments, but in reality it led to greater compliance and apprehension in decision making. The Japanese representatives do not simply want to go out into American society and be left homeless and scrounging for food. They are not as definite and resolute as their Issei parents are in leaving the camps to reclaim their old lives. Rather, they overthink and are fearful of discrimination from White America. The WRA however never really truly gave the Japanese complete or majority of the power in decision making, in fact Euro-Americans were appointed to important positions in the camp. It can be said the white leaders were manipulative in this way by installing only Nisei as leaders as opposed to Issei, in order to prevent strong opposition from arising in the camps. However, allowing the Nisei to take over as opposed to the Issei can be seen as a strategic move to help Japanese assimilate into American culture more easily and overall make their lives better and more acceptable by the White community. Because the meeting was meant to be professional and was white dominated, it is difficult to determine the causation of the Japanese representative’s apprehension. Nisei in government positions were still inexperienced and so with their ability to understand English, relied on the White for guidance as to how to appease the discriminatory forces and end their incarceration as soon as possible and be accepted into society as Americans.
The White government sought to place Japanese internees mainly into low skilled farming jobs in order to make use of their expertise in agriculture to aid in the war effort and to improve their image in American society, but never considering the feelings of the Japanese. Mr. Holland mentions that “a number of people have come up to us willing to take domestic jobs . . . we discourage that. We want to place a person at a job at what he really wants to do” and anybody can apply for indefinite leave. Given that a majority of the jobs offered are farming and low skilled jobs, this gave little opportunity for the high-skilled individuals to leave the camp. The Japanese were known for their superior farming skills and so by putting them in farming jobs, they could provide a huge boon to society and aid the war effort immensely, thereby improving their image. However, by attempting to preserve Japanese dignity and skills, the white government may have in fact belittled the Japanese and angered them further. The WRA’s actions came off as respectful, but also seemed like punishing the high-skilled, thereby perpetuating the inferiority of the East. White government was concerned that “the best thing to do is to get a job. Then after the community knows you, buy your land and set up a business. If the wrong people go out and they are not liked, that is going to be bad”. White America resented the Japanese for becoming so successful. By having the Japanese focus on farming and low skilled jobs, White America would be satisfied with their socially superior position and thereby feel more confident about themselves and appease their feelings of yellow peril. Initially Dudley contended that the camps were made to protect the Japanese from race riots against them. As a result, the White government was attempting to do its best to protect the Japanese from further discrimination when they left the camps. However their guidance and decisions may have been due to the fact that they did not believe in the Japanese ability of self-determination and failed to consider their racial pride. For all they know, by leaving the Japanese the opportunity to make their own decisions, it could have strengthened their community governments and lead to greater autonomy and future assimilation.
In conclusion, the formation of community governments within the Japanese internment camps were methods of appeasing and manipulating the Japanese populous in some form but was done so with the Japanese’s interest in mind. White military personnel were as kind and accommodating as their superiors allowed, and so were limited in appeasing every concern the Japanese had. Also with the fact that Japanese leaders were Nisei as opposed to Issei, they lacked confidence, and thereby had to rely on White leadership to guide them along. Specifically, White Government lead them to pick certain jobs and avoid certain paths because they believed they were protecting the Japanese from further discrimination and scorn from the rest of society. Although their efforts were noble, it may have been misguided by disempowering Japanese and forcing them into a bottleneck in terms of their future avenues. Overall community governments were overall controlled by Whites, who did do their best to help the Japanese through their orientalist lenses.
 Lau, Chrissy Yee. Lecture: Impact of World War 2 on Japanese Americans. 21 Oct. 2014.
 “Meeting Minutes with Mr. Thomas E. Holland: 12/8/1942”. Japanese American Relocation Center Record. Box 6, Folder 2. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.
 “Meeting Minutes with Mr. Thomas E. Holland: 12/8/1942”. Japanese American Relocation Center Record. Box 6, Folder 2. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library. Pg. 2.
 Dudley, William. Japanese American Internment Camps. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven, 2002. Print. Pg. 61.
 “Meeting Minutes with Mr. Thomas E. Holland: 12/8/1942”. Japanese American Relocation Center Record. Box 6, Folder 2. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library. Pg. 9.
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 “Meeting Minutes with Mr. Thomas E. Holland: 12/8/1942”. Japanese American Relocation Center Record. Box 6, Folder 2. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library. Pg. 5-6.
 Hayashi, Brian Masaru. Democratizing the Enemy: The Japanese American Internment. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2004. Print. Pg. 115.
 Hayashi, Brian Masaru. Democratizing the Enemy: The Japanese American Internment. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2004. Print. Pg. 108.
 “Meeting Minutes with Mr. Thomas E. Holland: 12/8/1942”. Japanese American Relocation Center Record. Box 6, Folder 2. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library. Pg. 3.
 “Meeting Minutes with Mr. Thomas E. Holland: 12/8/1942”. Japanese American Relocation Center Record. Box 6, Folder 2. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library. Pg. 7.
 Dudley, William. Japanese American Internment Camps. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven, 2002. Print. Pg. 43.