Not an ‘Internment Camp’ a U.S. Concentration Camp, 1942

Heart Mountain Relocation Center (HMRC)
Heart Mountain Relocation Center (HMRC)
Major Van Harl USAF Ret
Major Van Harl USAF Ret

Wyoming-( In Cody, Wyoming there are the remains of a WWII Japanese-American internment camp. Heart Mountain Relocation Center (HMRC) was the name of the camp. Sounds pleasant enough, sort of like a summer camp in the mountains that big city folk’s drive to for a season of family fun. It was only sixty miles from Yellowstone National Park; perhaps the Kawahara family could stop and see Old Faithful before driving over to HMRC.

No, HMRC was a concentration camp, just like the British built for the South Africans in the Boer War and the Nazis build for the Jews in WWII.

The two former stringers of barbed wire viewed their internees as enemies of the state. At HMRC the internees were in most cases, American citizens.

While these folks may have been Americans, they did not look like “normal” Americans.

You know blond haired, fair skinned, rugged Anglo-Saxon (read German) northern European types. Real Americans did not look like the people standing behind the wire at HMRC.

We were attacked by surprised on 7 December 1941, the day that will live in infamy, but by the military forces of the Nation of Japan, not the Inouye family of Southern, California. In fact, Grandpa Inouye had fought as an American soldier in WWI and was hauled off to HMRC in his “dough-boy” infantry uniform, with his combat ribbons and medals now not so proudly displayed on his uniform blouse.

Instructions to all persons of Japanese Ancestry
Instructions to all persons of Japanese Ancestry

Of course, you have to realize that I was born in 1955 and did not live the hysteria in the US just after Pearl Harbor. This nation was still in open segregation against blacks and the multi anti-Asian laws on the books did not help the plight of the Japanese-Americans. I believe the December 7th attack allowed already dislikes and prejudice against, in many cases, very successful Japanese-Americans to boil over. Now, there was a legal (all though not right) excuse to persecute Americans of a different race.

Please understand that President Roosevelt was spying on Japanese-Americans as far back as 1936. He did not like them, and he had harsh plans for them as soon as Roosevelt could goad Japan into attacking US interests. The problem was those interests turned out to be the US Navy at Pearl Harbor.

Approximately 110,000 Japanese-Americans were removed from their homes and sent to one of ten camps in the interior of America, to keep our coastal shorelines safe from “those people” who might want to help the Emperor of Japan invade California. In pictures of HMRC it looks like many of the WWII Army camps that were built in haste at the beginning of the war. Being retired military as I walked the HMRC site, if you did not know what really happened there you could get the feeling it was the very camp grandfather trained at before he shipped out to the Pacific to avenge Pearl Harbor.

Approximately 110, 000 Japanese-Americans were removed from their homes and sent to one of ten camps in the interior of America
Approximately 110,000 Japanese-Americans were removed from their homes and sent to one of ten camps in the interior of America

Granted, few if any prisoners/internees were ever mowed down in a hail of machine gun bullets as they tried to rush the wire to escape HMRC, but some did actually go to real prison for draft evasion. As a young American male, you were by law required to register for the draft and expected to serve our country if called to fight. Yes, men interned at HMRC were required to register and then go fight if called to war to defend the very Nation that locked you and your family behind barbed wire. Oh and just before you shipped out your grandmother died in camp because her body just could not take the sub-zero weather of northwest Wyoming living in a tarpaper shack.

There is now a Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation ( that was established to preserve what is left of that camp and the memories both bad and good that were created there. Replica buildings have been constructed to be used as a museum and educational center.

I came across the phrase “balance our concern for National Security with a commitment to respect the basic civil rights of all our fellow citizens” in reference to remembering these camps that imprisoned citizens whose only crime was being an American who looked different. I believe this Nation will be attacked again on US soil. It will be horrific and we will seek out and destroy those who perpetrated the action. I fear it will be people who will not look and in this case even think the way “we” do.

I recently attended a lecture at Marquette Law School in Milwaukee where the guest speaker was Sam Mihara ( Dr. Mihara is a retired rocket scientist who worked for the Boeing Company putting satellites into orbit for our nation. Dr. Mihara was also locked up in the American concentration camp at Heart Mountain, WY when he was nine years old. A total of three generation of his family were locked up with him.

His grandfather died in the camp and his dad went blind because the Army would not allow Dr. Mihara's father to continue eye treatments that he was undertaking back at their pre-war home in California.

As I listened to Dr. Mihara tell his story, my dislike for Roosevelt grew in intensity. Roosevelt locked up innocent Americans because they were different and only with intense legal action taken against Roosevelt's raciest regime were these Americans finally let out of their barbed wire cages.

Barbed wire is cheap and easy to string up and cage people inside. Those alleged bad people who might, or maybe, or you know just could possibly hurt good “normal” Americans, if you stand them behind that wire it makes for great photo-ops. If you are not an American citizen living in the US and you don’t like us–go home, now. But if you are an American and you look different (whatever that means) HMRC cannot happen again. That is also why we have a Second Amendment that allows citizens to arm themselves against an unjust government–protection not insurrection.

During the question and answer period of Dr. Mihara's lecture I asked him about the tendency for Americans of Japanese descent to vote liberal Democratic and not be pro Second Amendment. I asked him “what are you going to do the next time they come for you?”

He looked at me like I was asking something very strange. He then with what I thought was a sad excuse, advised me that the young folks (read younger liberal Americans of Japanese descent) were much smarter about the Constitution. So I guess when our over-reaching government locks up the next group of American citizens we do not agree with, the few tame ones of that group still outside the wire, who have law degrees can file suit and hope for the best.

How many Americans will die in the next concentration camp waiting for this nation to come to its senses?

If you are weak. If you are a minority. If you are different this is not a crime. Arm yourself using U.S. laws that say you have that “right.”

Barbed wire does not stop the winter cold of a concentration camp, but the Second Amendment will stop the building of those camps.

Evil hates organization. Armed Americans are organized.
Evil hates organization. Armed Americans are organized.

No matter where you came from, be an American, defend your family and your life. As a US citizen you swear allegiance to the Constitution, not to the men, good or bad who try to enforce it through manipulation.

Evil hates organization. Armed Americans are organized.

About Major Van Harl USAF Ret.:

Major Van E. Harl USAF Ret., a career Police Officer in the U.S. Air Force was born in Burlington, Iowa, USA, in 1955. He was the Deputy Chief of police at two Air Force Bases and the Commander of Law Enforcement Operations at another. He is a graduate of the U.S. Army Infantry School. A retired Colorado Ranger and currently is an Auxiliary Police Officer with the Cudahy PD in Milwaukee County, WI. His efforts now are directed at church campus safely and security training. He believes “evil hates organization.” [email protected]

  • 30 thoughts on “Not an ‘Internment Camp’ a U.S. Concentration Camp, 1942

    1. I’ve always doubted that racism is the correct term. Until the outset of Japanese aggression, America was friendly with all the Asian populations. And after Pearl Harbor, unfriendliness spiked but only at the Japanese Empire and its advocates. Treatment of the 442 lends evidence to the quick flexibility of America’s racial attitudes. And military alliances with China, India, The Philippines, Korea, et al., directly refute the correctness of using racism here. For the past eight years, most of us are sick of the “R” word and we’d be hard pressed to find anyone who harbors hatred for Asian populations simply because of the color of their skin. In fact, most Americans hold Asian people in very high regard (excluding gang bangers), particularly in academic circles. Many WW II Veterans never forgave the Japanese and hated them for the rest of their lives. But most wanted to put it behind them and simply moved on with pre-hostility attitudes. Japanese-Americans, nisei if you will, didn’t deserve such treatment but collectively, the nation didn’t know what else to do at the time. We know a lot more about due process now, much of it is a direct result of this experience.

    2. To the poster who replied to my remark and asked if it were not racism then why were the Japanese in Hawaii NOT interned and what East Coast Japanese were there not to be interned. Actually you make the argument for me. If it were racism then why, indeed, were the Japanese in Hawaii not picked up? If white Americans were rounding up Japanese for racists reasons then they should indeed have picked them up (actually they did a few). That they were not interned indicates something else, such as the islands being on a war footing from 12/7 which provided all the security apparatus needed. Keep in mind Hawaii was NOT a state in 1941 and the feds and the military already had sufficient powers to monitor and control the resident population. That authority did not exist in the states. Again the small Japanese population in the East (there was one in the agricultural communities in Cumberland County, NJ) were not a sufficient number to create a plausible threat. But if the motive had been one of racism, rather than fear of sabotage and collusion, they, too would have been picked up. That they were not shows again the motive was not one of racism on the part of the government (individuals, yes) but fear of espionage and possible cooperation with Japanese military threats on the West Coast.

      1. There was a long history of anti-Japanese racism in the Western states from the time that Japanese first immigrated to the U.S. Many laws were passed targeting them, including the prohibition on land ownership as well as the denial of naturalization rights. Redlining and segregation as well as employment discrimination were common. Politicians made careers villifying the Japanese. U.S. Senator James D. Phelan ran under the slogan “Keep California White.”

        General John DeWitt, head of the Western Defense Command, and with Col. Karl Bendetsen, one of the architects of the forced expulsion, articulated the position of many when he said, ““The Japanese race is an enemy raceand while many second and third generation Japanese born on United States soil, possessed of United States citizenship, have become ‘Americanized,’ the racial strains are undiluted.”

        Racism fueled the belief that it was racially inevitable for Japanese Americans to be disloyal to the U.S.

        1. @Susan, You are going a long way back in time and painting with a broad brush. Personally, I learned to cook and speak Japanese at the knee of my aunt Teiko Isaka. In her later life we carried on a correspondence.

    3. To quote a variety of people and authors, not America’s proudest moment. While it is true that deaths were few, there were deaths. The Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments were trashed. Start with the idea “it can happen to me.”
      Unless you believe this can and will be done to you, you don’t get the point of this article. Don’t read it “this is what happened to them,” read it “this could happen to me.”

      How much ammo do you want for your guns?

      By all means use the Courts and the Press to defend yourself in cases like this. But be ready to put your case to the “judgement of Heaven.”

    4. Not making any excuses for the camps. But, if people were not put in ovens or worked to death, they were not the same as the camps in Nazi Germany.

      1. I was thinking the same thing. Seven thousand were interned at Camp Amache, aka Grenada Relocation Center in Colorado and only 120 died there, less than two percent. One baby is buried at the cemetery and otherwise, ages aren’t readily available. I’d guess most of the deaths were babies and the elderly, generally attributable to harsh weather and poor housing. None were tortured, murdered or starved. Conditions were terrible and I’ve never tried to excuse this shameful offense. I don’t buy most Roosevelt related conspiracy theories but know he favored a war alliance with Great Britain. It should never have happened and was a clear mistake. Everyone suffers in war and it’s never fair. But the planet is learning and America treated its prisoners and internees far better than any of the other warring nations. Perhaps our Constitution had something to do with what we did right.

    5. They should build concentration camps around Chicago and every major city with gang related violence. They could put every gang banger they could locate in such camp until they have educated them on what it takes to be a productive American. I would consider it a character building concentration camp. And for the people that don’t think I am sympathetic to gang members that kill at the drop of a hat you are correct. Sympathy is located somewhere in the dictionary between sh*t and syphilis.

    6. I am not sure what the message is supposed to be here but there were Japanese agents living within the Japanese-American community in early 1942 and with the very real fear of a Japanese attack on the West Coast, removing that population beyond the coastal region seemed not to be such a bad idea. Remember this order applied only to Japanese- Americans living on the West Coast. Those back east were not interned. Most of all, if this article is supposed to justify Japanese-Americans taking up arms to defend themselves, had that happened in the atmosphere of Pearl harbor, Wake Island, Singapore, Bataan there would have been a blood bath the likes of which America had never experienced in its entire history. I suggest the author rethink his position based on a re-examination of the primary sources.

      1. Great observations there, Mr. M. Since not all Japanese were interred (by your argument – I have no authority or knowledge to claim otherwise – do you know if there was an alternative to interment? Would simple relocation to different cities or states have satisfied the order to “secure” the coast?
        At the very very least, greater care should have been taken to ensure health and comfort and to protect the assets and fortunes of the detainees.
        I wonder how America would respond to a similar situation now?

      2. Kevin:
        The same could have been stated for the German population on the east coast. Rights aren’t rights when the state can take them away…just when you need the the most! When these rights are taken, your government then becomes the enemy.

        “The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. ” – HL Mencken

      3. There were far more German agents and sympathizers than Japanese, based on FBI archives. Didn’t see many mass German American internment camps spring up. Although some individuals did get picked up for sedition.

        It was racism pure and simple. And, it crossed both political parties and most social/economic groups.

        The US government waited until most of the adults who lost everything and had legal claim died before they acknowledged the travesty. Then they gave a joke amount as a token in restitution to living internees only. Families of deceased internees got zilch.

        I’m with the OA, waving the constitution in front of Jack Boots is ineffective. Then again, if they had violently resisted we probably would have had an immediate genocide. A clear case of damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

        1. @Icasott, There were camps for Italians and Germans. Race had nothing to do with in. Nationality and evidence had everything to do with it.

          1. I frickin can’tt stand your biased argument. the germans and italians who were interned were VISABLY and FINANCIALLY supporting Hitler and El Duce. tHOSE who were not, were not jailed. I guess it makes you feel better to say race had nothing to do with it.

            1. @kraig, I did not offer an argument. I stated the facts: I wrote that Nationality and evidence had everything to do with it. You support that by correctly observing that the Germans and Italians who were interned were visibly and financially supporting Hitler and El Duce. You seem to drive right up to the correct conclusion and then take a hard left turn. Happy driving.

      4. If you know that there were Japanese agents, then the FBI would have known that there were Japanese agents. The FBI picked up Buddhist and Shinto priests, language teachers, community leaders, newspaper editors, and others for no apparent reason — there were no charges or evidence accusing them of anything. Who were the Japanese agents? People who were eventually caught doing espionage for the Japanese government were not Japanese American.

        The common assumption is that there was “racial disloyalty” but what the hell is that? There was no justification for forcibly expelling Japanese Americans from their homes and mass incarcerating them. This is not just my opinion. There is no evidence for it as concluded by a major investigation, the consensus of historians, and the lack of prosecutions.

        1. Actually the FBI picked up plenty of Japanese agents. I have no idea why you find this so difficult to believe. I would suggest that you read John Costello’s book, The Pacific War, especially the chapter he titles “the Boring Stuff”, where he DOCUMENTS the Japanese espionage and the FBI’s arrests, some of them recently arrived aliens, but some American citizens. There have been attempts to publicize some of this material but every time anyone goes contrary to the accepted notion that the removal may have been justified they get buried beneath an avalanche of invective amid accusations of racism and insensitivity. Get the book, read the documentation and then come back and tell us what you found.

          1. My great uncle was a produce buyer and he was picked up by the FBI. He was never charged with anything. Like I said, the FBI did pick up a number of Japanese Americans but they were never charged with or convicted of being agents of Japan. No evidence was presented to anyone.

            If you’re talking about the so-called Magic cables, these have been debunked by a number of historians. The cables include the hopes of the Japanese government in building a spy network but they do not refer to any actual network or results of the efforts to build one.

          2. The FBI did indeed pick people up, but they were never charged, prosecuted or convicted of being Japanese agents. My dad’s uncle was picked up and he was a produce buyer (as in vegetables.)

            If you are talking about the so-called Magic cables, they do not provide any proof of the existence of a spy network. They cite the interest of the Japanese government in building a spy network, but they do not present any indication that one was built or any reference to results of a spy network. The Magic cables go all over the place and also suggest that non-Japanese be recruited for espionage. In any case, there was no evidence in the Magic cables tying any of the arrested individuals to a spy network.

            You believe that evidence of Japanese agents among the Japanese American population is suppressed. On the contrary, it has been raised repeatedly and then debunked repeatedly by historians. See Eric Muller’s review of Michelle Malkin’s book “In Defense of Internment.” Her main argument was the Magic Cables, likening the Japanese American community to a network of secret Al Qaeda terror cells. It’s bunk. Bad history, mostly relying on other people’s already debunked work.

            1. @susan, Intelligence work does not go by proof. Intell goes by a hint of a whif of a scent of something that is to good to be or that should not be. And that is what keeps you safe at night.

            2. @WildBill, sure but would you agree to lose your job, your property, your savings, your reputation, and be locked up in barracks behind barbed wire indefinitely because of “a whif of a scent” that someone else thought they detected?

      5. Really, than can you explain why the Japanese on Hawaii were not incarcerated? What Japanese back east? You know what you probably should write things you know nothing about.

    7. I believe that the First Amendment, rather than the Second, will stop future concentration camps.

      Also, the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) determined after over 750 testimonies nationwide of former internees, politicians, including the architects of the camps, dissenting government officials, historians, constitutional scholars and more — that the forced expulsion and mass incarceration of Japanese Americans was due to “war hysteria, racial prejudice, and the failure of political leadership.” These problems and weaknesses are addressed through public education about constitutional rights, robust political empowerment including broad expansion of voting rights, and an alert citizenry. They are not easily or fruitfully addressed with guns. There are so many other political options that utilize the united strength of the American people that need to be used first.

      Japanese Americans dissented, many times at great personal cost and commitment, before, during and after the mass incarceration. Japanese Americans relied on the mechanisms of our nation’s political process and the First Amendment right to petition the government for a redress of grievances, winning over both the U.S. Congress and the U.S. president.

      Today, there is greater knowledge of the injustice of the camps among many more people. There is an opportunity to organize more people to stand up against any similar injustice. Lend your mind and your commitment to the unity of the American people and your hard work to the struggle. Leave your gun at home.

      1. Your gun(s) should be your last resort after writing the editors, protesting, letters to Congress and law suits. However, it is not a resort you forswear.
        Right now Muslim Americans and other Americans of Mid Eastern descent are at risk of a fate similar to this.
        When the cross burns on your yard, when the inflamed mob seeks you out, when the camps are just the legal expression of bigotry and fear, letters, protests and law suits are meaningless,. guns and fellow Americans who will stand besides you are your only hope.
        No American should ever have to stand against tyranny alone and unarmed on American soil.

      2. @Susan H, I believe that the First Amendment does not mean a lot absent the Second Amendment. Take your mind and your gun wherever you go.

        1. The First Amendment is defended in court and in policy formulation and through public input. I can’t remember the last time a shootout was required to enforce the First Amendment.

          Would you agree that it’s better to build a political climate with a high degree of civic engagement with a robust judiciary that precludes shoot-em-ups over freedom of expression and religion, etc.?

          1. @Susan H, The First Amendment is not defended in court. Lawyers have a duty to zealously defend their clients’ positions without the responsibility of find in truth. Flag burning, for instance. The First Amendment was used to defend a radical individual’s burning of the U.S. flag. The radical intended to anger ordinary patriotic people. His lawyer twisted it into “My client was making a nonverbal statement.” As to your second paragraph, I decline to address your “box em in” hypotheticals.
            Your dark corners of your mind, S, are alive with specious menace.

    8. It’s somewhat amazing how little of the original camp at Heart Mtn is still visible, the chimney from the laundry being the most prominent. Once the camp closed disused barracks were hauled all over northwest Wyoming for use as bunk houses, tool sheds, and chicken coops. A sharp eye can still find some of them in the area. One of the more telling facts is that it took only 90 minutes to build a barracks meant to house six families.

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