The internment camps during World War 2 was seen as necessary, positive and needed to those who were not interned because of the Pearl Harbor Bombing in 1941, which was the hegemonic narrative. Many euphemisms were used to disguise the truth behind the interment of the Japanese-Americans like the words camp, opportunities and more. The place where Japanese-Americans were interned was anything but a camp, it was where they experienced no happiness or fun.
It was simply a place where the Japanese- Americans were segregated from others and treated as prisoners who had to be locked in and constantly watched with machine guns being pointed at them. In When the Emperor was Divine, Otsuka demonstrates how the internment camps had psychologically damaged and traumatized everyone from how the girl starts to become distant with her family, the woman breaking down trying to cope with being interned and the dad who becomes traumatized and constantly full of fear. The girl underwent large negative psychological trauma while being interned which caused her to try different things to try to cope.
The girl before incarcerated in the camps was caring of her family, relied on routine and was the definition of a good child. In When the Emperor was Divine by Julie Otsuka, showing the girl’s kind character she writes, “I won a nickel at bingo tonight. Tomorrow we’ll go to the canteen and buy you a Coca-Cola”(72). The girl offers to buy a coke for her brother who had been wanting to drink the beverage because of the very dry weather, showing how caring she is of family.
Her kindness is really shown when she decides to spend her money for the brother 1 OF 5 ecause when being interned at the time, earning any money was difficult. The girl was also having a hard time coping with the horrible conditions and dry dust that “made your skin burn… nose bleed… eyes sting… [and] took your voice away(64) and it took great responsibility and care to think of her brother before herself. As time went by, being trapped in the internment camps took a big toll on the girl. There were many rules she had to follow, horrible living conditions and was dehumanized. In the end, she changed completely to try to cope with her situation.
In When the Emperor was Divine, Otsuka writes,”She ate her meals with her friends. Never with the boy or his mother. She smoked cigarettes... One day he saw her standing in line at the mess hallin her Panama hat and she hardly seemed to recognize him at all” (92). The girl changes into a completely different person after being interned for a while now. Before, she had wanted to abide by a daily routine, but now she goes out and comes back late. She also used to be very caring of family now she hangs out with her friends and can’t even recognize her own brother.
The internment camps had weared at her weak psychological mind continuously, causing the girl to change to try to cope with the current state she is in. She hangs out with her friends to have a place of belonging and identity while smoking cigarettes is a way to cope with something that one can not handle by themselves. The only reason the girl is trying to cope with something and changed is due to the internment camps which had a negative impact on her mental state. The woman had also gone through harsh conditions which in turn chipped at her mental state.
Right before being taken to the internment camps, the mother read a sign about everyone of Japanese descent was to leave certain areas and eventually be exported out to places segregated from society. Otsuka writes,”She wrote down a few words on the back of a bank receipt, then turned around and went home and began to pack… she knew only tomorrow they had to go”(3,9). Otsuka implies that the woman is someone who is responsible, down to Earth and gets things down. Instead of delaying what must be done and disregarding the facts, she faces them and does what must be done.
She went home and packed everything and dealt with the house pets. The woman, being a responsible person, suggest that her character is very pillar like meaning she holds something up meaning herself and her family. The internment camps destroys everyone’s character and strips them of their identity and she was no exception. The woman started to have trouble coping with being locked up and the conditions which had made her become deteriorated. Otsuka demonstrates that in her book by writing, “Most days she did not leave the room at all. She sat by the stove for hours, not talking… When the doorbell rang she sat up with a start… n her mind there were always men at the door”(93).
Being stuck in the internment camps had her character greatly in the way she acts. Instead of preparing and thinking of the future she simply gives up on everything and is listless. Another negative effect the internment camps had on her was damaging her mental state. She keeps reliving the day her husband was taken away when she hears the doorbell ring. Her husband was also interned in a different camp before her and this affects her in the way she copes with being in a similar situation to him and how she reacts to her surroundings.
Out of the three who were interned together, the woman, the girl, and the boy, the woman showed the most psychological and mental damage because of the camps. The camps had totally broken her down, leaving her vulnerable and left with only a shell of herself afterwards. The dad had also gone through egregious things while being questioned and then interned, which then led to him being traumatized, changing him into someone who he was not before. The dad in his children eyes was a great, strong figure who they loved dearly.
Otsuka relays the children’s fond memory of their father by writing, “Our father, the father we remembered, and had dreamed of almost nightly, all through the years of war, was handsome and strong. He moved quickly, surely with his head held high in the air. He liked to draw for us. He like to sing for us. He liked to laugh… “(133). The dad was someone that could be relied on, bright, and prideful which was what the children remembered before he was taken in to be questioned and then taken to an internment camp.
His character was not one to be easily broken due to him being strong and prideful shown in the way he has his head help up high in the air but the severity of the internment camps proved otherwise. Otsuka writes,”Otherwise he would never know if he was really awake. He wore the same loose baggy trousers everyday and was convinced that someone was watching the house. He did not like to use the telephone… or eat in public… He rarely spoke to anyone unless he was spoken to first… He was suspicious of everyone”(134) showing how the dad acting after being released.
The dad starts to become paranoid of everything and everyone, slowly losing touch with reality. A great physical change in the dad can be seen is the way he dresses. He used to wear a clothes that made him look dignified and proud but after being released, wearing baggy trousers, it shows how being detained had greatly broken him down into what society portrays them as which is uncivilized. The dad also seems to be have schizophrenia due to his actions and thoughts. He says “There’s already enough voices in my head… (137), which is one of the symptoms.
Another symptom he shows is lack of emotion or expressions that is sometimes described as a coma-like daze and social isolation. It is unclear how exactly one gets schizophrenia but it is believed that biological and environmental factors contribute to the it, one being high stress levels. The internment camps had caused so much stress and damage to him psychologically and physically, that he may have schizophrenia and sure signs of PTSD. The internment camps had left those who were detained with mental scars and trauma that would affect their lives after being released.
The internment camps was simply a pace to keep a certain group segregated from others and change them to the government’s wishes. Everyone was treated as the pest of society and were dehumanized. Treating someone as such was not right back than and is still definitely inhumane to do today. Today the dehumanization and segregation of peopel is still persisting, especially with our current president’s action. Our president, Donald trump, is trying to get rid of all illegal immigrants through laws, travel bans and the like, kicking them out of the country while it is actually dehumanizing them.
America has become their home he is taking everyone and kicking them out, eventually leading to him building a wall that will segregate the U. S from Mexico. What can be learned from the internment of the Japanese, was that people were left with a lot of scars and damage, but it wasn’t just those who were confined in the camps. Everyone else had also lived in fear due to the propaganda that was shown and told leaving both parties hurt. Our president needs to be careful of his actions, so that repercussions of the time of of WW2 and post WW2 doesn’t repeat itself.