Not long after the United States suffered the loss of 2,403 lives in under two hours on the island of Oahu, a cold wind of anger tainted by prejudice washed over the United States. Japan was the perpetrator of the devastation left behind after the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, but many Americans were quick to extend the blame to Japanese and Japanese-American residents of the US.
A Harsh Response
In February of 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, effectively evicting and imprisoning more than 100,000 people of Japanese descent in internment camps. At the time, this probably seemed like the wisest decision. It remained unknown whether or not there were spy cells working within the borders of the United States, and the move to imprison Japanese-Americans—most of whom were US citizens—aimed to keep the nation safe from another foreign attack. One orchestrated from the inside would be especially tragic.
Those who were imprisoned, we now know, turned out to be innocent, their lives ruined after spending up to five years in these improvised camps. They became a part of a dark chapter in American history. Far from being the nation’s proudest moment, the story is one that deserves the spotlight no less than the December 7, 1941 attack that prompted it.
The US National Park Service, which also oversees the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument at Pearl Harbor, has been working on turning Honouliuli, an internment site near Waipahu on Oahu, into a national monument that the public will be able to visit and learn from.
On Feb. 24, 2015, President Obama proclaimed Honouliuli as a national monument, though there was extensive work to be done in order for it to become a public space. With a plan and a series of milestones in place, it won’t be long before the public can visit Honouliuli, a place that housed over 300 internees, the majority of whom were Japanese-Americans. Additionally, it housed 4,000 prisoners of war from the Pacific and European Theaters.
Honouliuli covered 160 acres and was made up of 175 buildings, 14 guard towers, and 400 tents. The plot of land seemed small for the number of interned, and the national monument hopes to convey the sub-par living conditions that POWs and Japanese Americans were forced to live through during the mid-1940s.
Though the National Park Service has been working at turning Honouliuli into a place for the public to learn about the World War II internment system, the process has proved to be a lengthy and drawn-out one. Many of the monument’s milestones are scheduled to occur in 2018. When it opens to the public, Honouliuli will have on display a multitude of artifacts, relics, and structures that help paint a more complete picture of the American reaction in the aftermath the Pearl Harbor attack.