Tule Lake Segregation Center was a World War Two incarceration camp where conflicts around racialized "national security," citizenship, and justice boiled over into violence.
Tule Lake War Relocation Center, near the California-Oregon border, began as one of the ten camps where Japanese Americans were incarcerated after being excluded from the West Coast during World War Two. The camp had already been the site of labor strikes and unrest when the government embarked on a disastrous program called “registration.” Incarcerees were forced to fill out an “Application for Leave Clearance” which included two questions with devastating consequences:
Any response other than “yes-yes” to those questions got the registrant classified as a “disloyal.” The government’s next program was “segregation,” transferring all the “disloyals” to one camp, now named Tule Lake Segregation Center.
By late 1944, Tule Lake swelled to more than 18,000 incarcerees, making it the largest camp population administered by the War Relocation Authority. The resistance which had simmered among the incarcerees erupted into a mass demonstration which so terrified the WRA administration that they called on the U.S. Army to impose martial law.
As headlines screamed of rioting “Japs,” 1200 soldiers and eight tanks entered the camp to terrorize the population. Dozens of men began to disappear into a “jail within a jail,” a stockade where anyone the administration wished detained was held incommunicado without charges. This chapter of the World War Two incarceration of Japanese Americans left scars on the community which have lasted to this day.
Attending the Tule Lake pilgrimage in 2010, I was excited to meet many important first-hand storytellers, including members of the Hoshi Dan (or Hokoku Seinen Dan), a young men's militant group that openly adopted a pro-Japan attitude. I started gathering contacts for developing a documentary on this relatively unknown but deeply significant chapter of American history.
The more we learn about what happened at Tule Lake, the more it informs the vexing questions raised in the pervasive and unending war the U.S. now sustains, encompassing "national security," immigration, racial conflict and extremism.
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