January 27, 2010

Aleuts interned during WW II

WW II internment of Aleuts recounted in documentary

By Jeannette LeeA new documentary film, Aleut Story, includes this testimony from ... Aleuts in chronicling the little-known internment of 881 Alaska Natives from the Pribilof and Aleutian Islands during World War II.

Many in the film are speaking publicly for the first time about their experiences in the camps, where they were sent after troops from Japan invaded Alaska's western outposts in June 1942.

"My mother, when she was living, she used to start crying, so we wouldn't talk about it," Bourdukofsky told The Associated Press. Bourdukofsky, now 82, was a young mother of two during the evacuation.

Many Aleuts were thankful to be ferried out of the war zone, until they arrived at five overcrowded, disease-infested sites scattered throughout damp spruce rainforests.

"There was a lot of sickness at the camp," said retired Maj. Gen. Jake Lestenkof, who was 11 years old when his mother died of pneumonia at a camp at Funter Bay.

"There was a lot of pneumonia and tuberculosis that was going around and not treated. There were certainly no medical facilities or personnel," Lestenkof, 73, told the AP.

One in 10 people died in the camps from 1942 to 1945, according to federal estimates cited in the film.

Sanitation and pipe systems were never installed. Residents drank water tainted with sewage and—at one camp—runoff from the expanding cemetery.

Sites included an abandoned fish cannery and a rotting gold mining camp.

"It was terrible," said Maria Turnpaugh, 78, from her home in Unalaska. "We lived in little shacks full of holes, and no running water. People got sick all the time."

Aleuts weren't suspected of spying or sabotage, as were tens of thousands of Japanese Americans corralled into federal internment camps after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

"I looked hard for evidence that there had been any suggestion at any time" of Aleut spies, said Marla Williams, who wrote, directed and produced the film. "There was no question of their loyalty whatsoever."

The film includes letters from officials who thought internment would protect Aleuts from the fighting in Alaska's distant western islands.

Still, Aleuts weren't allowed to leave the camps without penalty unless they had been drafted into the military, or threatened into working the Pribilof fur seal hunt, which brought millions in income to the U.S. government.


Evacuation and Internment, 1942-1945In response to Japanese aggression in the Aleutians, U.S. authorities evacuated 881 Unangax from nine villages. They were herded from their homes onto cramped transport ships, most allowed only a single suitcase. Heartbroken, Atka villagers watched as U.S. servicemen set their homes and church afire so they would not fall into Japanese hands.

The Unangax were transported to Southeast Alaska and there crowded into "duration villages": abandoned canneries, a herring saltery, and gold mine camp-rotting facilities with no plumbing, electricity or toilets. The Unangax lacked warm winter clothes, and camp food was poor, the water tainted. Accustomed to living in a world without trees, one open to the expansive sky, they suddenly found themselves crowded under the dense, shadowed canopy of the Southeast rainforest. For two years they would remain in these dark places, struggling to survive. Illness of one form or another struck all the evacuees, but medical care was often nonexistent, and the authorities were dismissive of the their complaints. Pneumonia and tuberculosis took the very young and the old. Thirty-two died at the Funter Bay camp, seventeen at Killisnoo, twenty at Ward lake, five at Burnett Inlet. With the death of the elders so, too, passed their knowledge of traditional Unangan ways.
Myth Blaster-–Revealing the Truth About the Internment of Aleutian Alaskans During World War II

Comment:  Removing people from an alleged war zone is one thing. But if there was no question about the Aleuts' loyalty, why did the government put them in disease-ridden prison camps with no plumbing or electricity? The 10% death toll was worse than that of Manzanar or Guantanamo Bay, America's most famous concentration camps.

To reiterate, interning Japanese Americans was one of the worst constitutional violations ever. But the government didn't suspect the Aleuts of anything, yet imprisoned them in even worse conditions. How do we explain that?

I can only imagine it had something to do with the Aleuts' race. They were closely related to the Asians across the Bering Strait. Asians who came from one totalitarian state or another (the USSR, China, or Japan).

The Aleuts had the same stoic demeanor as the Japanese Americans, who were also suspect. Sure, the Aleuts acted as if they were loyal to the US, but who knew what evil lurked behind those inscrutable eyes? Better to be safe than sorry, the reasoning undoubtedly went.

Can't trust those Asians?

I think the book Mother America--A Living Story of Democracy by Carlos Romulo summed up what many Americans thought (and still think) about Asians:The Oriental mind has ever been an insoluble mystery to the white man. ... I know that many a white man is prone to blanket the Oriental under the damning conclusion: "He is a liar. You can't trust him. He is slippery."Summing up America's history of concentration camps:

  • American Indians: Fort Cass, Bosque Redondo, various reservations.
  • Japanese and Aleutian Americans: WW II internment camps.
  • Arabs and Muslims: Guantanamo Bay.

  • Although we also imprisoned some German and Italian Americans during WW II, brown-skinned people from Asia are most likely to become our prisoners of war. Perhaps not coincidentally, Asians, Indians, and Arabs aren't featured much on the screen. There seems to be a pattern here--i.e., discrimination against anyone with Asian roots.

    For more on the subject, see Native Documentaries and News.

    14 comments:

    Stephen said...

    A very educational post but do you see the hypocrisy in condemning American concentration camps while your website contains apologist material for the Castro regime (see the links below)? You know the same regime that had concentration camps for homosexuals?

    http://www.bluecorncomics.com/eldorado.htm

    http://www.bluecorncomics.com/2008/04/what-gorby-said.html

    This quote cracked me up:

    "It didn't hurt that his government provided free medical care, education and housing to a population that had known poverty under previous governments that seemed to be friendly to wealthy foreigners."

    Kat said...

    I read something on Indians who were touring Europe with a Wild West show who were arrested and imprisoned as "Russian spies" when WWI broke out.

    dmarks said...

    "Gitmo" does not belong on the list, because the prisoners are there because of something they did, not their ethnicity. It drags down the others to include "Gitmo" with them.

    Also damaging the case for "Arabs: Guantanamo Bay." is the fact that tne differing nationalities represented there include non-Arabs from nations such as Azerbaijan, Russia, Syria, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan

    There are other far worse places that could be added instead. I'm sure there had to have been slave holding places at the height of the antebellum South with many more than 100 prisoners, there just for being black.

    Stephen: The Castro regime was also involved in concentration camps for indigenous people (Miskito Indians) during its Sandinista war against Nicaragua. However, I can't recall ever seeing Rob defend Castro. You had to dig deep to find that.

    Your first link in fact is someone else's movie review. Not even Rob's. Do you expect anyone to believe 100% in everything in columns they include in their web site? Rob's included Pat Buchanan columns here too.

    dmarks said...

    My only quibble: "Asians who came from one totalitarian state or another (the USSR, China, or Japan)"

    Not sure you could have counted China, which at that time was under the "Nationalist" government and an ally, as one of the totalitarian states.

    Sparky said...

    Rob, you have not considered that the main reason had to do with population and power. For instance, there were no internment camps for the Japanese (Americans or otherwise) in Hawaii, and this was only because there so many it wouldn't have been possible. Strength in numbers.

    Stephen said...

    "Your first link in fact is someone else's movie review. Not even Rob's. Do you expect anyone to believe 100% in everything in columns they include in their web site? Rob's included Pat Buchanan columns here too."

    Then you must have missed this part in a section called 'Rob's comments':

    "There's a direct line from the evil priest in the movie to the allegedly child-sacrificing, not-quite-human Fidel Castro. As we've done for centuries, we demonize that which we don't understand. Stereotyping other cultures is an example of monocultural thinking. The conservative view of Castro is similarly myopic."

    Apparently Rob thinks that poooor fidel is misunderstood.

    aw said...

    Once more, Stephen changes the subject to something completely irrelevant so that he can attack Rob.

    You cut off the end of the paragraph:

    When we learn to see the world in shades of gray, not black and white, we'll make progress toward real solutions, not sound bites.

    You cut it off because it undermines your argument. If you want to be taken seriously then you really have to learn to stifle your reflexive dishonesty.

    Historian Jane Landers has been conducting research in Cuba since 1991 and noted the continued popularity of Castro despite periods of great deprivation and episodes of sometimes brutal repression.

    Stephen said...

    "Once more, Stephen changes the subject to something completely irrelevant so that he can attack Rob."

    So you don't see the hypocrisy in condemning America while praising a brutal dictatorship? Oh wait that's right you're the same guy who claimed there's wrong with comparing Israel to nazi germany; reality isn't your strong suit.

    "Historian Jane Landers has been conducting research in Cuba since 1991 and noted the continued popularity of Castro despite periods of great deprivation and episodes of sometimes brutal repression."

    For starters that's one person's opinion, Landers is probably another useful idiot who wants to believe that Cuba is a paradise, not a factual argument. Do you really think that the Cuban people love the government that locks them up for hanging flags upside down? If they really love Fidel why have over a million Cubans risked their lives fleeing for the US in fragile boats? Also here's a reason why their research cannot be used a source.

    "However, he said the government placed too many restrictions on his research for him to participate."

    Rob said...

    Once again, Stephen, I don't discuss the world's repressive regimes unless they involve the intersection of Native America and pop culture. I've explained this before, yet you still don't get it. Are you really as stupid as you seem?

    I haven't praised the Castro regime. What I said was clear to everyone who can comprehend English: "Stereotyping other cultures is an example of monocultural thinking. The conservative view of Castro is similarly myopic. When we learn to see the world in shades of gray, not black and white, we'll make progress toward real solutions, not sound bites."

    The issue at hand was the Miami Cubans' kidnapping of Elian Gonzalez. Do you think Castro planned to put Elian in a concentration camp rather than reunite him with his father? In other words, are you as brain-dead as the conservatives who demonized Castro? Judging by your right-wing ravings, the answer is yes.

    Rob said...

    Sometimes these postings are more like first drafts than final drafts, DMarks. I add things I think of the next day, or when I'm more awake. I changed the Guantanamo Bay line to say "Arabs and Muslims," for instance.

    But yes, Gitmo belongs on the list. The question is why we aren't giving these alleged terrorists due process of the law. I.e., trials with judges, lawyers, and juries.

    Because of what they've done? They haven't done anything until it's proved in a court of law. Until then, they're suspects, not criminals.

    If we were holding them in Guantanamo Bay until they received speedy fair trials, it wouldn't be a concentration camp. Holding them indefinitely without due process is what makes it one. And spare us the inevitable defense of Bush's illegal POW policies. "On June 12, 2008, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Boumediene v. Bush that the Guantanamo captives were entitled to the protection of the United States Constitution." (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guantanamo_Bay_detention_camp)

    We can speculate why these brown-skinned suspects are the only ones being held in a concentration camp. We also can speculate why many Americans wanted to kill everyone in the Muslim world after 9/11. Based on the evidence, I say the reason is racism. Prove me wrong if you can.

    Rob said...

    As for China during this period:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Republic_of_China

    According to Sun Yat-sen's theory, the KMT was to rebuild China in three phases: a phase of military rule through which the KMT would take over power and reunite China by force; a phase of political tutelage; and finally a constitutional democratic phase. In 1930, the Nationalists, having taken over the power, started the second phase, and promulgated a provisional constitution for the political tutelage period and began the period of so-called "tutelage." They were criticized as totalitarianism but claimed they were attempting to establish a modern democratic society. ... Historians argue that establishing a democracy in China at that time was not possible. The nation was at war and divided between Communists and Nationalists. Corruption within the government and lack of direction also prevented any significant reform to take place.

    Rob said...

    Re "Rob, you have not considered that the main reason had to do with population and power": True, I haven't gone into the reasons for the internments in depth. But does "population and power" contradict the idea of racism? When the US government had enough power over an ethnic population, it implemented its racist policies. When it didn't have enough power, as in Hawaii, it didn't.

    Stephen said...

    "Once again, Stephen, I don't discuss the world's repressive regimes unless they involve the intersection of Native America and pop culture. I've explained this before, yet you still don't get it. Are you really as stupid as you seem?"

    As Rob pointed out Castro had concentration camps for Miskito Indians.

    "I haven't praised the Castro regime."

    So you deny writing this?

    "It didn't hurt that his government provided free medical care, education and housing to a population that had known poverty under previous governments that seemed to be friendly to wealthy foreigners."

    That's a typical example of pro-Castro propaganda.

    "In other words, are you as brain-dead as the conservatives who demonized Castro?"

    So in other words you think a brutal dictator who had concentration camps for Indians and LGBT people shouldn't be criticized? Do you also think that Stalin shouldn't be 'demonized'?

    "Do you think Castro planned to put Elian in a concentration camp rather than reunite him with his father?"

    Yes I do; since Cuba is basically a concentration camp.

    "Judging by your right-wing ravings, the answer is yes."

    I'm not right wing, leave your pathetic gang mentality out of this.

    aw said...

    Stephen, your problem is actually quite simple.

    You cannot distinguish "making a true statement which might constitute a concession" with "propaganda".

    Here's an example: "For starters that's one person's opinion, Landers is probably another useful idiot who wants to believe that Cuba is a paradise" and that's directly after Landers says the words "brutal repression"!

    In other words, you are so black-and-white in your thinking that you literally CANNOT READ WORDS IN FRONT OF YOU.

    And then you say that "Cuba is basically a concentration camp." This is a classical example of a trivializing statement and it is part and parcel with your selfish decision to change the subject to irrelevancies in order to attack Rob.