Just south of the Montana border, between Powell and Cody, Wyoming, more than 10,000 Americans of Japanese heritage were confined to a camp, Heart Mountain.
At the time, that would have made the encampment larger than more than half of the counties in the state.
Nine different guard towers with barbed wired were placed to watch the Americans who had been hurried away after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The windswept piece of land emerged so rapidly into a makeshift town that there weren’t enough school books to go around, and the students had to check out textbooks just to do homework.
Heart Mountain is just one of many internment camps spread throughout America that decimated the communities and livelihoods of many Americans whose only offense was having Japanese ancestry, enough to make them suspected of being possibly saboteurs and spies. Former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the executive order creating the camps in February, 1942 and an estimated 120,000 American citizens were forced into these camps, euphemistically called “military zones.”
Recently, teachers, universities and history curricula throughout the country have sought to acknowledge the unjust treatment and preserve these places were American citizens were held in the supposed interests of national security.
Legislation that would help ensure these sites are studied, preserved and promoted has gained traction in Congress, including last week when the House passed House Resolution 6434, “Japanese American World War II History Network Act.”
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jay Obernolte, a California Republican, had widespread bipartisan support as it passed the U.S. House of Representatives, but 16 members, including Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Montana, voted against the measure. The bill passed the House, 406-16 and all votes against it were from Republicans.
Other notable members of Congress who voted against it include Reps. Lauren Boebert, R-Colorado, Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Georgia, Mo Brooks, R-Alabama, Louie Gohmert, R-Texas and Thomas Massie, R-Kentucky.
Rosendale’s staff did not respond to requests for comments about his vote on this act.
The act sets out to do several different things, including taking an inventory of the internment camp sites, producing interpretative literature for those sites, working on educational materials that help students and citizens understand the sites, and authorizing the Department of The Interior and the National Park System to establish collaborations and partnerships to preserve the sites.
“The mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II was the heartbreaking culmination of what occurred when our country turned its back on its founding principles and allowed thousands of Americans to lose their liberties in the face of racism and fear. By bringing transparency to the story of Japanese American internment, we can help ensure that such injustice never again occurs within our nation,” Obernolte said.
The Act sunsets in seven years.