A copy of the Heart Mountain Sentinel (click to see larger image). A typical issue included ads, a sports section, an editorial section, and a round up of relevant news at other camps and around the country. This issue, dated March 24, 1945, shows the camp as it neared the end of its existence (see the headline, “Heart Mountain Wyoming’s Most ‘Shrinking’ City”). [Photo no longer available]
Talking back to the 'blockheads'

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The readers of the Sentinel had to cope with the depressing circumstances of "camp life," with imprisonment without trial, with the loss of their democratic freedoms. They were a group that had been pulled together from disparate places. Some had been born in Japan and immigrated to the United States; others had been Americans all their lives. The only thing they had in common was that the homeland of their ancestors, Japan, was now at war with the United States. Both countries had betrayed them: the United States had denied their rights of citizenship and essentially disowned them, and Japan, the nation where their loyalties supposedly lay, had just bombed their homeland.

"Phrases like 'due process,' 'speedy and public trial,' and 'equal protection of the laws,' hallowed in the history of the United States, were meaningless" at the camps, Hosokawa writes in Out of the Frying Pan.

As the war against Japan raged on, the U.S. government demanded that all Japanese Americans in the camps prove their loyalty. For many, that meant signing loyalty oaths under the threat of prison or deportation. Even those who persuaded the agency of their loyalty, however, remained in the detention camps, and the men among them also faced being drafted to fight for a country that had denied them their basic rights.

Many resisted. Eighty-five men (click here for more information) at Heart Mountain were imprisoned for violations of the conscription laws, according to the National Park Service--about a quarter of the total for all ten internment sites, and more than at any other camp. Other Heart Mountain residents kept up a façade of innocent ignorance, but mocked the barrack directors and prison guards and called them "blockheads" behind their backs.

In such a volatile atmosphere, Hosokawa's newspaper offered a voice of calm defiance. "The Sentinel had a dual responsibility. It had to give voice to its readers' anger, supporting their demands for justice and providing articulate leadership, but it also had to be cautious about fueling the anger of citizens' unjustly imprisoned," Hosokawa writes in his book. "Achieving this middle ground was difficult, and the balance often precarious."

Rather than urging rebellion, Hosokawa's newspaper sought to help its readers cope with the circumstances of their new life. It offered a steady stream of information on the war and national affairs to Heart Mountain's residents. It helped bring the community together. And it provided its readers with a forum for reasoned discussion. For instance, a section in the newspaper allowed people to write in and complain about conditions or make suggestions for improving life in the camp. One of the complaints: not enough coal to keep the barracks warm.

The Sentinel could also do aggressive news reporting. Mainstream newspapers across the country were feeding racial prejudices against Japanese Americans, and Hosokawa's newspaper tried to refute the misinformation.

Once, it even took on The Denver Post. The camp's commissary director, Earl Best, had gone to the Denver paper with a tip, Hosokawa recalls. "He went down to The Denver Post and said, 'Hey, I've got a great story for you guys. Japs in the camps are being pampered and they're wasting their food.'"

Taking Best at his word, The Post ran a series of vicious and inaccurate articles on what was going on at Heart Mountain. The Sentinel staff responded with their own reporting, countering every allegation. It was no contest--a newspaper with circulation of 250,000 could reach far more readers than Hosokawa's tiny newspaper ever would.

But it was a shining moment in the Sentinel's brief history, as Hosokawa remembers it: "The Heart Mountain Sentinel talked back to the Post with the facts."

Watchdog under the watchtower

Fenced in

Talking back to the 'blockheads'

'Perpetual aliens'

Story Index