Watchdog under the watchtower
The story of the Heart Mountain Sentinel,
and freedom of press at a time of internment

published April 9, 2001
written by Kelly Yamanouchi / San Francisco

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It was 1942, and the United States had just entered World War II. Americans were determined to do whatever it would take to overcome the enemy. As fears mounted of possible sabotage and terrorism at home, President Roosevelt signed an executive order that gave the army the power to arrest every person of Japanese descent on the West Coast.

Bill Hosokawa was told to leave his Seattle home and board a bus headed for an internment camp in Wyoming, where he would be less of a threat. He, his wife, Alice, and their toddler-aged son moved to the Heart Mountain detention facility, a one-square-mile compound filled with hundreds of barracks and guarded by soldiers. They were to be imprisoned there until further notice. Whether it was to be days, or years, they had no idea.

That was when Hosokawa, then in his late twenties, set out to do what he knew best. He started a newspaper.

"Here's a community of 10,000 people--any community of that size deserves a publication to keep it informed," says Hosokawa, now eighty-six.

"Newspapering," he says, was his profession: Before coming to the internment camp, he had launched a small English-language newspaper in Singapore and also worked overseas for the Shanghai Times and a business magazine, the Far Eastern Review. So when the War Relocation Authority (WRA) began searching for people to start a weekly newspaper at Heart Mountain, Hosokawa jumped at the chance: "I would rather do that than wash dishes."

One of ten newspapers in the U.S. internment camps, the Heart Mountain Sentinel was a newspaper with a mission--not just to preserve democracy, but to rebuild it in troubled times. Japanese Americans across the West Coast had been taken from their homes and transported to camps like Heart Mountain, far into the nation's interior. For a period of more than three years, about 110,000 men, women, and children were held under prison conditions--even though somewhere between two-thirds and three-fourths were American citizens, born in the United States.

The men and women who staffed the Sentinel knew first-hand what internment was like. Under Hosokawa's leadership, they performed their job as professionally as circumstances would allow, balancing their obligation to report objectively and their desire to fight for their incarcerated community. They strived to make the Sentinel an instrument for the free flow of ideas, even as the civil liberties they depended upon were in a state of disrepair, and even as their own government violated their constitutional rights.

Watchdog under the watchtower

Fenced in

Talking back to the 'blockheads'

'Perpetual aliens'

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