Executive Order 9066—Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Just over two months after the United States entered World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which resulted in the relocation of people of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast into internment camps for the duration of the war. The order, signed on February 19, 1942, gave the US secretary of war and designated military commanders the power to prescribe military areas and to remove and confine any civilian from such areas. This order made it possible for the Japanese American community to be evacuated from the West Coast, and more than 110,000 legal aliens and American citizens of Japanese ancestry were held in internment camps for the duration of the war. Smaller numbers of resident aliens of Italian and German backgrounds (just over three thousand and eleven thousand, respectively) were also confined, though the same restrictions did not apply to American citizens of Italian or German ancestry. The exclusion of Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans from designated military areas, which covered the majority of the West Coast, represents the largest forced migration in US history.

Summary Overview

Just over two months after the United States entered World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which resulted in the relocation of people of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast into internment camps for the duration of the war. The order, signed on February 19, 1942, gave the US secretary of war and designated military commanders the power to prescribe military areas and to remove and confine any civilian from such areas. This order made it possible for the Japanese American community to be evacuated from the West Coast, and more than 110,000 legal aliens and American citizens of Japanese ancestry were held in internment camps for the duration of the war. Smaller numbers of resident aliens of Italian and German backgrounds (just over three thousand and eleven thousand, respectively) were also confined, though the same restrictions did not apply to American citizens of Italian or German ancestry. The exclusion of Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans from designated military areas, which covered the majority of the West Coast, represents the largest forced migration in US history.

Defining Moment

When the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, the people of the United States were shocked, and many reversed their position of neutrality on the war in Europe and the Pacific. For Japanese immigrants (Issei) and their children, first-generation American citizens (Nisei), the consequences were dire. Ever since Japanese immigrants first arrived in the United States in the late nineteenth century, they, like so many other ethnic groups, faced widespread legal and social discrimination. However, many of them had nevertheless achieved degrees of success, establishing farms and other small businesses. By 1940, Japanese Americans owned nearly half a million acres of farmland in California. According to several intelligence reports, the Nisei in particular were seen as model loyal Americans.

The first months of the war went poorly for the American military in the Pacific. With much of the American fleet in shambles after Pearl Harbor, Japan continued its campaign throughout the South Pacific, taking Guam, Wake Island, and the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) and evicting the Americans, under the command of General Douglas MacArthur, from the Philippines. By May 1942, it looked as though little could stop the Japanese navy as it continued across the Pacific. It appeared to many that military action on the West Coast of the United States was becoming increasingly likely.

At the same time as the Japanese navy was sailing across the Pacific, a number of US military and government officials were beginning to express a fundamental distrust in the loyalty not only of the Japanese immigrant population but also of the Nisei, the American-born children of Japanese immigrants. Led most vocally by Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox and General John L. DeWitt, who was in charge of the Western Defense Command, they argued that the Nisei were more fundamentally Japanese in terms of their loyalties than American, and as such they represented a threat to national security and could not be trusted. Though dissenting voices, such as the Curtis B. Munson, emphasized the loyalty of the Nisei, in the context of the opening of the war with Japan and the public hysteria caused by the attack on Pearl Harbor, the louder voices calling for the more extreme solutions carried the day.

As a result of the increasing racial tensions inherent in the war with Japan, only ten weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which empowered the US secretary of war and certain military commanders to exclude anyone they deemed a threat from any areas they designated as secure national-defense premises. Though the order did not make the focus on the Japanese community explicit, by March 1942, DeWitt had issued a series of proclamations establishing large portions of California, Oregon, Washington, and Arizona as military areas and ordering all persons of Japanese descent to be evacuated.

Author Biography

President Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in March 1933 and helped to guide the United States out of the Great Depression through his New Deal legislation. However, by 1942, Roosevelt faced a number of new challenges. Since 1940, he had allowed the United States to become increasingly involved in the Allied cause, supporting France and England in their battle against Nazi Germany through initiatives such as the lend-lease program, which supplied war matériel to Allied nations. However, a strong isolationist movement with widespread public support had prevented him from involving American troops. When the Empire of Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, public support for US involvement in World War II changed rapidly. The attack on Pearl Harbor exacerbated the already tense racial situation faced by Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans, as many white Americans called on Roosevelt to do something about the “Japanese problem.” One month after signing Executive Order 9066, Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9102, establishing the War Relocation Authority to oversee the evacuation and internment of West Coast residents of Japanese descent.

Historical Document

Executive Order No. 9066

Authorizing the Secretary of War to Prescribe Military Areas

Whereas the successful prosecution of the war requires every possible protection against espionage and against sabotage to national-defense material, national-defense premises, and national-defense utilities as defined in Section 4, Act of April 20, 1918, 40 Stat. 533, as amended by the Act of November 30, 1940, 54 Stat. 1220, and the Act of August 21, 1941, 55 Stat. 655 (U.S.C., Title 50, Sec. 104);

Now, therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me as President of the United States, and Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, I hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of War, and the Military Commanders whom he may from time to time designate, whenever he or any designated Commander deems such action necessary or desirable, to prescribe military areas in such places and of such extent as he or the appropriate Military Commander may determine, from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion. The Secretary of War is hereby authorized to provide for residents of any such area who are excluded therefrom, such transportation, food, shelter, and other accommodations as may be necessary, in the judgment of the Secretary of War or the said Military Commander, and until other arrangements are made, to accomplish the purpose of this order. The designation of military areas in any region or locality shall supersede designations of prohibited and restricted areas by the Attorney General under the Proclamations of December 7 and 8, 1941, and shall supersede the responsibility and authority of the Attorney General under the said Proclamations in respect of such prohibited and restricted areas.

I hereby further authorize and direct the Secretary of War and the said Military Commanders to take such other steps as he or the appropriate Military Commander may deem advisable to enforce compliance with the restrictions applicable to each Military area hereinabove authorized to be designated, including the use of Federal troops and other Federal Agencies, with authority to accept assistance of state and local agencies.

I hereby further authorize and direct all Executive Departments, independent establishments and other Federal Agencies, to assist the Secretary of War or the said Military Commanders in carrying out this Executive Order, including the furnishing of medical aid, hospitalization, food, clothing, transportation, use of land, shelter, and other supplies, equipment, utilities, facilities, and services.

This order shall not be construed as modifying or limiting in any way the authority heretofore granted under Executive Order No. 8972, dated December 12, 1941, nor shall it be construed as limiting or modifying the duty and responsibility of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with respect to the investigation of alleged acts of sabotage or the duty and responsibility of the Attorney General and the Department of Justice under the Proclamations of December 7 and 8, 1941, prescribing regulations for the conduct and control of alien enemies, except as such duty and responsibility is superseded by the designation of military areas hereunder.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

The White House,

February 19, 1942.

[F.R. Doc. 42–1563; Filed, February 21, 1942; 12:51 p.m.]

Glossary

hereunder: under or below this; under authority of this

superseded: to replace power, authority, effectiveness, etc. with another person to thing

Document Analysis

Executive Order 9066, which ultimately lead to the confinement of approximately 117,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans in internment camps for the duration of the war, gave military leaders almost unlimited discretion and power as to the removal of anyone perceived to be a threat from anywhere they designated as a “military area.” Although the order does not name people of Japanese descent explicitly anywhere in the text, its proponent DeWitt had been vocal in his calls for the exclusion of people of Japanese descent from designated military areas.

The order itself begins with a justification, stating that the war effort “requires every possible protection against espionage and against sabotage.” What it does not do is state why the subsequent internment fulfilled that criterion or what evidence should be provided to deem someone a threat to national security and thus a subject for internment. The order leaves such criteria vague, stating only that “the appropriate Military Commander” may determine areas “from which any or all persons may be excluded.”

Not only does the order give the military commanders such as General DeWitt, who commanded the entire West Coast, broad latitude as to whom they could exclude, it gives them basically unlimited discretion as to how to accomplish the removal of people deemed to be threats, including the use of the military and any other federal resources to fulfill the order. Executive Order 9066 authorizes all federal agencies and independent establishments to assist with the execution of the executive order by “furnishing medical aid, hospitalization, food, clothing, transportation, use of land, shelter, and other supplies, equipment, utilities, facilities, and services” to the internees.

The only reference in the order to anyone in particular who might be a target is in the final sentence, where it refers to “alien enemies.” Thus, the order could have been taken to apply to anyone of Japanese, German, or Italian descent living in the United States. However, very few German Americans or Italian Americans faced internment, while the Japanese American community on the West Coast was swept up and confined to camps for the duration of the war.

Essential Themes

Once Executive Order 9066 was issued, implementation followed quickly. At first, it was thought that the Japanese community would be excluded only from the Pacific Coast states yet allowed to relocate to inland states such as Idaho and Wyoming. However, both elected officials and citizens in those states did not want an influx of Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans, seeing the Japanese as a threat to their own war industries, railroads, and the hydroelectric dams. The only solution was to establish a series of ten camps where the Japanese community, along with a few thousand German and Italian immigrants who had been investigated and deemed potential threats, were housed.

Less than one month after Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, DeWitt issued Public Proclamations No. 1 and No. 2, which created two military areas, encompassing the states of California, Oregon, Washington, and Arizona. On March 18, 1942, Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9102, creating the War Relocation Authority to oversee the establishment of camps and transportation of Japanese Americans to them. By March 24, just over a month after the initial order, the first Japanese families—near Seattle—were ordered to evacuate. Over the next seven months, the Japanese communities on the West Coast were displaced from their homes and transported to the camps.

Most Japanese and Japanese Americans were given only a few days to report once the order for their evacuation was given and were told to bring only what they could carry, leaving them little time to ensure that their homes would be looked after and forcing many to sell their property at a great financial loss. For most of the internees, the end of the war meant starting over from scratch, as their homes, their businesses, and their real estate were now owned by others, leaving them with nothing. Although the US Supreme Court ruled in 1944 that the US government could not detain individuals for longer than was needed to separate loyal citizens from potential subversives, it was not until 1976 that President Gerald Ford formally asserted that Executive Order 9066 had been terminated.

Bibliography and Additional Reading
  • Kumamoto, Bob. “The Search for Spies: American Counterintelligence and the Japanese-American Community 1931–1943.” Amerasia Journal 6 (1979): 45–75. Print.
  • Muller, Eric L. American Inquisition: The Hunt for Japanese American Disloyalty in World War II. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2007. Print.
  • Takahashi, Jerrold Haruo. Nisei/Sansei: Shifting Japanese American Identities and Politics. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1997. Print.
  • Weglyn, Michi Nishiura. Years of Infamy: The Untold Story of America's Concentration Camps. Seattle: U of Washington P, 1996. Print.
  • Yoo, David K. Growing Up Nisei: Race, Generation, and Culture among Japanese Americans of California, 1929–49. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 2000. Print.
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