In February, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which authorized U.S. military officials to remove persons from areas of the American mainland designated as military zones. More than 110,000 Japanese Americans were considered security risks and forced to dispose of their West Coast homes, businesses, and property and move into ten desolate relocation camps from California to Arkansas. The internment deprived the affected Japanese Americans of their civil liberties as U.S. citizens or residents.
As the start of World War II, about 120,000 Japanese Americans resided in the United States. Most lived in California and other Pacific coast states. The 40,000 first-generation immigrant Japanese, or
Immediately after the Japanese
The biggest impetus for internment came with the release in late January of a government investigation of the
Assistant Secretary of War
The internment strategy was finalized on the evening of February 17, 1942, in the living room of Biddle’s Washington home. Biddle had told Stimson that afternoon that he no longer opposed internment after being assured that the Army, not the Justice Department, would handle the mass roundup and detention programs.
On February 19, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which authorized U.S. military officials to remove any and all persons from areas of the United States designated as military zones. The order did not apply to persons living outside the Western Defense Command. No explicit reference to Japanese Americans was necessary. The secretary of war was authorized to establish detention centers to protect West Coast military facilities from sabotage and espionage. The original order did not specify what should happen to the evacuees or exclude voluntary withdrawal. Japanese Americans were encouraged to leave the prohibited Pacific coast military zone voluntarily. About 15,000 moved in with midwestern or eastern relatives or friends. Roosevelt established the
On March 27, 1942, the Army stopped voluntary withdrawal and began evacuating the remaining Japanese Americans. Within weeks, more than 100,000 Japanese Americans were given forty-eight hours to dispose of their businesses, homes, and property and report to makeshift assembly centers at fairgrounds and racetracks. At Santa Anita Race Track in Arcadia, California, detainees were jammed into hastily converted horse stalls until they could be transferred to permanent relocation centers.
The War Department moved internees to ten inland internment camps from California to
Each family was crammed into a spartan, 20-by-20-foot uninsulated cabin. The residents tried to live as normally as possible, organizing farm plots, markets, schools, newspapers, and police and fire departments. Eisenhower, deeply troubled by the involuntary internment, resigned as WRA director. In 1943, many internees bristled when Dillon Meyer, Eisenhower’s replacement, forced all internees to undergo interrogation to establish their loyalty to the United States. About 8,500 internees, mostly young Nisei men, refused to forswear allegiance to the Japanese emperor or indicate willingness to serve in the U.S. military forces; they were deemed disloyal and sent to a camp at Tule Lake, California. About 3,000 of those considered loyal were recruited into the
Many internment camps operated through the remainder of the war. The
War Department officials observed anxiously as several lawsuits challenged the constitutionality of the relocation program. Surprisingly, only three cases involving Japanese Americans contesting the internment orders reached the U.S. Supreme Court. The three challengers came from varied backgrounds.
In each case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the war powers granted to the president and Congress by the U.S. Constitution eclipsed the
An Army document defending the evacuation became an issue in
The Justice Department attorneys, in a footnote, sought to disavow the Final Report when arguing the Korematsu case. They questioned both the military’s factual assertions that the evacuation was a military necessity and the allegations of espionage, sabotage, and treason by the Japanese Americans.
In the Korematsu case, the Supreme Court on December 18, 1944, upheld the detention program. The case provided the greatest challenge to the constitutionality of the evacuation program. Justice
The previous day, the West Coast military authorities rescinded
The internment of Japanese Americans left a legacy of shame. The Japanese American internees suffered about $400 million in property losses because of the evacuation. In 1948, Congress paid them a paltry $37 million in reparations. Four decades later, it responded to calls for redress by passing the
Internees eating a meal at the Manzanar Relocation Center in California’s eastern Sierras.
The commission’s findings and newly discovered evidence from government files prompted legal efforts to remove the criminal records of the wartime defendants. A federal judge rescinded Korematsu’s conviction, holding that the Supreme Court had approved Roosevelt’s order on the basis of “unsubstantiated facts, distortions, and misrepresentations” to the Court by high-ranking officials. In 1998, President
The Japanese internment decried American ideals of justice. The ceaseless uneasiness of government officials with their own policy and the cautious manner with which the Supreme Court treated the evacuation cases testify to the awkwardness with which American culture dealt with the internment incident. The internment of Japanese Americans refuted the nation’s best image of itself as a tolerant, inclusive, fair-minded melting pot society–a vision long nourished in American lore and one strongly reaffirmed by the World War II conflict.
Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. Personal Justice Denied. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1983. The commission concluded that “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership” resulted in “grave injustice” to the Japanese Americans. Daniels, Roger. Prisoners Without Trial: Japanese Americans in World War II. New York: Hill & Wang, 1993. Describes and analyzes the decision to remove Japanese Americans from the West Coast, their confinement, their reaction to their unjust treatment, and the repercussions of the internment. Hayashi, Brian Masaru. Democratizing the Enemy: The Japanese American Internment. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2004. Questions whether racism, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership fully explain the U.S. government incarceration of Japanese Americans and offers revealing new interpretations of their internment. Irons, Peter. Justice at War: The Story of the Japanese American Internment Cases. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. Well-researched work examining the Yasui, Hirabayashi, and Korematsu court cases, exposing the government’s coverup of data that could have disproved its claims of “military necessity” for evacuation and internment. Ng, Wendy. Japanese American Internment During World War II: A History and Reference Guide. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002. This reference work provides six thematic essays on the history and meaning of the Japanese internment, short biographies of the major personalities in the internment, and a selection of primary documents. Tateishi, John, ed. And Justice for All: An Oral History of the Japanese American Detention Camps. New York: Random House, 1984. This poignant, bitter, inspiring oral history gives the personal recollections and experiences of thirty Japanese Americans who were part of the only group of American citizens ever confined to detention camps in the United States. War Department. Final Report: Japanese Evacuation from the West Coast, 1942. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1943. This report, requested by John DeWitt, lists “military necessity” as the official government explanation for the evacuation and internment.
Asian American literature
Japanese American press
Prisoners of war in the United States
World War II