The day of the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, a
blanket presidential warrant authorized by U.S. Attorney General Francis Biddle
allowed the FBI arrest a predetermined number of "dangerous enemy aliens,"
including German, Italian, and Japanese nationals. An astonishing 737 Japanese
Americans were arrested by the end of the day. By December 11, the FBI
detained an additional 1,370 Japanese Americans classified as "dangerous enemy
The ethnic hatred was fanned by scurrilous journalism, pressure groups,
politicians, and even the United States Army. Louisiana Congressman Leland Ford
exclaimed, "I do not
believe that we could be any too strict in our consideration of the Japanese in
the face of the treacherous way in which they do things." On January 28, the
California State Personnel Board voted to bar all "descendants of natives with
whom the United States [is] at war" from all civil service positions -- but the
act was enforced only against Japanese Americans. By February 16, 2,192
Japanese Americans were under arrest by the FBI.
This ground-swell of carefully orchestrated distaste for Japanese Americans
culminated with President Franklin D. Roosevelt signing
9066 on February 19, 1942. This called for the exclusion and internment of
all Japanese Americans on the West Coast -- where the majority lived, outside of
Hawaii. The only
significant opposition would come from the Quakers (The Society of Friends) and
the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union).
The exclusion and
incarceration of Japanese Americans began in March 1942 with Roosevelt's
creation of The War Relocation Authority, or WRA. During the first phase,
internees were transported on trains and busses under military guard to the
12 hastily prepared temporary detention centers in California and one in Oregon.
At these facilities detainees were housed in livestock stalls or crowded,
windowless shacks that lacked electricity or even basic sanitation facilities.
Food was in short supply.
The second phase began
midsummer and involved moving approximately 500 deportees daily from the
temporary detention centers to permanent camps surrounded with barbed wire and
guard towers. Guards were instructed to shoot anyone attempting to leave. These
camps were located in remote, uninhabitable areas.
Japanese Americans filed
lawsuits to stop the mass incarceration, but the
wartime courts supported the hysteria. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in
Yasui v U.S.
, and Korematsu v
that the denial of civil liberties based on race and national origin were
legal. In a later, contradictory ruling in Endo v U.S. the Supreme Court
decided that a loyal citizen could not be detained, but this did not stop the
in the camps, even by the standards of the day, were inexcusable. The structures
consisted of tar paper buildings with no insulation. There was no privacy with
several families living together in each structure. Meals were taken communally.
Those forced into the camps lost their homes and businesses -- not to mention
They suffered the loss of faith in the government and the humiliation of being
confined as traitors in their own country. And finally, many were used for free
labor. In June of 1942,
detainees were sent from assembly and relocation centers to fill sugar beet
labor shortages in Oregon, Utah, Idaho, and Montana -- and by October over 8000
detainees were at work saving the crop harvest in various western states.
of those incarcerated were U.S. citizens.
ironic that while their parents were forced into concentration camps, many young
Japanese Americans found the courage to fight for -- not against -- America. For
example, there is the
highly decorated, all-Japanese American
100th Battalion /442nd
Regimental Combat Team that fought in Italy.
Throughout the course of
World War II, not a single incident of espionage or treason was found to be
committed by Japanese Americans. Japanese Americans in Hawaii were spared the
humiliation of "relocation"
simply because of the logistical problems associated with transporting a third
of the state's population to the mainland. Even in Hawaii, with such a large and
unrestrained Japanese-American population, there is not a single incident of
espionage or treason!
On December 17, 1944
Roosevelt announced the end of the exclusion of
Japanese Americans from the West Coast. Relocation after incarceration was
impossible for many, however, especially since prejudice still ran high in the
West Coast. Many Issei (first generation Japanese Americans) never regained
their losses, living out their lives in poverty and poor health.
The Commission on Wartime
Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) was formed in 1980 to investigate
the incarceration of Japanese Americans and legal resident aliens during World
War II. The Commission concluded: "the promulgation of Executive Order 9066 was
not justified by military necessity, and the decisions which followed from
it-detention, ending detention, and ending exclusion-were not driven by analysis
of military conditions. The broad historical causes which
shaped these decisions were race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of
The Civil Liberties Act of
1988 was finally passed by Congress. It provided an apology and some redress to
the internees still living (although nearly half of those who had been
imprisoned died before the bill was signed). The Civil Liberties Act of 1988
also established The
Liberties Public Education Fund whose purpose is "to sponsor research and
public educational activities and to publish and distribute the hearings,
findings, and recommendations of the CWRIC so that the events surrounding the
exclusion, forced removal and internment of civilians and permanent resident
aliens of Japanese ancestry will be remembered, and so that the causes and
circumstances of this and similar events may be illuminated and understood."
Questions to Ask
happen again? Can you envision
circumstances where something similar might reoccur in the United States? Debate
the possibilities. Decide what measures are needed to insure that something like
it would not happen.
Why is the
Bill of Rights so important? And why does it seem so often abridged or
tampered with? How does this affect democracy? Are the rights guaranteed in the
first 10 amendments available to citizens only under the best circumstances?
legal system is thought to guarantee certain rights, such as
that a person is innocent
person must be accused of having broken a law before being charged with a
crime (this is called due process), and
person's background (i.e. ethnic, racial, gender, age, income,
etc.) is suppose to be irrelevant in the legal system (this is called
Why is it that these Constitutional
guarantees were ignored by the President, Congress, and even the Courts?
meant by Benjamin Franklin when he wrote, "Those
who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety,
deserve neither liberty nor safety"? How does this
apply not only historically, but also today?
Original Sources on the
Internment of San Francisco Japanese -- here you will find original
documents to help students understand what was happening while civil liberties
were being trampled.
American Internment Memorial -- understand the issue from the perspective of
Understanding Life in the Camps -- Where are we? I want to go home! -- help
students understand the issue through the eyes of young Japanese Americans who
had no idea what was happening to them.
Revisionist History --
Making the interment of American
Citizens more acceptable --
is there any way the loss of our civil liberties or the actions taken against
Japanese Americans can be viewed as acceptable?
Perfect Union: Japanese Americans and the U.S.
-- explore some of the legal issues
Japanese-American Detention Camps -- see original photographs of the bleak
and inhospitable camps that American citizens were forced to live in by their
National Security Issues -- see today's issues in the light of history.
the American Way
– Constitutional Liberties
-- are those Constitutional liberties really secure?