Japanese Internment Remembrance Day

Seventy-five years ago on February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed presidential executive order 9066, which paved the way for the incarcerations of approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II. 

An excerpt from "Evicted and Detained: Japanese American Internment" from fdr4freedoms.org. 

In the months after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, under Franklin D. Roosevelt’s leadership and by the authority of his executive orders, the United States orchestrated what an official report would call “the massive eviction of an entire ethnic group”—people of Japanese ancestry—from America’s West Coast. After expelling these families from their homes in California, Oregon, Washington, and Arizona, the government held them under armed guard in isolated, hastily constructed camps scattered across the West for more than two years. More than 110,000 people—men, women, and children whose only crime was their Japanese ethnicity—experienced this forced migration and internment. Two-thirds were American citizens and more than half were minors.

The government’s rationale for this action: “military necessity.” Shocked that Imperial Japan had come as far as Hawaii in its opening salvo against the United States, Americans, including top military brass, feared the enemy’s next move might be to launch a lethal strike on the U.S. mainland. Military leaders—particularly Lieutenant General John DeWitt, who headed the command responsible for protecting America’s Pacific coast—argued that Japanese Americans living in the region might maintain a strident loyalty to Japan’s militarist regime and collude in an attack on the vulnerable U.S. coast.

At the “exclusion” policy’s inception in February 1942, there was no evidence of disloyalty, much less of treason, among ethnic Japanese communities. Nor did any emerge later. In any event, the program made no attempt to base evacuation and confinement on individual culpability. “It was unfortunate,” Secretary of War Henry Stimson wrote in a 1943 report on the evacuation, “that the exigencies of the military situation were such as to require the same treatment for all persons of Japanese ancestry, regardless of their individual loyalty to the United States. But in emergencies, where the safety of the Nation is involved, consideration of the rights of individuals must be subordinated to the common security.”

Western members of Congress strongly advocated the internment program. At the time, California Attorney General Earl Warren, who as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1950s and ‘60s would go on to play a key role in dismantling racial segregation in America, supported Japanese internment. In 1944 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the exclusion orders as constitutional.

But some forty years later, a bipartisan federal commission would hear testimony from former internees—testimony about disrupted lives, lost homes and businesses, and deep emotional injury—and conclude that they had suffered a “grave personal injustice” at the hands of the federal government. “The broad historical causes that shaped [the policy] were race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership,” the report said. “Widespread ignorance about Americans of Japanese descent contributed to a policy conceived in haste and executed in an atmosphere of fear and anger at Japan.” Issued in 1983, the report led to bipartisan passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which extended an official American apology to Japanese internees, giving each $20,000 in reparations. Read more here...

Photo: Ethnic Japanese women at the Tule Lake War Relocation Center in Northern California, 1942 or 1943. Tule Lake, a site of protest against internment, contained the highest number of inmates labeled "disloyal" as a result of their answers on loyalty questionnaires. In July 1943, the camp was designated a segregation center for all detainees deemed disloyal. LOC