Overview of the Japanese American Internment
1942 and 1945, the U.S. government forced more than 120,000 Japanese
Americans from their homes, farms, schools, jobs and businesses,
in violation of their constitutional civil rights and liberties.
After the attack by Japan on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the
United States to entered World War II. Years of anti-Japanese prejudice
erupted into hate and suspicion. All people of Japanese descent
were looked upon as capable of sabotage, and the success of the
attack was assumed to be the result of espionage by Japanese Americans
living in Hawaii and on the West Coast.
the West Coast, a hysteria of fear against Japanese Americans as
"the Fifth Column" and "the enemy within" was
created by inflammatory journalism, pressure groups, politicians,
and the U.S. Army. A profound suspicion of Japanese Americans quickly
led to cries for their expulsion. On February 19, 1942, President
Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which called
for the exclusion and internment of all Japanese Americans from
the West Coast--where the majority of Japanese Americans lived,
outside of Hawaii.
exclusion and incarceration of Japanese Americans began in March
1942. The War Relocation Authority, or WRA, was established to administer
the camps. During the first phase, internees were transported on
trains and busses under military guard to the hastily prepared temporary
temporary detention centers were in California and one was in Oregon.
They were set up on race tracks, fairgrounds, or livestock pavilions.
Detainees were housed in livestock stalls or windowless shacks that
were crowded and lacked sufficient ventilation, electricity, and
sanitation facilities. Food was often spoiled. There was a shortage
of food and medicine.
second phase began midsummer and involved moving approximately 500
deportees daily from the temporary detention centers to permanent
concentration camps. These camps were located in remote, uninhabitable
areas. In the desert camps, daytime temperatures often reached 100
degrees or more. Sub-zero winters were common in the northern camps.
Americans filed lawsuits to stop the mass incarceration, but the
wartime courts supported the hysteria. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled
in Hirabayashi v U.S., Yasui v U.S. , and Korematsu
v U.S. that the denial of civil liberties based on race and
national origin were legal. In a later, contradictory ruling in
the Supreme Court decided that a loyal citizen could not be detained,
but this did not stop the internment.
internment camps were surrounded by barbed wire and guard towers.
Armed guards patrolled the perimeter and were instructed to shoot
anyone attempting to leave. The barracks consisted of tar paper
over two-by-sixes and no insulation. Many families were assigned
to one barracks and lived together with no privacy. Meals were taken
communally in mess halls and required a long wait in line. A demonstration
in Manzanar over the theft of food by personnel led to violence
in which two died and many were injured. The attempt at screening
for loyalty and registering inmates for military induction with
the Army's questionnaire "Application for Leave Clearance,"
was conducted in a manner fraught with such confusion and distrust
that violence broke out at both California camps.
the relocation program the Japanese Americans suffered greatly.
They first endured the shock of realizing they were not being sent
to resettlement communities, as many had been led to believe, but
to prison. They lost their homes and businesses. Their educations
and careers were interrupted and their possessions lost. Many lost
sons who fought for the country that imprisoned their parents. They
suffered the loss of faith in the government and the humiliation
of being confined as traitors in their own country.
young Japanese American men fought for the United States while their
families were imprisoned. The highly decorated, all-Japanese American
100th Battalion /442nd Regimental Combat Team that fought in Italy
is one example of this irony. Other Japanese Americans served as
translators as well as ordinary soldiers in the Pacific theater.
the course of World War II, not a single incident of espionage or
treason was found to be committed by Japanese Americans. The difficulty
of committing treason while incarcerated cannot alone explain this
absence of wrongdoing; Japanese Americans living in Hawaii were
spared relocation because of the logistical difficulty of transporting
a third of the state's population to the mainland. With their numbers
exceeding the entire Japanese population on the mainland, Japanese
Americans in Hawaii proved an essential part of the state's labor
force and defense.
December 17, 1944, President Roosevelt announced the end of the
exclusion of Japanese Americans from the West Coast, thus allowing
the return home of the internees. Relocation after incarceration
was difficult, 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
July 31, 1980 to establish the Commission on Wartime Relocation
and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) 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 political leadership."
October 1983, in response to a petition for a writ of error coram
nobis by Fred Korematsu, the Federal District Court of San Francisco
reversed his 1942 conviction and rules that the internment was not
August 10, 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed into law The Civil
Liberties Act of 1988, which provides for an apology and redress
to the internees still living. Nearly half of those who had been
imprisoned died before the bill was signed. The Civil Liberties
Act of 1988 also established The Civil 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."