Internment of Americans with Foreign Enemy Ancestry

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared that the day of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, would live in infamy. The attack launched the United States fully into the two theaters of the world war. Prior to Pearl Harbor, the United States had been involved in the European war only by supplying England and other antifascist countries of Europe with the munitions of war.

The attack on Pearl Harbor also launched a rash of fear about national security, especially on the West Coast. In February 1942, just two months after Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt as commander-in-chief, issued Executive Order 9066, which had the effect of relocating all persons of Japanese ancestry, both citizens and aliens, inland, outside of the Pacific military zone. The objectives of the order were to prevent espionage and to protect persons of Japanese descent from harm at the hands of Americans who had strong anti-Japanese attitudes.

In Washington and Oregon, the eastern boundary of the military zone was an imaginary line along the rim of the Cascade Mountains; this line continued down the spine of California from north to south. From that line to the Pacific coast, the military restricted zones in those three states were defined.

Roosevelt's order affected 117000 people of Japanese descent, two-thirds of whom were native-born citizens of the United States. The Issei were the first generation of Japanese in this country; the Nisei were the second generation, numbering 70000 American citizens at the time of internment. Within weeks, all persons of Japanese ancestry--whether citizens or enemy aliens, young or old, rich or poor--were ordered to assembly centers near their homes. Soon they were sent to permanent relocation centers outside the restricted military zones.

For example, persons of Japanese ancestry in western Washington State were removed to the assembly center at the Puyallup Fairgrounds near Tacoma. From Puyallup to Pomona, internees found that a cowshed at a fairgrounds or a horse stall at a racetrack was home for several months before they were transported to a permanent wartime residence. Relocation centers were situated many miles inland, often in remote and desolate locales. Sites included Tule Lake, California; Minidoka, Idaho; Manzanar, California; Topaz, Utah; Jerome, Arkansas; Heart Mountain, Wyoming; Poston, Arizona; Granada, Colorado; and Rohwer, Arkansas.

As four or five families with their sparse collections of clothing and possessions squeezed into and shared tar-papered barracks, life took on some familiar routines of socializing and school. However, eating in common facilities and having limited opportunities for work interrupted other social and cultural patterns. Persons who became troublesome were sent to a special camp at Tule Lake, California, where dissidents were housed.

In 1943 and 1944 the government assembled a combat unit of Japanese Americans for the European theater. It became the 442d Regimental Combat Team and gained fame as the most highly decorated of World War II. Their military record bespoke their patriotism.

As the war drew to a close, the relocation centers were slowly evacuated. While some persons of Japanese ancestry returned to their home towns, others sought new surroundings. For example, the Japanese American community of Tacoma, Washington, had been sent to three different centers; only 30 percent returned to Tacoma after the war. Japanese Americans from Fresno had gone to Manzanar; 80 percent returned to their hometown.

The internment of persons of Japanese ancestry during World War II sparked constitutional and political debate. In the 1940s, two men and one woman - Hirabayashi, Korematsu, and Endo - challenged the constitutionality of the relocation and curfew orders. While the men received negative judgments from the court, in the 1944 case ExParte Mitsuye Endo, the Supreme Court ruled that, "Mitsuye Endo is entitled to an unconditional release by the War Relocation Authority." Some people refer to the relocation centers as concentration camps; others view internment as an unfortunate episode, but a military necessity. During the Reagan-Bush years Congress moved toward the passage of Public Law 100-383 in 1988 which acknowledged the injustice of the internment, apologized for it, and provided a $20000 cash payment to each person who was interned.

One of the most stunning ironies in this episode of American civil liberties was articulated by an internee who, when told that the Japanese were put in those camps for their own protection, countered "If we were put there for our protection, why were the guns at the guard towers pointed inward, instead of outward?" - US National Archives



Y/M/D Description Place
1941/03/13 Introduced in the Senate on March 9, the Senate Committee on Military Affairs considers Public Law 503 in a one hour session in which Col B M Bryan, chief of the Alien Division, Office of the Provost Marshal General, is the only one to testify. US Senate Chamber, United States Capitol
1941/03/17 The House Committee on Military Affairs digest Public Law 503 in a one half hour session in which Col B M Bryan, chief of the Alien Division, is the only one to testify. United States Capitol, Washington, DC
1941/03/19 I think this is probably the 'sloppiest' criminal law I have ever read or seen anywhere.... I have no doubt that in peacetime no man could ever be convicted under it.... - Robert A Taft US Senate Chamber, United States Capitol
1941/12/07 Japanese Imperial forces bomb Battleship Row USS ARIZONA Memorial, World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument - Hawaii
1941/12/07 Japanese Imperial forces bomb Battleship Row USS ARIZONA Wreck, World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument - Hawaii
1942/00/00 Central Utah Relocation Center (Topaz) Site, Delta
1942/00/00 Granada Relocation Center, Granada
1942/00/00 Manzanar War Relocation Center, National Historic Site, Independence
1942/00/00 Heart Mountain Relocation Center, Ralston
1942/00/00 Tule Lake Segregation Center, Newell
1942/02/19 Franklin D Roosevelt signs Executive Order 9066, authorizing military commanders to relocate "any or all persons" at their discretion. White House Oval Office, The White House
1942/02/19 At the Western Defense Command headquarters in the Presidio of San Francisco, Commander Lieutenant General John L DeWitt signs the 108 Civilian Exclusion Orders and directives that would enact Roosevelt's order across the West Coast. Presidio,
1942/02/22 By February 22, Karl Bendetsen sends a draft to his boss, Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy that proposes making violations of Executive Order 9066 a felony with penalties of up to a $5,000 fine and five years of imprisonment.
1942/03/09 Roosevelt signs Law 503 (passed after 60 minutes of debate in the Senate and 30 minutes in the House) which makes violations of military orders a misdemeanor punishable by up to $5,000 in fines and one year in prison.
1942/03/21 On the president's desk by March 20, FDR signs Public Law 503 to enforce EO 9066. Ellis Island will serve as an internment camp throughout WW II - detaining thousands, mostly Germans along with Italians and Japanese. Ellis Island Immigration Depot, Statue of Liberty National Monument
1942/06/05 Construction begins on the Minidoka Relocation Center Minidoka National Historic Site, Hunt, Eden, ID
1942/09/18 Rohwer War Relocation Center opens as a World War II Japanese American internment camp Rohwer Relocation Center Site, Rohwer
1943/00/00 Camp Tulelake, CA, California
1943/00/00 Topaz was filmed, illegally, from 1943 to 1945 at the Topaz War Relocation Center, Utah Central Utah Relocation Center (Topaz) Site, Delta
1943/01/11 War Relocation Authority removes so-called troublemakers from the US relocation centers to Dalton Wells, first group arrives 11 January 1943 Dalton Wells CCC Camp-Moab Relocation Center, Moab
1944/11/30 Rohwer War Relocation Center closes Rohwer Relocation Center Site, Rohwer
1945/10/28 Minidoka Relocation Center closes Minidoka National Historic Site, Hunt, Eden, ID
1946/03/00 Tule Lake Segregation Center closes Tule Lake Segregation Center, Newell
1988/08/10 President Reagan signs a bill apologizing to Japanese-Americans for their internment and offering each surviving detainee a $20,000 tax-free payment. The bill includes $12,000 to each Aleutian Islander and $21.4 million for their loss of property. White House Oval Office, The White House

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