Essay: Relocation and Incarceration of Japanese Americans During World War II
On December 7, 1941, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. The next day, the United States and Britain declared war on Japan. Two months later, on February 19, 1942, the lives of thousands of Japanese Americans were dramatically changed when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 ( view the Order ). This order led to the assembly and evacuation and relocation of nearly 122,000 men, women, and children of Japanese ancestry on the west coast of the United States.
Racism and Prejudice
It is interesting to note that, despite the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans in Hawaii were not incarcerated en masse. Of the total Japanese American population in Hawaii-which made up
nearly 40% of the population of Hawaii itself, and a large portion of the skilled workforce-only a few thousand people were detained. The fact that so few Japanese Americans were incarcerated in
Hawaii suggests that their mass removal on the West Coast was racially motivated rather than born of “military necessity.” Agricultural interest groups in western states and many local politicians had
long been opposed to the presence of Japanese Americans and used the attack on Pearl Harbor to step up calls for their removal.
The United States was fighting the war on three fronts — Japan, Germany, and Italy — compared to the number of Japanese Americans, a relatively small number of Germans and Italians were interned in the United States. But although Executive Order 9066 was written in vague terms that did not specify an ethnicity, it was used for the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans. The government claimed that incarceration was for military necessity and, ironically, to “protect” Japanese Americans from racist retribution they might face as a result of Pearl Harbor. (These reasons were later proved false by the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians in the 1980s.)
In fact, Japanese Americans and other Asian Americans had long been characterized as a foreign “Yellow Peril” that was a threat to the United States. Prejudice against Japanese Americans, including laws preventing them from owning land, existed long before World War II. Even though Japanese Americans largely considered themselves loyal and even patriotic Americans, suspicions about their loyalties were pervasive. Before Pearl Harbor was bombed, President Roosevelt secretly commissioned Curtis Munson, a businessman, to assess the possibility that Japanese Americans would pose a threat to US security. Munson’s report found (as cited in Ronald Takaki, Strangers from a Distant Shore, page 386) that “There will be no armed uprising of Japanese” in the United States. “For the most part,” the report says, “the local Japanese are loyal to the United States or, at worst, hope that by remaining quiet they can avoid concentration camps or irresponsible mobs.”
Despite these findings, however, thousands of families in California, Oregon, and Washington were soon incarcerated in government camps. The government — and popular sentiment — understood that German Americans were not necessarily Nazi sympathizers, and could distinguish Italian Americans from Mussolini’s Fascist regime, but they had a more difficult time separating Japanese Americans from Imperial Japan.
The majority of those interned — nearly 70,000, over 60% — were American citizens. Many of the rest were long-time US residents who had lived in this country between 20 and 40 years. By and large, most Japanese Americans, particularly the Nisei (the first generation born in the United States), considered themselves loyal Americans. No Japanese American or Japanese national was ever found guilty of sabotage or espionage.
From March 1942 to 1946, the US War Relocation Authority (WRA) had jurisdiction over the Japanese and Japanese Americans evacuated from their homes in California, Oregon, and Washington. It administered the extensive resettlement program, and oversaw the details of the registration and segregation programs.
“Evacuated” families left behind homes, businesses, pets, land, and most of their belongings. Taking only what they could carry, Japanese Americans were taken by bus and train to assembly centers — hastily converted facilities such as race tracks and fairgrounds. Here they awaited reassignment to the “relocation camps.”
The WRA controlled the administration of 10 camps in remote areas of California, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Texas, and Arkansas. Although official government photographs were careful not to show it, these facilities were fenced with barbed wire and guarded by armed soldiers.
During internment (also called incarceration), families worked, studied, and lived their lives in the barracks-like living quarters of the relocation centers, which were alternately labeled “relocation camps,” “concentration camps,” or “evacuation centers.” These camps, some of which housed approximately 8,000 people, functioned as communities. The government provided medical care, schools, and food, and adults often held camp jobs — in food service, agriculture, medical clinics, as teachers, and other jobs required for daily life.
In December 1944, President Roosevelt rescinded Executive Order 9066, and the WRA began a six-month process of releasing internees (often to “resettlement” facilities and temporary housing) and shutting down the camps. In August 1945, the war was over. By 1946, the camps were closed and all of the internees had been released to rebuild their lives.
In the postwar years, these Japanese Americans had to rebuild their lives. The US citizens and long-time residents who had been incarcerated had lost their personal liberties, and many also lost their homes, businesses, property, and savings. Individuals born in Japan were not allowed to become naturalized US citizens until 1952.
Chronology of World War II and Japanese American Incarceration
|December 7, 1941||Japan bombs Pearl Harbor.|
|December 8, 1941||United States and Britain declare war on Japan.|
|February 19, 1942||President Roosevelt signs Executive Order 9066. This order leads to the assembly and incarceration of over 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry on the west coast.|
|March 1942||The United States creates the War Relocation Authority (WRA) to assume jurisdiction over the Japanese and Japanese Americans evacuated from California, Oregon, and Washington.|
|April 1942||Japanese Americans sent to 10 remote relocation centers scattered across the Western United States.|
|December 1944||President Roosevelt rescinds Executive Order 9066. The WRA begins a six-month process of releasing internees and shutting down the camps.|
|August 6, 1945||United States drops first atomic bomb, on Hiroshima, Japan.|
|August 9, 1945||United States drops second atomic bomb, on Nagasaki, Japan.|
|August 14, 1945||Japan agrees to unconditional surrender.|
|September 2, 1945||Japan signs the surrender agreement.|
|June 1952||Congress passes the McCarran Walter Act, granting Japanese aliens the right to become naturalized US citizens.|
|1976||President Gerald R. Ford officially rescinds Executive Order 9066.|
|1981||Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (set up by Congress) holds hearings across the country and concludes that internment was a “grave injustice” and that Executive Order 9066 resulted from “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”|
|August 1988||President Reagan signs the Civil Liberties Act, apologizing to the Japanese American internees and offering $20,000 to survivors of the camps.|
|January 1998||Fred Korematsu receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom. (Korematsu was arrested for remaining in his home and not reporting to the local Assembly Center. He was convicted of violating E.O. 9066. The judgment was later overturned.)|
JARDA: Everyday Life
JARDA: Personal Experiences
Japanese American Relocation Digital Archive (JARDA)
About this essay:
“Relocation and Incarceration of Japanese Americans During World War II” was written by the University of California in 2005 as part of the Japanese American Relocation Digital Archive (JARDA) project.
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Out of all the wars that the world has gone through, none has been more devastating as world war II. But what caused this war? Well, world war II had six major causes: anger over the Versailles Treaty, the failure of peace efforts after world war I, the rise of Fascism, the goals of Hitler, the isolationism by America and Britain, and the re-armament of Europe. This paper will go over each of these causes individually and then draw some conclusions about world war II.
The first cause of world war II was the intense anger over the Versailles Treaty. Germany was very angry over two things and the first of which was the many territorial losses they had to endure as a result of the treaty. They lost two cities on the French-German border and as per Wilson’s thirteenth point Poland was re-formed with access to the Baltic Sea, which went right through Germany. Giving Poland Sea access split Germany into two parts, the main part of Germany, and a small portion to the North of the Danzig corridor. The Danzig corridor really inflamed Germany for many years, but they really could not do anything about the situation because they lost world war I. Another country that was angry over the Versailles Treaty was Italy. They were angry because they thought that the land that they had received as a payment for their participation in the Allied effort against Germany did not offset the cost of the war, nor did it satisfy their ambitions to grow. The final country that was angry over the Versailles Treaty was Japan. They were also a victor over Germany and they wanted to gain control over China as reward for their participation in the war. This, however, did not happen and they were angry over the situation.
The second cause of world war II was the failure of the many peace efforts that occurred after world war I. The League of Nations, which was one of Wilson’s fourteen points and part of the Versailles Treaty, was a forum in which nations could settle their disputes with one another. The problem was that the League did not have any real power. The only thing it could do was try to persuade the offending nation to concede and if that did not work out they could impose economic sanctions on that country. But the league had so little power that the sanctions it passed were normally ignored and it could do nothing from that point on. Another failed peace effort was the Washington Conference. At this conference the principal naval powers agreed to limit their navies according to a fixed ratio. But again none of the powers really went through with their agreement. Yet another failed peace effort was the Locarno Conference. This conference produced a treaty between France and Germany stating that the border between the two countries was guaranteed. However, we know that this treaty failed because Germany invaded France during world war II. The final failed peace effort was the Paris Peace Act. At this conference all of the major countries, excluding Russia, and many smaller countries agreed that war was not a national policy and stated that they would try to resolve problems through diplomatic means. The only way that war was acceptable in this act was by means of self-defense. These did not directly cause world war II, but they made it possible by their obvious lack of power. Countries still did not trust each other enough to follow through with the good ideas that they had.
The third cause of world war II was the rise of Fascism. Fascism was a movement that began before world war I, but did not become a serious political power until Benito Mussolini took control of the Italian government in 1922. Under Mussolini Italy became a Totalitarian government where labor unions were abolished and political opponents were killed or silenced. This caused many things to happen to Italy’s social and economic problems. The first of these problems was the lowered living standard of the Italian people. The people lost their eight hour work day protection and their wages were lowered by the government. Mussolini acknowledged that the living standard had gone down, but explained it by saying that the Italian people were not used to eating much anyway, so they would not feel the lack of food as badly as others. Another thing the Fascist government caused was an increased birthrate in Italy. Mussolini wanted women to have more children so that he could create a larger army in the future. In this way he felt that he could have a large army by the time he was ready to go to war for more land. Mussolini used tactics much like the communists in that he had total control over all of the Italian population and could have people killed whenever he wanted. Italy, however, was not the only country to fall under Fascism. Germany adopted this form of government only it was called national socialism. It’s leader was Adolf Hitler and it called itself the Nazi party. The Nazi party differed slightly from Mussolini’s government in that the Nazi’s were more racist and believed that it was their destiny to make the world subject to the perfect German people. They were particularly hateful to the Jewish people, which was proven after they started to exterminate all of the Jews within central Europe after world war II started. These events did not directly cause world war II, but they brought us to the brink of war. People that listened to these dictators believed that these men could bring them to world domination.
The fourth cause of world war II was the goal’s of the German dictator, Hitler. He had a vision of the German people becoming a master race and dominating the entire world, but he also knew that he could not achieve all this during the war he intended to start. He, however, had two major goals which was to bring all of central Europe together and form a larger Germany and to create more room for Germany to grow by taking over Poland. His first move was to test the other European powers by inserting troops into Germany’s coal mining area next to France. This was forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles and Hitler wanted to see how far he could push his adversaries before they would strike back. If Britain had not been so passive to Hitler they might have stopped this war before it ever started. They, however, allowed Hitler to do this because they did not want to start another war. Hitler then pushed the European powers further and further until he invaded Poland and Europe had no choice but to react.
The fifth cause of world war II was American and British isolationism. After world war I America turned away from Europe and went back to its domestic problems. The American people did not want anything to do with European affairs because many of the debts that were accrued during the war were not being paid and Americans were very bitter. Britain also turned to its domestic problems and did not want to interfere in Continental Europe’s problems. If one or both of these countries had attempted to stop Hitler when he first came into power he probably would have been thrown out of office and world war II might have been prevented.
The final cause of world war II was a direct result from all of the previous causes, and that is the rearmament of all the European powers. Tensions started to increase as Hitler tested the European powers and most if not all countries began to increase their armies and navies. This brought war closer because it meant that the government leaders were prepared to use force to resolve the problems that Hitler was causing, and it raised tensions even higher than they already were.
In conclusion, world war II was not an extension of world war I, but world war I was a big cause of world war II. Most of the causes of world war II came out of the Treaty of Versailles, and if that treaty had been better there might not have been world war II. Nevertheless, world war II happened and we can only learn from the mistakes we see from the past.