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World War II
Subject
The Japanese American Internment Camps
Sources
Executive Order 9066
Civil Liberties Act of 1988
Printable version
The Japanese American internment camps
A copy of a poster that was displayed throughout Northern California in 1942. The poster announces the rounding up of all persons of Japanese descent.

The bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 led to large scale mobilization for war in the United States. It also led to measures by the US government that took away hard fought civil rights by certain minority groups. Executive order 9066, issued by President Roosevelt, led to the forced internment of more than 120,000 people of Japanese descent. Most had US citizenship.

A history of Asian discrimination

Asians have faced discrimination in the United States since they first came to US shores. For instance, the California State Supreme Court ruled in 1854 that that Chinese needed to be included in an earlier 1850 act which stated that "no black, or mulatto persons, or Indian, shall be allowed to give evidence in favor of, or against, a white man."

The first wave of Japanese immigrants started coming to the United States in the late1800’s after Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. This Act prohibited the admission of Chinese laborers for a period of ten years. It was later renewed and only repealed in 1943. Between 1913 and 1920, nine western states passed legislation preventing Japanese and Chinese immigrants from owning land.

Pearl Harbor and Japanese-Americans

December 1941 marked a new dark chapter in a longer history of discrimination towards Japanese-Americans. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the US government and became concerned about the loyalty of its citizens with Japanese heritage. Newspaper editorials across the country also expressed these feelings. Attempts by Japanese-Americans to convince others that they were loyal to the United States fell on deaf ears.

On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. This led to the forced internment of more than120,000 people of Japanese heritage on the West Coast. Often, entire families were placed in barbed-wire camps. Very few of non-Japanese descent were willing to defend these innocent people. On the contrary, the large majority of Americans supported locking up Japanese-American citizens. Those that were imprisoned were humiliated, treated as criminals and traitors, and had lost jobs and property. Luckily, the camps only aimed to imprison, not kill human beings as was the case in Germany. Executive Order 9066 was rescinded in 1944 by President Roosevelt, and the last of the camps was closed in March, 1946.

Joining the US Armed Forces

Though young Japanese-American men were interned, they were allowed to leave the camps to fight in the US armed forces. Because these forces were segregated at the time, these men fought in units comprised only of Japanese-Americans. Their families remained interned. During World War II, some 11,000 Japanese Americans from Hawaii and from detention camps on the US mainland served in the100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The 442nd became the most decorated unit in the US Army for its size and length of service. Members of the the unit helped liberate the Dachau concentration camp.

Japanese-Canadians

Those with Japanese heritage were not only interned in the United States. Several thousand Japanese-Canadians from the west coast in Canada were also interned. More than 60% had Canadian citizenship. Like in the United States, they had their property, and businesses confiscated by the government. Such property was then sold at an extremely low price. Japanese-Canadians had to pay the administrative costs for the sale of their stolen property. Unlike in the United States, young men of Japanese descent were not allowed to fight in the Canadian Armed forces until after 1945.

Civil liberties act of 1988

It took almost 50 years for the US government to issue a formal apology to the Japanese-Americans who had been interned. It is stated in the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 that it served to “acknowledge the fundamental injustice of the evacuation, relocation, and internment of United States citizens and permanent resident aliens of Japanese ancestry during World War II.”

It was also argued that Executive Order 9066 went against the language and spirit of the US Constitution, which states for instance that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.

Those that had been interned also received financial restitution for their losses and sacrifices at the time. Unfortunately, many of the adults who had been interned were no longer alive to accept the apology.

Anne Frank Guide
This day in history
Today: 14 December 2017
Then: 11 December 1941

Germany and Italy declare war on the United States; the U.S. respond in kind.

View the timeline