The Eleanor Roosevelt Encyclopedia

By Maurine H. Beasley; Holly C. Shulman et al. | Go to book overview

J

JAPANESE AMERICAN INTERNMENT. After Pearl Harbor, the Roosevelt administration ordered General John L. DeWitt, commander of the Western Defense Command, to carry out an investigation of the many reports of Japanese spy activity on the West Coast. DeWitt concluded in his 14 February 1942 report to President Franklin D. Roosevelt* that although no sabotage had taken place to date, he had discovered “a disturbing and confirming indication that such action will be taken” (Smith, 124) by the Japanese American population. As a result, FDR approved an internment program, giving military commanders on the West Coast the power to evacuate persons they felt constituted a threat to the war effort and national defense. Eleanor Roosevelt initially vigorously and publicly opposed the arguments to intern Japanese Americans, but she ceased her public criticism once internment became administration policy, accepting it as a military necessity.

DeWitt responded, in part, to public opinion. The press, patriotic organizations, western farming interests, and a growing number of public and political figures called for evacuation. ER, however, emphatically opposed internment in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. A week after the attack on Hawaii, she toured the West Coast, posing with Japanese Americans for photographs distributed by the Associated Press wire service, one of which was published in the New York Times on 15 December 1941. In her “My Day”* column of 16 December 1941, she issued a challenge to her readers: “This is, perhaps, the greatest test this country has ever met,” she wrote. If the country could not make fairness a practical reality, “then we shall have removed from the world, the one real hope for the future on which all humanity must now rely.” These people “are good Americans,” she told FDR, “and have the right to live as anyone else” (Black, 143). She worked with Attorney General Francis Biddle to

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