Japanese-American Internment

The internment of Japanese American citizens occurred in the United States during World War II as a response to Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. The removal of individuals of Japanese American descent from so-called "military zones" was sanctioned by President Franklin D. Roosevelt through the Executive Order 9066. The request for this action came from West Coast military commander General John DeWitt, who called for Japanese Americans to be removed from his command zone. He asserted that it was not the Japanese government but "the Japanese race" that was the enemy.

The Executive Order 9066 authorized the military to detain Japanese citizens and to expel them if necessary. What followed was the evacuation of nearly 120,000 Japanese from their homes on the West Coast. They were transferred to government War Relocation Authority camps in remote areas located in the west, south, and southwest. Of the Japanese Americans that were rounded up, many were American-born (or Nisei; second generation Japanese Americans). In fact, more than two-thirds of those detained are said to have been American citizens. They were forced into hastily-constructed assembly centers on the outskirts of the main cities, which were under direct military control. From there, they were moved to camps.

The first camp, Poston, opened in May 1942. Some of those expelled found themselves languishing in camps one thousand miles away from home. They were located in mountainous or desert regions and run by the authorities. Each camp was guarded by armed military personnel and bordered by barbed wire fencing.

Within the camps, passions ran high and the detainees often pitched against each other. In some cases, riots broke out between pro-Japanese and pro-American factions. These were fuelled by a loyalty test administered by the War Relocation Administration. The evacuees were angry at their treatment and the loss of their freedom. Many suffered internal conflict; bitterness towards the U.S. government was in opposition with their natural feelings of loyalty towards the country of their birth.

In August 1942, Japanese Americans who took a loyalty test were allowed to move out of the camps and settle in areas outside the barred zone on the coast. There were other ways to gain their liberty: second-generation Japanese students could be sponsored by a college to relocate and recommence their education. Christian churches also arranged for Nisei to move to the South and Midwest to work in homes and offices. More than 1,000 of the detainees joined an all-Japanese American military regiment. The men who served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team were sent to fight in Italy and France; they fought despite the fact that most of their families were removed from mainstream society in the United States as a perceived threat to national security. This regiment became the most decorated unit of the Army.

The popular belief was that Japanese residents in America had helped plan the Pearl Harbor attack. The internment of these citizens would, it was believed, secure the United States against acts of disloyalty. However critics of this practice compared the treatment of Japanese Americans with the racist Nazi attitude toward German Jews. Some went further, pointing to American anti-Asian racism as one cause of the tensions between the United States and Japan that led to war. The internment period was set against the backdrop of what white Americans called the "yellow peril" – the influx of immigrants from Asian regions. In the late 1800s prejudice along the West Coast focused on Chinese immigrants and culminated in the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. As Japanese immigration increased, they too became the targets of prejudice. It took protests by the Japanese government and intervention by President Theodore Roosevelt to prevent the segregation of Japanese American students in the San Francisco school system in 1906.

It was the plight of four individuals in particular that led to Executive Order 9066 being rescinded. Fred T. Korematsu, Mitsuye Endo, Minoru Yasui and Gordon K. Hirabayashi challenged the constitutionality of evacuation orders through the courts. In 1944 the U.S. Supreme Court decided that Endo's detention in the camps violated her civil rights. The camps began to close in the same year and the last one, Tule Lake, closed down in March 1946. The issue of Japanese American internment remained largely unacknowledged by the U.S. government until 1976, when President Gerald R. Ford proclaimed that the evacuation was wrong. Eventually, in September 1987 evacuees received a formal apology from the U.S. House of Representatives. They were awarded compensation of $1.2 billion.

Japanese-American Internment: Selected full-text books and articles

Whispered Silences: Japanese Americans and World War II By Gary Y. Okihiro; Joan Myers University of Washington Press, 1996
Opposition to Internment: Defending Japanese American Rights during World War II By Shaffer, Robert The Historian, Vol. 61, No. 3, Spring 1999
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
The Managed Casualty: The Japanese-American Family in World War II By Leonard Broom; John I. Kitsuse University of California Press, 1956
Through the Eyes of Innocents: Children Witness World War II By Emmy E. Werner Westview Press, 2000
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "Behind Barbed Wire"
Ronald Reagan and Redress for Japanese-American Internment, 1983-88 By Maga, Timothy P Presidential Studies Quarterly, Vol. 28, No. 3, Summer 1998
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
A Legal History of Asian Americans, 1790-1990 By Hyung-Chan Kim Greenwood Press, 1994
Librarian’s tip: "Japanese Internment Cases" begins on p. 132
Asian Americans and the Supreme Court: A Documentary History By Hyung-Chan Kim Greenwood Press, 1992
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "Internment during World War II and Litigations"
Beyond Loyalty: The Story of a Kibei By Minoru Kiyota; Linda Klepinger Keenan University of Hawaii Press, 1997
The Red Angel: The Life and Times of Elaine Black Yoneda By Vivian McGuckin Raineri International Publishers, 1991
Enduring Lessons of Justice from the World War II Japanese American Internment By Gallavan, Nancy P.; Roberts, Teresa A Social Education, Vol. 69, No. 5, September 2005
The Columbia Guide to Asian American History By Gary Y. Okihiro Columbia University Press, 2001
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "America's Concentration Camps"
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