His Greatest Mistake
I have made a lot of mistakes in my life, but one I acknowledge
publicly is my part in the evacuation of the Japanese from Califor-
nia in 1942.
Tom Clark, 1966
I WAS OUTSIDE PLAYING on that sunny, mild Sunday when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. My father was in San Francisco, and Mother was in the kitchen of our Beverly Hills home, listening to the radio. Our lives, like those of other Americans, were irrevocably changed. The government moved quickly to protect the country from internal sabotage. Attorney General Francis Biddle identified and designated “restricted” areas, where access was limited and controlled, and “prohibited” areas— ports, harbors, power plants, and other spots considered vulnerable to sabotage—where no access was allowed. He ordered all enemy aliens—that is, all Japanese, German, and Italian citizens—removed from these areas, and on December 11, the Los Angeles Times announced that the FBI had 2,300 in custody. People remained calm, and there was no immediate cry for action against Japanese American citizens.
On the West Coast, the army, under the leadership of Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt, the commander of the Fourth Army and the Western Defense Command, assumed responsibility for the area’s security. According to my father, President Roosevelt wanted an official civilian voice to balance the military’s authority in the handling of enemy aliens, and since the Department of Justice already had offices along the West Coast, it was assigned that task. In a memo to Attorney General Biddle written on January 17, 1942, Assistant Attorney General Thurman Arnold recommended that my father head the project: