Japanese Americans and World War II: Exclusion, Internment, and Redress

By Donald Teruo Hata; Dominguez Hills et al. | Go to book overview

Japanese Americans
and World War II
Exclusion, Internment, and Redress

On February 19, 1942, two months after the United States declared war on Imperial Japan, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066. By the summer of 1942, virtually the entire population of Japanese Americans (Nikkei) on the U.S. mainland-110,000 men, women, and children-had vanished from their homes, schools, and places of employment in cities and rural communities throughout the Pacific Coast states. Among the Nikkei who disappeared under U.S. Army guard were 40,000 lssei (“first generation” Japanese in America) and 70,000 Nisei (“second generation”), the American-born sons and daughters of the Issei. Aside from a few of their neighbors and business acquaintances, most fellow Americans either did not know or chose not to ask why and where the Nikkei had gone. By 1945 a vast archipelago of federal concentration camps had been specially constructed and staffed to imprison 120,000 people whose only “crime” was their Japanese ancestry. Eventually, this inmate population included 6,000 babies born to a birthright of barbed wire and 3,000 Latin American Japanese deportees (of whom 80 percent were from Peru).

Since the end of World War II, the popular American images of Nikkei have changed dramatically, to a degree unimaginable to those who lived through the tumultuous events following the outbreak of the war. In this time the perception of Nikkei has gone from one extreme to another-from sneaky “Yellow Peril” to America’s “Model Minority.” Even more surprising, however, was the success of a Nikkei movement for “redress” undertaken half a century after World War II.

On August 10, 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act, which provided each survivor of America’s World War II concentration camps for Nikkei with a tax-exempt payment of $20,000 and an official apology. Accordingly, on November 21, 1989, Congress approved an annual appropriation of $500 million, to perpetuate until all eligible persons, beginning with the oldest survivors, were compensated. The first wave of compensatory checks were finally issued on October 9, 1990; they were accompanied by an apology signed by President George Bush:

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