Internment of Japanese Americans

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Japanese American internment
Map of World War II Japanese American internment camps.png
Internment camps and further institutions of the War Relocation Authority in the western United States.
Date 1942 - 1946[1]
Location United States

The internment of Japanese Americans was the World War II internment in "War Relocation Camps" of over 110,000 people of Japanese heritage who lived on the Pacific coast of the United States. The U.S. government ordered the internment in 1942, shortly after Imperial Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.[2][3] The internment of Japanese Americans was applied unequally as a geographic matter: all who lived on the West Coast were interned, while in Hawaii, where 150,000-plus Japanese Americans comprised over one-third of the population, only 1,200[4] to 1,800 were interned. Sixty-two percent of the internees were American citizens.[5][6]

President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized the internment with Executive Order 9066, issued February 19, 1942, which allowed local military commanders to designate "military areas" as "exclusion zones," from which "any or all persons may be excluded." This power was used to declare that all people of Japanese ancestry were excluded from the entire Pacific coast, including all of California and much of Oregon, Washington and Arizona, except for those in internment camps.[7] In 1944, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the exclusion orders.[8] The Court limited its decision to the validity of the exclusion orders, adding, "The provisions of other orders requiring persons of Japanese ancestry to report to assembly centers and providing for the detention of such persons in assembly and relocation centers were separate, and their validity is not in issue in this proceeding."[9] The United States Census Bureau assisted the internment efforts by providing confidential neighborhood information on Japanese Americans. The Bureau denied its role for decades, but it was finally proven in 2007.[10][11]

In 1980, under mounting pressure from the Japanese American Citizens League and redress organizations,[12] President Jimmy Carter opened an investigation to determine whether the need to put Japanese Americans into internment camps had been justified by the government. He appointed the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) to investigate the camps. The commission's report, titled “Personal Justice Denied,” found little evidence of Japanese disloyalty at the time and recommended the government pay reparations to the survivors. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Civil Liberties Act, which apologized for the internment on behalf of the U.S. government and authorized a payment of $20,000 to each individual camp survivor. The legislation admitted that government actions were based on "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership".[13] The U.S. government eventually disbursed more than $1.6 billion in reparations to 82,219 Japanese Americans who had been interned and their heirs.[12][14]

Of 127,000 Japanese Americans living in the continental United States at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, 112,000 resided on the West Coast.[15] About 80,000 were nisei (literal translation: "second generation"; Japanese people born in the United States and holding American citizenship) and sansei (literal translation: "third generation"; the sons or daughters of nisei). The rest were issei (literal translation: "first generation"; immigrants born in Japan who were ineligible for U.S. citizenship).[16] Approximately 14,500 people of German and Italian ancestry,[17] and 2,200 ethnic Japanese deported from Latin American countries[18] were also subject to the United States' wartime confinement program.

After Pearl Harbor[edit]

San Francisco Examiner, February 1942.
A Japanese American unfurled this banner the day after the Pearl Harbor attack. This Dorothea Lange photograph was taken in March 1942, just prior to the man's internment.
Children at the Weill public school in San Francisco pledge allegiance to the American flag in April 1942, prior to the internment of Japanese Americans.
Taken by Russell Lee, this photograph is labeled "Tagged for evacuation, Salinas, California, May 1942".

The attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 led military and political leaders to suspect that Imperial Japan was preparing a full-scale attack on the West Coast of the United States. Japan's rapid military conquest of a large portion of Asia and the Pacific between 1936 and 1942 made its military forces seem unstoppable to some Americans.

American public opinion initially stood by the large population of Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast, with the Los Angeles Times characterizing them as "good Americans, born and educated as such." Many Americans believed that their loyalty to the United States was unquestionable.[19]

However, six weeks after the attack, public opinion turned against Japanese Americans living in on the West Coast, as the press and other Americans became nervous about the potential for fifth column activity. Though the administration (including the President Franklin D. Roosevelt and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover) dismissed all rumors of Japanese-American espionage on behalf of the Japanese War effort, pressure mounted upon the Administration as the tide of public opinion turned against Japanese-Americans. Civilian and military officials had serious concerns about the loyalty of the ethnic Japanese after the Niihau Incident which immediately followed the attack on Pearl Harbor, when a civilian Japanese national and two Hawaiian-born ethnic Japanese on the island of Ni'ihau violently freed a downed and captured Japanese naval airman, attacking their fellow Ni'ihau islanders in the process.[20]

Several concerns over the loyalty of ethnic Japanese seemed to stem from racial prejudice rather than evidence of actual malfeasance. Major Karl Bendetsen and Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt, head of the Western Command, each questioned Japanese American loyalty. DeWitt, who administered the internment program, repeatedly told newspapers that "A Jap's a Jap" and testified to Congress,

I don't want any of them [persons of Japanese ancestry] here. They are a dangerous element. There is no way to determine their loyalty... It makes no difference whether he is an American citizen, he is still a Japanese. American citizenship does not necessarily determine loyalty... But we must worry about the Japanese all the time until he is wiped off the map.[21][22]


DeWitt also sought approval to conduct search and seizure operations aimed at preventing alien Japanese from making radio transmissions to Japanese ships.[23] The Justice Department declined, stating that there was no probable cause to support DeWitt's assertion, as the FBI concluded that there was no security threat.[23] On January 2, the Joint Immigration Committee of the California Legislature sent a manifesto to California newspapers which attacked "the ethnic Japanese," who it alleged were "totally unassimilable."[23] This manifesto further argued that all people of Japanese heritage were loyal subjects of the Emperor of Japan; Japanese language schools, furthermore, according to the manifesto, were bastions of racism which advanced doctrines of Japanese racial superiority.[23]

The manifesto was backed by the Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West and the California Department of the American Legion, which in January demanded that all Japanese with dual citizenship be placed in concentration camps.[23] Internment was not limited to those who had been to Japan, but included a small number of German and Italian enemy aliens.[23] By February, Earl Warren, the Attorney General of California, had begun his efforts to persuade the federal government to remove all people of Japanese heritage from the West Coast.[23]

Those that were as little as 1/16 Japanese could be placed in internment camps.[24] There is evidence supporting the argument that the measures were racially motivated, rather than a military necessity. Bendetsen, promoted to colonel, said in 1942 "I am determined that if they have one drop of Japanese blood in them, they must go to camp."[25]

Upon the bombing of Pearl Harbor and pursuant to the Alien Enemies Act, Presidential Proclamations 2525, 2526 and 2527 were issued designating Japanese, German and Italian nationals as enemy aliens.[26] Information from the CDI was used to locate and incarcerate foreign nationals from Japan, Germany and Italy (although Germany and Italy did not declare war on the U.S. until December 11).

Presidential Proclamation 2537 was issued on January 14, 1942, requiring aliens to report any change of address, employment or name to the FBI. Enemy aliens were not allowed to enter restricted areas. Violators of these regulations were subject to "arrest, detention and internment for the duration of the war."[27]

Executive Order 9066 and related actions[edit]

Executive Order 9066, signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt on February 19, 1942, allowed authorized military commanders to designate "military areas" at their discretion, "from which any or all persons may be excluded." These "exclusion zones," unlike the "alien enemy" roundups, were applicable to anyone that an authorized military commander might choose, whether citizen or non-citizen. Eventually such zones would include parts of both the East and West Coasts, totaling about 1/3 of the country by area. Unlike the subsequent detainment and internment programs that would come to be applied to large numbers of Japanese Americans, detentions and restrictions directly under this Individual Exclusion Program were placed primarily on individuals of German or Italian ancestry, including American citizens.[28]

  • March 2, 1942: Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt issued Public Proclamation No. 1, declaring that "such person or classes of persons as the situation may require" would, at some later point, be subject to exclusion orders from "Military Area No. 1" (essentially, the entire Pacific coast to about 100 miles (160.9 km) inland), and requiring anyone who had "enemy" ancestry to file a Change of Residence Notice if they planned to move.[7] A second exclusion zone was designated several months later, which included the areas chosen by most of the Japanese Americans who had managed to leave the first zone.
  • March 11, 1942: Executive Order 9095 created the Office of the Alien Property Custodian, and gave it discretionary, plenary authority over all alien property interests. Many assets were frozen, creating immediate financial difficulty for the affected aliens, preventing most from moving out of the exclusion zones.[7]
  • March 24, 1942: Public Proclamation No. 3 declares an 8:00 pm to 6:00 am curfew for "all enemy aliens and all persons of Japanese ancestry" within the military areas.[29]
  • March 24, 1942: General DeWitt began to issue Civilian Exclusion Orders for specific areas within "Military Area No. 1."[29] Japanese Americans on Bainbridge Island, Washington were the first in the country to be subject to such an order, due to the island's proximity to naval bases; they were given until March 30 to prepare themselves for removal from the island, an event commemorated by the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial.[30][31]
  • March 27, 1942: General DeWitt's Proclamation No. 4 prohibited all those of Japanese ancestry from leaving "Military Area No. 1" for "any purpose until and to the extent that a future proclamation or order of this headquarters shall so permit or direct."[7]
  • May 3, 1942: General DeWitt issued Civilian Exclusion Order No. 34, ordering all people of Japanese ancestry, whether citizens or non-citizens, who were still living in "Military Area No. 1" to report to assembly centers, where they would live until being moved to permanent "Relocation Centers."[7]

These edicts included persons of part-Japanese ancestry as well. Anyone with at least one-sixteenth (equivalent to having one great-great grandparent) Japanese ancestry was eligible.[32] Korean-Americans and Taiwanese,[citation needed] considered to have Japanese nationality (since Korea and Taiwan were both Japanese colonies), were also included.

Non-military advocates for exclusion, removal, and detention[edit]

Internment was popular among many white farmers who resented the Japanese American farmers. "White American farmers admitted that their self-interest required removal of the Japanese."[23] These individuals saw internment as a convenient means of uprooting their Japanese American competitors. Austin E. Anson, managing secretary of the Salinas Vegetable Grower-Shipper Association, told the Saturday Evening Post in 1942:

"We're charged with wanting to get rid of the Japs for selfish reasons. We do. It's a question of whether the white man lives on the Pacific Coast or the brown men. They came into this valley to work, and they stayed to take over... If all the Japs were removed tomorrow, we'd never miss them in two weeks, because the white farmers can take over and produce everything the Jap grows. And we do not want them back when the war ends, either."[33]


The Roberts Commission Report, prepared at President Franklin D. Roosevelt's request, has been cited as an example of the fear and prejudice informing the thinking behind the internment program.[23] The Report sought to link Japanese Americans with espionage activity, and to associate them with the bombing of Pearl Harbor.[23] Columnist Henry McLemore reflected growing public sentiment fueled by this report:

"I am for the immediate removal of every Japanese on the West Coast to a point deep in the interior. I don't mean a nice part of the interior either. Herd 'em up, pack 'em off and give 'em the inside room in the badlands... Personally, I hate the Japanese. And that goes for all of them."[34]


Other California newspapers also embraced this view. According to a Los Angeles Times editorial,

"A viper is nonetheless a viper wherever the egg is hatched.... So, a Japanese American born of Japanese parents, nurtured upon Japanese traditions, living in a transplanted Japanese atmosphere... notwithstanding his nominal brand of accidental citizenship almost inevitably and with the rarest exceptions grows up to be a Japanese, and not an American.... Thus, while it might cause injustice to a few to treat them all as potential enemies, I cannot escape the conclusion... that such treatment... should be accorded to each and all of them while we are at war with their race."[35]


State politicians joined the bandwagon that was embraced by Leland Ford of Los Angeles, who demanded that "all Japanese, whether citizens or not, be placed in [inland] concentration camps."[23] Internment of Japanese Americans, who provided critical agricultural labor on the West Coast, created a labor shortage, which was exacerbated by the induction of many American laborers into the Armed Forces. This vacuum precipitated a mass immigration of Mexican workers into the United States to fill these jobs,[36] minorly under the banner of what became known as the Bracero Program. Many Japanese internees were even temporarily released from their camps – for instance, to harvest Western beet crops – to address this wartime labor shortage.[37]

Non-military advocates against exclusion, removal, and detention[edit]

Like many white American farmers, the white businessmen of Hawaii had their own ulterior motives for how to deal with the Japanese Americans; however, this did not come in the form of supporting their internment. Instead, these individuals fought through legislation to keep the 150,000 Japanese Americans that would have been otherwise sent to internment camps within Hawaii.[38] As a result, only 1,200 [4] to 1,800 were interned.

It must be noted that this act was not out of respect for the Japanese American community, nor was it for recognizing that they were just as American as any other citizen living in the state. Rather, the powerful businessmen of Hawaii concluded that if this large community of people were to be detained in camps for a long period of time, the economic prosperity of the island state would severely diminish.[39] This is because the Japanese represented “over 90 percent of the carpenters, nearly all of the transportation workers, and a significant portion of the agricultural laborers” on the island.[39] General Delos Carleton Emmons, the military governor of Hawaii, also argued that Japanese labor was “‘absolutely essential’ for rebuilding the defenses destroyed at Pearl Harbor”.[39] Recognizing the Japanese American community’s effect on the affluence of the Hawaiian economy, General Emmons fought against the internment of the Japanese Americans and had the vast support of the businessmen of Hawaii.[39]

Though having contrary opinions on how to deal with the Japanese American community, both the white farmers of the United States and the white businessmen of Hawaii used this community to promote their own economic interests.

Statement of military necessity as justification for internment[edit]

A Challenge to Democracy was a twenty-minute film produced in 1944 by the War Relocation Authority

Niihau Incident[edit]

The Niihau Incident occurred in December 1941, just after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It involved three Japanese Americans on the Hawaiian island of Niihau assisting a Japanese pilot who crashed there. Despite the incident, the Territorial Governor of Hawaii rejected calls for mass internment of the Japanese Americans living there.

Cryptography[edit]

Main article: Magic (cryptography)

In Magic: The Untold Story of U.S. Intelligence and the Evacuation of Japanese Residents From the West Coast During World War II, David Lowman, a former National Security Agency (NSA) operative, argues that Magic intercepts ("Magic" was the code-name for American code-breaking efforts) posed "the frightening specter of massive espionage nets," thus justifying internment.[40] Lowman contended that internment served to ensure the secrecy of U.S. code-breaking efforts, because effective prosecution of Japanese Americans might necessitate disclosure of secret information. If U.S. code-breaking technology was revealed in the context of trials of individual spies, the Japanese Imperial Navy would change its codes, thus undermining US strategic wartime advantage.

Some scholars have criticized or dismissed Lowman's reasoning that "disloyalty" among some individual Japanese Americans could legitimize "incarcerating 120,000 people, including infants, the elderly, and the mentally ill".[41][42][43] Lowman's reading of the contents of the Magic cables has also been challenged, as some scholars contend that the cables demonstrate the opposite of what Lowman claims: that Japanese Americans were not heeding the overtures of Imperial Japan to spy against the United States.[44] According to one critic, Lowman's book has long since been "refuted and discredited".[45]

The controversial conclusions drawn by Lowman were defended by pundit Michelle Malkin in her book In Defense of Internment; The Case for 'Racial Profiling' in World War II and the War on Terror.[46] Malkin's defense of Japanese internment was in part the result of what she describes as the "constant alarmism from Bush-bashers who argue that every counter-terror measure in America is tantamount to the internment".[47] The text was critical of academia's treatment of the subject, and suggested that academics critical of Japanese internment had ulterior motives. She received much criticism for her text, particularly with regard to her reading of the "Magic" cables.[48][49][50] Daniel Pipes, also drawing on Lowman, has defended Malkin's stance, and asserted that Japanese American internment was "a good idea" which offers "lessons for today".[51]

United States District Court opinions[edit]

Official notice of exclusion and removal

A letter by General DeWitt and Colonel Bendetsen depicting racist bias against Japanese Americans was circulated and then hastily redacted in 1943–1944. The report stated flatly that, because of their race, it was impossible to determine the loyalty of Japanese Americans, thus necessitating internment.[52] The original version was so offensive – even in the atmosphere of the wartime 1940s – that Bendetsen ordered all copies to be destroyed.[citation needed]

In 1980, a copy of the original Final Report: Japanese Evacuation from the West Coast – 1942 was found in the National Archives, along with notes showing the numerous differences between the original and redacted versions.[citation needed] This earlier, racist and inflammatory version, as well as the FBI and Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) reports, led to the coram nobis retrials which overturned the convictions of Fred Korematsu, Gordon Hirabayashi and Minoru Yasui on all charges related to their refusal to submit to exclusion and internment.[53] The courts found that the government had intentionally withheld these reports and other critical evidence, at trials all the way up to the Supreme Court, which would have proved that there was no military necessity for the exclusion and internment of Japanese Americans. In the words of Department of Justice officials writing during the war, the justifications were based on "willful historical inaccuracies and intentional falsehoods."

The Ringle Report[edit]

In May 2011, U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal, after a year of investigation, found Charles Fahy intentionally withheld The Ringle Report, drafted by the Office of Naval Intelligence, in order to justify the Roosevelt administration in the cases of Hirabayashi v. United States and Korematsu v. United States. The report would have undermined the administration's position of the military necessity for such action, finding most Japanese Americans were not a national security threat, along with allegations of communication espionage being unfounded by the FBI and Federal Communications Commission.[54][55]

Facilities[edit]

"Members of the Mochida family awaiting evacuation bus. Identification tags are used to aid in keeping the family unit intact during all phases of evacuation. Mochida operated a nursery and five greenhouses on a two-acre site in Eden Township. He raised snapdragons and sweet peas."

While this event is most commonly called the internment of Japanese Americans, there were in fact several different types of camps involved. The best known facilities were the military-run Wartime Civil Control Administration (WCCA) Assembly Centers and the civilian-run War Relocation Authority (WRA) Relocation Centers, which are generally (but unofficially) referred to as "internment camps." The Department of Justice (DOJ) operated camps officially called Internment Camps, which were used to detain those suspected of actual crimes or "enemy sympathies." Camps for German Americans and Italian Americans also existed, sometimes sharing facilities with the Japanese Americans. The WCCA and WRA facilities were the largest and the most public. The WCCA Assembly Centers were temporary facilities that were first set up in horse racing tracks, fairgrounds and other large public meeting places to assemble and organize internees before they were transported to WRA Relocation Centers by truck, bus or train. The WRA Relocation Centers were camps that housed persons removed from the exclusion zone after March 1942, or until they were able to relocate elsewhere in America outside the exclusion zone.

DOJ and Army internment camps[edit]

Eight U.S. Department of Justice Camps (in Texas, Idaho, North Dakota, New Mexico, and Montana) held Japanese Americans, primarily non-citizens and their families.[56] The camps were run by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, under the umbrella of the DOJ, and guarded by Border Patrol agents rather than military police. The population of these camps included approximately 3,800 of the 5,500 Buddhist and Christian ministers, Japanese language school instructors, newspaper workers, fishermen, and community leaders who had been accused of fifth column activity and arrested by the FBI after Pearl Harbor. (The remaining 1,700 were released to WRA relocation centers.)[57] Immigrants and citizens of German and Italian ancestry were also held in these facilities, often in the same camps as Japanese Americans. Approximately 7,000 German Americans and 3,000 Italian Americans from Hawai'i and the U.S. mainland were interned in DOJ camps, along with 500 German seamen already in custody after being rescued from the SS Columbus in 1938.[17] In addition 2,264 ethnic Japanese,[18] 4,058 ethnic Germans, and 288 ethnic Italians[17] were deported from 19 Latin American countries for a later-abandoned hostage exchange program with Axis countries or confinement in DOJ camps.[58]

Friends say good-bye as family of Japanese ancestry await evacuation bus. Hayward, California, 8 May 1942

Several U.S. Army internment camps held Japanese, Italian and German American men considered "potentially dangerous." Camp Lordsburg, in New Mexico, was the only site built specifically to confine Japanese Americans. In May 1943, the Army was given responsibility for the detention of prisoners of war and all internees were transferred to DOJ camps.[56]

WCCA Civilian Assembly Centers[edit]

Executive Order 9066 authorized the removal of all persons of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast, however, it was signed before there were any fully constructed sites to house the displaced Japanese Americans. After the voluntary evacuation program failed to entice many families to leave the exclusion zone, the military took charge of the now-mandatory evacuation. On April 9, 1942, the Wartime Civilian Control Administration (WCCA)[59] was established by the Western Defense Command to coordinate the removal to inland concentration camps.

The relocation centers — facing opposition from inland communities near the proposed sites who disliked the idea of their new "Jap" neighbors, and struggling to build what would essentially be self-sufficient towns in such isolated, undeveloped regions of the country — were not yet prepared to house the influx of over 110,000 internees. Since Japanese Americans living in the restricted zone were considered too dangerous to freely conduct their daily business, the military decided it was necessary to find temporary assembly centers to house them until the relocation centers were completed.[60]

Under the direction of Colonel Karl Bendetsen, existing facilities had been designated for conversion to WCCA use in March 1942, and the Army Corps of Engineers finished construction on these sites on April 21, 1942.[61] All but four of the 15 confinement sites (12 in California, and one each in Washington, Oregon and Arizona) had previously been racetracks or fairgrounds. The stables and livestock areas were cleaned out and hastily converted to living quarters for families of up to six, while wood and tarpaper barracks were constructed for additional housing and communal latrines, laundry facilities and mess halls.[59][61] A total of 92,193[61] Japanese Americans were transferred to these temporary detention centers from March to August 1942. (18,026[61] more had been taken directly to two "reception centers" that would ultimately become the Manzanar and Poston WRA camps.) The WCCA was dissolved on March 15, 1943, when it became the War Relocation Authority and turned its attentions to the more permanent relocation centers.[59]

WRA Relocation Centers[62]
Name State Opened Max. Pop'n
Manzanar California March 1942 10,046
Tule Lake California May 1942 18,789
Poston Arizona May 1942 17,814
Gila River Arizona July 1942 13,348
Granada Colorado August 1942 7,318
Heart Mountain Wyoming August 1942 10,767
Minidoka Idaho August 1942 9,397
Topaz Utah September 1942 8,130
Rohwer Arkansas September 1942 8,475
Jerome Arkansas October 1942 8,497

WRA Relocation Centers[edit]

The War Relocation Authority (WRA) was the U.S. civilian agency responsible for the relocation and detention. The WRA was created by President Roosevelt on March 18, 1942 with Executive Order 9102 and officially ceased to exist June 30, 1946. Milton S. Eisenhower, then an official of the Department of Agriculture, was chosen to head the WRA. Dillon S. Myer replaced Milton Eisenhower on June 17, 1942, three months after Milton took control. Myer served as Director of the WRA until the centers were closed.[63] Within nine months, the WRA had opened ten facilities in seven states, and transferred over 100,000 people from the WCCA facilities.

The WRA camp at Tule Lake, though initially like the other camps, eventually became a detention center for people believed to pose a security risk. Tule Lake also served as a "segregation center" for individuals and families who were deemed "disloyal" and for those who were to be deported to Japan.

List of camps[edit]

There were three types of camps. Civilian Assembly Centers were temporary camps, frequently located at horse tracks, where Japanese Americans were sent as they were removed from their communities. Eventually, most were sent to Relocation Centers, also known as internment camps. Detention camps housed Nikkei considered to be disruptive or of special interest to the government.

Civilian Assembly Centers[edit]

Heart Mountain Relocation Center, January 10, 1943

Relocation Centers[edit]

Justice Department detention camps[edit]

These camps often held German-American and Italian-American detainees in addition to Japanese Americans:[64]

Citizen Isolation Centers[edit]

The Citizen Isolation Centers were for those considered to be problem inmates.[64]

Federal Bureau of Prisons[edit]

Detainees convicted of crimes, usually draft resistance, were sent to these camps:[64]

US Army facilities[edit]

These camps often held German and Italian detainees in addition to Japanese Americans:[64]

Exclusion, removal, and detention[edit]

Field laborers of Japanese ancestry stand in front of a Wartime Civil Control Administration site, where they are seeking instruction in regards to their "evacuation".

Somewhere between 110,000 and 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry were subject to this mass exclusion program, of whom about two-thirds were U.S. citizens.[3] The remaining one-third were non-citizens subject to internment under the Alien Enemies Act; many of these "resident aliens" had long been inhabitants of the United States, but had been deprived the opportunity to attain citizenship by laws that blocked Asian-born nationals from ever achieving citizenship. Also part of the West Coast removal were 101 children of Japanese descent taken from orphanages and foster homes within the exclusion zone.[66]

Internees of Japanese descent were first sent to one of 17 temporary "Civilian Assembly Centers," where most awaited transfer to more permanent relocation centers being constructed by the newly formed War Relocation Authority (WRA). Some of those who did report to the civilian assembly centers were not sent to relocation centers, but were released under the condition that they remain outside the prohibited zone until the military orders were modified or lifted. Almost 120,000[3] Japanese Americans and resident Japanese aliens would eventually be removed from their homes in California, the western halves of Oregon and Washington and southern Arizona as part of the single largest forced relocation in U.S. history.

Most of these camps/residences, gardens, and stock areas were placed on Native American reservations, for which the Native Americans were formally compensated. The Native American councils disputed the amounts negotiated in absentia by US government authorities and later sued finding relief and additional compensation for some items of dispute.[67]

Under the National Student Council Relocation Program (supported primarily by the American Friends Service Committee), students of college age were permitted to leave the camps to attend institutions willing to accept students of Japanese ancestry. Although the program initially granted leave permits to only a very small number of students, this eventually grew to 2,263 students by December 31, 1943.[68]

The baggage of Japanese Americans from the west coast, at a makeshift reception center located at a racetrack.
An evacuee with family belongings en route to an "assembly center", Spring 1942

Curfew and exclusion[edit]

On March 2, 1942, General John DeWitt, commanding general of the Western Defense Command, publicly announced the creation of two military restricted zones.[69] Military Area No. 1 consisted of the southern half of Arizona and the western half of California, Oregon and Washington, as well as all of California south of Los Angeles. Military Area No. 2 covered the rest of those states. DeWitt's proclamation informed Japanese Americans they would be required to leave Military Area 1, but stated that they could remain in the second restricted zone.[70] Removal from Military Area No. 1 initially occurred through "voluntary evacuation."[71] Japanese Americans were free to go anywhere outside of the exclusion zone or inside Area 2, with arrangements and costs of relocation to be borne by the individuals. The policy was short-lived; DeWitt issued another proclamation on March 27 that prohibited Japanese Americans from leaving Area 1.[69] A night-time curfew, also initiated on March 27, 1942, placed further restrictions on the movements and daily lives of Japanese Americans.[citation needed]

Eviction from the West Coast began on March 24, 1942 with Civilian Exclusion Order No. 1, which gave the 227 Japanese American residents of Bainbridge Island, Washington six days to prepare for their "evacuation" directly to Manzanar.[72] Colorado governor Ralph Lawrence Carr was the only elected official to publicly denounce the internment of American citizens (an act that cost his reelection, but gained him the gratitude of the Japanese American community, such that a statue of him was erected in the Denver Japantown's Sakura Square[73]). A total of 108 exclusion orders issued by the Western Defense Command over the next five months completed the removal of Japanese Americans from the West Coast in August 1942.[74]

Conditions in the camps[edit]

The quality of life in the camps was heavily influenced by which government entity was responsible for them. INS Camps were regulated by international treaty. The legal difference between interned and relocated had significant effects on those locked up. INS camps were required to provide food quality and housing at the minimum equal to that experienced by the lowest ranked person in the military. Food in INS camps was of better quality than that of WRA camps.

According to a 1943 War Relocation Authority report, internees were housed in "tar paper-covered barracks of simple frame construction without plumbing or cooking facilities of any kind." The spartan facilities met international laws, but still left much to be desired. Many camps were built quickly by civilian contractors during the summer of 1942 based on designs for military barracks, making the buildings poorly equipped for cramped family living.

Dust storm at Manzanar War Relocation Center.
A baseball game at Manzanar. Picture by Ansel Adams c. 1943.

The Heart Mountain War Relocation Center in northwestern Wyoming was a barbed-wire-surrounded enclave with unpartitioned toilets, cots for beds, and a budget of 45 cents daily per capita for food rations.[75] Because most internees were evacuated from their West Coast homes on short notice and not told of their assigned destinations, many failed to pack appropriate clothing for Wyoming winters which often reached temperatures below 0 degrees Fahrenheit (−18 degrees Celsius). Many families were forced to simply take the "clothes on their backs."[citation needed]

Armed guards were posted at the camps, which were all in remote, desolate areas far from population centers. Internees were typically allowed to stay with their families, and were treated well unless they violated the rules. There are documented instances of guards shooting internees who reportedly attempted to walk outside the fences. One such shooting, that of James Wakasa at Topaz, led to a re-evaluation of the security measures in the camps. Some camp administrations eventually allowed relatively free movement outside the marked boundaries of the camps. Nearly a quarter of the internees left the camps to live and work elsewhere in the United States, outside the exclusion zone. Eventually, some were authorized to return to their hometowns in the exclusion zone under supervision of a sponsoring American family or agency whose loyalty had been assured.[76]

The phrase "shikata ga nai" (loosely translated as "it cannot be helped") was commonly used to summarize the interned families' resignation to their helplessness throughout these conditions. This was even noticed by the children, as mentioned in the well-known memoir Farewell to Manzanar.

Education in the Camps[edit]

Of the 110,000 Japanese interned by the United States government during WWII, 30,000 were children.[77] Most were school age children, and so educational facilities were set up in the camps. However, the camps were never intended to be the long-term entities that they became, and so no real budget or plan was set aside for the new camp educational facilities.[78] Camp schoolhouses were crowded, with insufficient materials, books, notebooks, and desks; the ‘schoolhouses’ themselves were the prison-esque blocks that contained few windows, and in the Southwest, when temperatures rose and the schoolhouse filled, the rooms would be sweltering and unbearable.[78] Class sizes were also immense. At the height of it attendance, the Rohwer Camp of Arkansas reached 2,339, to 45 certified teachers.[79] The teacher to student ratio in the camps was an 48:1 in elementary schools and 35:1 for secondary schools, compared to the national average of 28:1.[80][clarification needed] The rhetorical curriculum of the schools was based mostly on the study of “the democratic ideal and to discover its many implications.”.[81] English compositions researched at the Jerome and Rohwer camps in Arkansas focused on these ‘American ideals’, and many of the compositions pertained to the internment camps. Responses were varied, as schoolchildren of the Topaz Camp were patriotic and believed in the war effort, but still could not ignore the fact of their internment.[82][clarification needed]

Student Leave to Attend Eastern Colleges[edit]

The American Friends Service Committee petitioned Director Milton Eisenhower to place college students in eastern academic institutions. 143 institutions east of the Mississippi opened their doors to college-age youth who had been placed behind barbed wire, many of whom had been enrolled in West Coast schools prior to the exclusion.[83] By September 1942, after the initial roundup of Japanese Americans, 250 students from assembly and relocation centers were back at school. Their tuition, book costs and living expenses were absorbed by the U.S. government. At Earlham College, President William Dennis helped institute a program that enrolled several dozen Japanese American students in order to spare them from incarceration. While this action was controversial in Richmond, Indiana, it helped strengthen the college's ties to Japan and the Japanese American community.[84] At Oberlin College, about 40 evacuated Nisei students were enrolled. One of them, Kenji Okuda, became student council president.[83]

Loyalty questions and segregation[edit]

In late 1943, War Relocation Authority officials, working with the War Department and the Office of Naval Intelligence,[85] circulated a question form in an attempt to determine the loyalty of incarcerated Nisei men they hoped to recruit into military service. The "Statement of United States Citizen of Japanese Ancestry" was initially given only to Nisei who were eligible for service (or would have been, but for the 4-C classification imposed on them at the start of the war), but authorities soon revised the questionnaire and required all adults in camp to complete the form. Most of the 28 questions were designed to assess the "Americanness" of the respondent — had they been educated in Japan or the U.S.? were they Buddhist or Christian? did they practice judo or play on a baseball team?[85] The final two questions on the form, which soon came to be known as the "loyalty questionnaire," were more direct: Question 27 asked whether an individual would be willing to serve in the armed forces (or, for women, the Auxiliary Corps) while Question 28 asked them to forswear their allegiance to the Emperor of Japan. Across the camps, persons who answered No to both questions became known as "No Nos."

While most camp inmates simply answered "yes" to both questions, several thousand — 17 percent of the total respondents, 20 percent of the Nisei[86] — gave negative or qualified replies out of confusion, fear or anger at the wording and implications of the questionnaire. In regard to Question 27, many worried that expressing a willingness to serve would be equated with volunteering for combat, while others felt insulted at being asked to risk their lives for a country that had imprisoned themselves and their families. An affirmative answer to Question 28 brought up other issues. Some believed that renouncing their loyalty to Japan would be an admission that they had at some point been disloyal to the United States. Many believed they were to be deported to Japan no matter how they answered and feared an explicit disavowal of the Emperor would make that resettlement extremely difficult.

On July 15, 1943, Tule Lake, the site with the highest number of "no" responses to the questionnaire, was designated to house the "disloyal" inmates.[86] Over the rest of 1943 and into early 1944, over 12,000 men, women and children were transferred to the maximum security Tule Lake Segregation Center from other camps. When the government passed the Renunciation Act of 1944, a law that made it possible for Nisei and Kibei to renounce their American citizenship, 5,589 internees opted to do so; 5,461 of these were sent to Tule Lake.[87] Of those who renounced their citizenship, 1,327 were repatriated to Japan.[87] Many of these individuals would later face stigmatization in the Japanese American community, during and after the war, for having made that choice, although at the time they were not certain what their futures held were they to remain American, and remain interned.[87]

These renunciations of American citizenship have been highly controversial, for a number of reasons. Some apologists for internment have cited the renunciations as evidence that "disloyalty" or anti-Americanism was well represented among the interned peoples, thereby justifying the internment.[88] Many historians have dismissed the latter argument, for its failure to consider that the small number of individuals in question were in the midst of persecution by their own government at the time of the "renunciation":[89][90]

[T]he renunciations had little to do with "loyalty" or "disloyalty" to the United States, but were instead the result of a series of complex conditions and factors that were beyond the control of those involved. Prior to discarding citizenship, most or all of the renunciants had experienced the following misfortunes: forced removal from homes; loss of jobs; government and public assumption of disloyalty to the land of their birth based on race alone; and incarceration in a "segregation center" for "disloyal" ISSEI or NISEI...[90]

Minoru Kiyota, who was among those who renounced his citizenship and swiftly came to regret the decision, has stated that he wanted only "to express my fury toward the government of the United States," for his internment and for the mental and physical duress, as well as the intimidation, he was made to face.[91]

[M]y renunciation had been an expression of momentary emotional defiance in reaction to years of persecution suffered by myself and other Japanese Americans and, in particular, to the degrading interrogation by the FBI agent at Topaz and being terrorized by the guards and gangs at Tule Lake.[92]

Civil rights attorney Wayne M. Collins successfully challenged most of these renunciations as invalid, owing to the conditions of duress and intimidation under which the government obtained them.[91][93] Many of the deportees were Issei (first generation) or Kibei, who often had difficulty with English and often did not understand the questions they were asked.[citation needed] Even among those Issei who had a clear understanding, Question 28 posed an awkward dilemma: Japanese immigrants were denied U.S. citizenship at the time, so when asked to renounce their Japanese citizenship, answering "Yes" would have made them stateless persons.[94]

When the government began seeking army volunteers from among the camps, only 6% of military-aged male inmates volunteered to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces.[citation needed] Most of those who refused tempered that refusal with statements of willingness to fight if they were restored their rights as American citizens. 20,000 Japanese American men and many Japanese American women served in the U.S. Army during World War II.[95]

The 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which was composed primarily of Japanese Americans, served with uncommon distinction in the European Theatre of World War II. Many of the U.S. soldiers serving in the unit had their families interned at home while they fought abroad.

The 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which fought in Europe, was formed from those Japanese Americans who did agree to serve. This unit was the most highly decorated U.S. military unit of its size and duration.[96] In one of the ironies of World War II's concluding stages in Europe, the 442nd's own Nisei segregated field artillery battalion, then on detached service within the U.S. Army in Bavaria, was responsible for liberating at least one of the satellite labor camps of the Nazis' original concentration camp at Dachau on April 29, 1945.[97]

Proving their Commitment to the United States[edit]

It was not uncommon for the children of Japanese immigrants in the United States to feel an inherited inclination to prove themselves as loyal American citizens. Of the 20,000 Japanese Americans who served in the Army during World War II,[95] “many Japanese-American soldiers had gone to war to fight racism at home” [98] and they were “proving with their blood, their limbs, and their bodies that they were truly American,”.[99] Satoshi Ito, an internment camp survivor, reinforces the idea of the immigrants’ children striving to demonstrate their patriotism to the United States. He notes that his mother would tell him, “‘you’re here in the United States, you need to do well in school, you need to prepare yourself to get a good job when you get out into the larger society’”,[100] and that she would make statements such as “‘don’t be a dumb farmer like me, like us’” [101] to encourage Ito to successfully assimilate into American society. As a result, he worked exceptionally hard to excel in school and later became a professor at the College of William & Mary. His story, along with the countless Japanese Americans willing to risk their lives in war, demonstrate the lengths many in their community went to prove their American patriotism.

Other detention camps[edit]

As early as 1939, when war broke out in Europe and while armed conflict began to rage in East Asia, the FBI and branches of the Department of Justice and the armed forces began to collect information and surveillance on influential members of the Japanese community in the United States. These data were included in the Custodial Detention index (CDI). Agents in the Department of Justice's Special Defense Unit classified the subjects into three groups: A, B and C, with A being "most dangerous," and C being "possibly dangerous."

After the Pearl Harbor attacks, Roosevelt authorized his attorney general to put into motion a plan for the arrest of individuals on the potential enemy alien lists. Armed with a blanket arrest warrant, the FBI seized these men on the eve of December 8, 1941. These men were held in municipal jails and prisons until they were moved to Department of Justice detention camps, separate from those of the Wartime Relocation Authority (WRA). These camps operated under far more stringent conditions and were subject to heightened criminal-style guard, despite the absence of criminal proceedings.

Crystal City, Texas, was one such camp where Japanese Americans, German Americans, Italian Americans, and a large number of U.S.-seized, Axis-descended nationals from several Latin-American countries were interned.[65][102]

Canadian citizens with Japanese ancestry were also interned by the Canadian government during World War II (see Japanese Canadian internment). Japanese people from various parts of Latin America, including Peru, were brought to the United States for internment or interned in their countries of residence,[102] and there were varied restrictions placed on Japanese Brazilians.[103]

Hawaii[edit]

Although there were several camps set up along the West Coast of the United States and those of Japanese descent living on the mainland were eventually forced to evacuate, evacuations in Hawaii were very limited. There was a strong push from mainland Congressmen (Hawaii was only a U.S. territory at the time, and did not have a voting representative or senator in Congress) to remove and intern all Japanese Americans and Japanese immigrants in Hawaii. 1,200 to 1,800 Japanese nationals and American-born Japanese from Hawaii were interned, either in five camps on the islands or in one of the mainland internment camps, but this represented well under two percent of the total Japanese American residents in the islands.[104] “No serious explanations were offered as to why ... the internment of individuals of Japanese descent was necessary on the mainland, but not in Hawaii, where the large Japanese-Hawaiian population went largely unmolested,”[105] however, a key factor was that incarcerating the islands' entire Japanese American population would have proved difficult economically and logistically.[106]

The vast majority of Japanese Americans and their immigrant parents in Hawaii were not interned because the government had already declared martial law in Hawaii and this allowed it to significantly reduce the supposed risk of espionage and sabotage by residents of Japanese ancestry.[107] Also, Japanese Americans comprised over 35% of the territory's population, with 157,905 of Hawaii's 423,330 inhabitants at the time of the 1940 census,[108] making them the largest ethnic group at that time; detaining so many people would have been enormously challenging in terms of logistics. Additionally, the whole of Hawaiian society was dependent on their productivity. According to intelligence reports at the time, "the Japanese, through a concentration of effort in select industries, had achieved a virtual stranglehold on several key sectors of the economy in Hawaii,”[109] and they "had access to virtually all jobs in the economy, including high-status, high-paying jobs (e.g., professional and managerial jobs).”[110] To imprison such a large percentage of the islands' work force would have crippled the Hawaiian economy. Thus, the unfounded fear of Japanese Americans turning against the United States was overcome by the fear of economic loss.

Lieutenant General Delos C. Emmons, commander of the Hawaii Department, promised the local Japanese American community that they would be treated fairly so long as they remained loyal to the United States, and he succeeded in blocking efforts to relocate them to the outer islands or mainland by pointing out the logistical difficulties.[111] Among the small number interned were a number of community leaders and prominent politicians, including territorial legislators Thomas Sakakihara and Sanji Abe.[112]

A total of five internment camps operated in the territory of Hawaii, referred to as the "Hawaiian Island Detention Camps".[113][114] One camp was located at Sand Island at the mouth of Honolulu Harbor. This camp was prepared in advance of the war's outbreak. All prisoners held here were "detained under military custody... because of the imposition of martial law throughout the Islands". Another Hawaiian camp was the Honouliuli Internment Camp, near Ewa, on the southwestern shore of Oahu; it was opened in 1943 to replace the Sand Island camp. Another was located on the island of Maui in the town of Haiku,[115] in addition to the Kilauea Detention Center on Hawaii and Camp Kalaheo on Kauai.[116]

Japanese Latin Americans[edit]

During World War II, over 2,200 Japanese from Latin America were held in internment camps run by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, part of the Department of Justice. Beginning in 1942, Latin Americans of Japanese ancestry were rounded up and transported to American internment camps run by the INS and the U.S. Justice Department.[18][117][118][119] The majority of these internees, approximately 1,800, came from Peru. An additional 250 were from Panama, and Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Venezuela also deported much of their, considerably smaller, populations of Japanese immigrants.[120]

The first group of Japanese Latin Americans arrived in San Francisco on April 20, 1942, on board the Etolin along with 360 ethnic Germans and 14 ethnic Italians from Peru, Ecuador and Colombia.[121] The 151 men — ten from Ecuador, the rest from Peru — who had volunteered for deportation believing they were to be repatriated to Japan, were denied visas by U.S. Immigration authorities and then detained on the grounds they had attempted to enter the country illegally, without a visa or passport.[121] Subsequent transports brought additional "volunteers," including the wives and children of men who had been deported earlier. A total of 2,264 Japanese Latin Americans, about two-thirds of them from Peru, were interned in facilities on the U.S. mainland during the war.[18][120][122]

The United States originally intended to trade these Latin American internees as part of a hostage exchange program with Japan and other Axis nations.[123] A thorough examination of the documents shows at least one trade occurred.[117] Over 1,300 persons of Japanese ancestry were exchanged for a like number of non-official Americans in October 1943, at the port of Marmagao, India. Over half were Latin American Japanese (the rest being ethnic Germans and Italians) and of that number one-third were Japanese Peruvians.

On September 2, 1943, the Swedish ship MS Gripsholm departed the U.S. with just over 1,300 Japanese nationals (including nearly a hundred from Canada and Mexico) en route for the exchange location, Marmagao, the main port of the Portuguese colony of Goa on the west coast of India.[124] [125] After two more stops in South America to take on additional Japanese nationals, the passenger manifest reached 1,340.[117] Of that number, Latin American Japanese numbered 55 percent of the Gripsholm's travelers, 30 percent of whom were Japanese Peruvian.[117] Arriving in Marmagao on October 16, 1943, the Gripsholm's passengers disembarked and then boarded the Japanese ship Teia Maru. In return, "non-official" Americans (secretaries, butlers, cooks, embassy staff workers, etc.) previously held by the Japanese Army boarded the Gripsholm while the Teia Maru headed for Tokyo.[117] Because this exchange was done with those of Japanese ancestry officially described as "volunteering" to return to Japan, no legal challenges were encountered. The U.S. Department of State was pleased with the first trade and immediately began to arrange a second exchange of non-officials for February 1944. This exchange would involve 1,500 non-volunteer Japanese who were to be exchanged for 1,500 Americans,[117] but the momentum of the war had shifted to the U.S. (particularly in Pacific Naval activity) and future trading plans stalled. Further slowing the program were legal and political "turf" battles between the State Department, the Roosevelt administration, and the DOJ, whose officials were not convinced of the legality of the program.

The completed October 1943 trade took place at the height of the Enemy Alien Deportation Program. Japanese Peruvians were still being "rounded up" for shipment to the U.S. in previously unseen numbers. Despite logistical challenges facing the floundering prisoner exchange program, deportation plans were moving ahead. This is partly explained by an early-in-the-war revelation of the overall goal for Latin Americans of Japanese ancestry under the Enemy Alien Deportation Program. The goal: that the hemisphere was to be free of Japanese. Secretary of State Cordell Hull wrote an agreeing President Roosevelt, "[that the US must] continue our efforts to remove all the Japanese from these American Republics for internment in the United States."[117][126]

The extreme animosity of "native" Peruvians toward their Japanese citizens and expatriates cannot be overstated, and Peru's government refused to accept the post-war return of Japanese Peruvians they had gladly handed over to the U.S. years earlier. Although a small number asserting special circumstances, such as marriage to a non-Japanese Peruvian,[18] did return, the majority were trapped. Their home country refused to take them back (a political stance Peru would maintain until 1950[120]) and the post-war U.S. DOS, anxious to rid itself of them, began expatriating them to Japan. ACLU lawyer Wayne Collins filed injunctions on behalf of the remaining internees,[102][127] helping them obtain "parole" relocation to the labor-starved Seabrook Farms in New Jersey,[128] and started a legal battle journey that would not be resolved until 1953, when, after working as undocumented immigrants for almost ten years, those remaining in the U.S. were finally offered citizenship.[117][120]

Internment ends[edit]

On December 18, 1944, the Supreme Court of the United States clarified the legality of the exclusion process under Order 9066 by handing down two decisions. Korematsu v. United States, a 6–3 decision, stated that the exclusion process in general was constitutional. Ex parte Endo unanimously declared that loyal citizens of the United States, regardless of cultural descent, could not be detained without cause.

On January 2, 1945, the exclusion order was rescinded entirely. The internees then began to leave the camps to rebuild their lives at home, although the relocation camps remained open for residents who were not ready to make the move back. The freed internees were given $25 and a train ticket to their former homes. While the majority returned to their former lives, some of the Japanese Americans emigrated to Japan.[129] The last internment camp was not closed until 1946;[130] Japanese taken by the U.S. from Peru that were still being held in the camp in Santa Fe took legal action in April 1946 in an attempt to avoid deportation to Japan.[131]

One of the WRA camps, Manzanar, was designated a National Historic Site in 1992 to "provide for the protection and interpretation of historic, cultural, and natural resources associated with the relocation of Japanese Americans during World War II" (Public Law 102-248). In 2001, the site of the Minidoka War Relocation Center in Idaho was designated the Minidoka National Historic Site.

Hardship and material loss[edit]

Graveyard at Granada Relocation Center, in Amache, Colorado.
A monument at Manzanar, "to console the souls of the dead."

Many internees lost irreplaceable personal property due to the restrictions on what could be taken into the camps. These losses were compounded by theft and destruction of items placed in governmental storage. A number of persons died or suffered for lack of medical care, and several were killed by sentries; James Wakasa, for instance, was killed at Topaz War Relocation Center, near the perimeter wire. Nikkei were prohibited from leaving the Military Zones during the last few weeks before internment, and only able to leave the camps by permission of the camp administrators.

Psychological injury was observed by Dillon S. Myer, director of the WRA camps. In June 1945, Myer described how the Japanese Americans had grown increasingly depressed, and overcome with feelings of helplessness and personal insecurity.[132] Author Betty Furuta explains that the Japanese used gaman, loosely meaning "perseverance", to overcome hardships which was mistaken by non-Japanese as being introverted and lacking initiative.[133]

Some Japanese American farmers were able to find families willing to tend their farms for the duration of their internment. In other cases Japanese American farmers had to sell their property in a matter of days, usually at great financial loss. In these cases, the land speculators who bought the land made huge profits. California's Alien Land Laws of the 1910s, which prohibited most non-citizens from owning property in that state, contributed to Japanese American property losses. Because they were barred from owning land, many older Japanese American farmers were tenant farmers and therefore lost their rights to those farm lands.

To compensate former internees for their property losses, the US Congress, on July 2, 1948, passed the "American Japanese Claims Act," allowing Japanese Americans to apply for compensation for property losses which occurred as "a reasonable and natural consequence of the evacuation or exclusion." By the time the Act was passed, the IRS had already destroyed most of the 1939–42 tax records of the internees, and, due to the time pressure and the strict limits on how much they could take to the assembly centers and then the internment camps, few of the internees themselves had been able to preserve detailed tax and financial records during the evacuation process. Thus, it was extremely difficult for claimants to establish that their claims were valid. Under the Act, Japanese American families filed 26,568 claims totaling $148 million in requests; about $37 million was approved and disbursed.[134]

Reparations and redress[edit]

Beginning in the 1960s, a younger generation of Japanese Americans who were inspired by the Civil Rights movement began what is known as the "Redress Movement," an effort to obtain an official apology and reparations from the federal government for interning their parents and grandparents during the war, focusing not on documented property losses but on the broader injustice of the internment. The movement's first success was in 1976, when President Gerald Ford proclaimed that the internment was "wrong," and a "national mistake" which "shall never again be repeated".[135]

The campaign for redress was launched by Japanese Americans in 1978. The Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) asked for three measures to be taken as redress: $25,000 to be awarded to each person who was detained, an apology from Congress acknowledging publicly that the U.S. government had been wrong, and the release of funds to set up an educational foundation for the children of Japanese American families.

In 1980, Congress established the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) to study the matter. On February 24, 1983, the commission issued a report entitled Personal Justice Denied, condemning the internment as unjust and motivated by racism and xenophobic ideas rather than real military necessity.[136] The Commission recommended that $20,000 in reparations be paid to those Japanese Americans who had been victims of internment.

U.S. President Ronald Reagan signs the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which granted reparations for the internment of Japanese Americans.

In 1988, U.S. President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which had been sponsored by Representative Norman Mineta and Senator Alan K. Simpson – the two had met while Mineta was interned at Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming – which provided redress of $20,000 for each surviving detainee, totaling $1.2 billion. The question of to whom reparations should be given, how much, and even whether monetary reparations were appropriate were subjects of sometimes contentious debate.[137]

On September 27, 1992, the Civil Liberties Act Amendments of 1992, appropriating an additional $400 million to ensure all remaining internees received their $20,000 redress payments, was signed into law by President George H. W. Bush, who also issued another formal apology from the U.S. government on December 7, 1991, on the very day of the 50th-Anniversary of the Pearl Harbor Attack:

"In remembering, it is important to come to grips with the past. No nation can fully understand itself or find its place in the world if it does not look with clear eyes at all the glories and disgraces of its past. We in the United States acknowledge such an injustice in our history. The internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry was a great injustice, and it will never be repeated."

Some Japanese and Japanese Americans who were relocated during World War II received compensation for property losses, according to a 1948 law. Congress appropriated $38 million to meet $131 million of claims from among 23,000 claimants.[138] These payments were disbursed very slowly, the final disbursal occurring in 1965.[138] In 1988, following lobbying efforts by Japanese Americans, $20,000 per internee was paid out to individuals who had been interned or relocated, including those who chose to return to Japan. These payments were awarded to 82,210 Japanese Americans or their heirs at a cost of $1.6 billion; the program's final disbursement occurred in 1999.[14]

Under the 2001 budget of the United States, it was also decreed that the ten sites on which the detainee camps were set up are to be preserved as historical landmarks: “places like Manzanar, Tule Lake, Heart Mountain, Topaz, Amache, Jerome, and Rohwer will forever stand as reminders that this nation failed in its most sacred duty to protect its citizens against prejudice, greed, and political expediency”.[139]

On January 30, 2011, California first observed an annual "Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution", the first such commemoration for an Asian American in the U.S.[140] On June 14, 2011, Peruvian president Alan García apologized for his country's internment of Japanese immigrants during World War II, most of whom were transferred to the United States.[103]

Legal legacy[edit]

Grandfather and grandson at Manzanar, July 2, 1942.

Several significant legal decisions arose out of Japanese American internment, relating to the powers of the government to detain citizens in wartime. Among the cases which reached the Supreme Court were Yasui v. United States (1943), Hirabayashi v. United States (1943), ex parte Endo (1944), and Korematsu v. United States (1944). In Yasui and Hirabayashi the court upheld the constitutionality of curfews based on Japanese ancestry; in Korematsu the court upheld the constitutionality of the exclusion order. In Endo, the court accepted a petition for a writ of habeas corpus and ruled that the WRA had no authority to subject a citizen whose loyalty was acknowledged to its procedures.

Korematsu's and Hirabayashi's convictions were vacated in a series of coram nobis cases in the early 1980s.[141] In the coram nobis cases, federal district and appellate courts ruled that newly uncovered evidence revealed an unfairness which, had it been known at the time, would likely have changed the Supreme Court's decisions in the Yasui, Hirabayashi, and Korematsu cases.[8][29] These new court decisions rested on a series of documents recovered from the National Archives showing that the government had altered, suppressed and withheld important and relevant information from the Supreme Court, including the Final Report by General DeWitt justifying the internment program.[141] The Army had destroyed documents in an effort to hide the fact that alterations had been made to the report.[29] The coram nobis cases vacated the convictions of Korematsu and Hirabayashi (Yasui died before his case was heard, rendering it moot), and are regarded as one of the impetuses for the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.[141]

The rulings of the US Supreme Court in the Korematsu and Hirabayashi cases, specifically in its expansive interpretation of government powers in wartime, have yet to be overturned. They are still the law of the land because a lower court cannot overturn a ruling by the US Supreme Court. The coram nobis cases totally undermined the factual underpinnings of the 1944 cases, leaving the original decisions without much logical basis.[141] Nonetheless, in light of the fact that these 1944 decisions are still on the books, a number of legal scholars have expressed the opinion that the original Korematsu and Hirabayashi decisions have taken on renewed relevance in the context of the War on Terror.

Former Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark, who represented the US Department of Justice in the "relocation," writes in the epilogue to the 1992 book Executive Order 9066: The Internment of 110,000 Japanese Americans:[142]

The truth is—as this deplorable experience proves—that constitutions and laws are not sufficient of themselves...Despite the unequivocal language of the Constitution of the United States that the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, and despite the Fifth Amendment's command that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, both of these constitutional safeguards were denied by military action under Executive Order 9066.[143]


Terminology debate[edit]

Since the end of World War II, there has been debate over the terminology used to refer to camps in which Americans of Japanese ancestry and their immigrant parents, were incarcerated by the United States Government during the war.[144][145][146] These camps have been referred to as "War Relocation Centers," "relocation camps," "relocation centers," "internment camps", and "concentration camps", and the controversy over which term is the most accurate and appropriate continues to the present day.[147][148][149]

Dr. James Hirabayashi, Professor Emeritus and former Dean of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University, wrote an article in 1994 in which he stated that he wonders why euphemistic terms used to describe these camps are still being used.

Let us review the main points of the debate. Over 120,000 residents of the U.S.A., two thirds of whom were American citizens, were incarcerated under armed guard. There were no crimes committed, no trials, and no convictions: the Japanese Americans were political incarcerees. To detain American citizens in a site under armed guard surely constitutes a "concentration camp." But what were the terms used by the government officials who were involved in the process and who had to justify these actions? Raymond Okamura provides us with a detailed list of terms. Let's consider three such euphemisms: "evacuation," "relocation," and "non-aliens." Earthquake and flood victims are evacuated and relocated. The words refer to moving people in order to rescue and protect them from danger. The official government policy makers consistently used "evacuation" to refer to the forced removal of the Japanese Americans and the sites were called "relocation centers." These are euphemisms (Webster: "the substitution of an inoffensive term for one considered offensively explicit") as the terms do not imply forced removal nor incarceration in enclosures patrolled by armed guards. The masking was intentional.[150]

Hirabayashi went on to describe the harm done by the use of such euphemisms and also addressed the issue of whether or not only the Nazi camps can be called "concentration camps."

The harm in continuing to use the government's euphemisms is that it disguises or softens the reality which subsequently has been legally recognized as a grave error. The actions abrogated some fundamental principles underlying the Constitution, the very document under which we govern ourselves. This erosion of fundamental rights has consequences for all citizens of our society and we must see that it is never repeated. Some have argued that the Nazi Germany camps during the Holocaust were concentration camps and to refer to the Japanese American camps likewise would be an affront to the Jews. It is certainly true that the Japanese Americans did not suffer the harsh fate of the Jews in the terrible concentration camps or death camps where Nazi Germany practiced a policy of genocide. Although the loss of life was minimal in America's concentration camps, it does not negate the reality of the unconstitutional incarceration of Japanese American citizens. Michi and Walter Weglyn's research concerning Nazi Germany's euphemisms for their concentration camps revealed such phrases as "protective custody camps," "reception centers," and "transit camps." Ironically, two Nazi euphemisms were identical to our government's usage: "assembly centers" and "relocation centers." It might be well to point out, also, that the Nazis were not operating under the U.S. Constitution. Comparisons usually neglect to point out that Hitler was operating under the rules of the Third Reich. In America all three branches of the U.S. government, ostensibly operating under the U.S. Constitution, ignored the Bill of Rights in order to incarcerate Japanese Americans.[150]

In 1998, use of the term "concentration camps" gained greater credibility prior to the opening of an exhibit about the American camps at Ellis Island. Initially, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the National Park Service, which manages Ellis Island, objected to the use of the term in the exhibit.[151] However, during a subsequent meeting held at the offices of the AJC in New York City, leaders representing Japanese Americans and Jewish Americans reached an understanding about the use of the term.[152] After the meeting, the Japanese American National Museum and the AJC issued a joint statement (which was included in the exhibit) that read in part:

A concentration camp is a place where people are imprisoned not because of any crimes they have committed, but simply because of who they are. Although many groups have been singled out for such persecution throughout history, the term 'concentration camp' was first used at the turn of the [20th] century in the Spanish American and Boer Wars. During World War II, America's concentration camps were clearly distinguishable from Nazi Germany's. Nazi camps were places of torture, barbarous medical experiments and summary executions; some were extermination centers with gas chambers. Six million Jews were slaughtered in the Holocaust. Many others, including Gypsies, Poles, homosexuals and political dissidents were also victims of the Nazi concentration camps. In recent years, concentration camps have existed in the former Soviet Union, Cambodia and Bosnia. Despite differences, all had one thing in common: the people in power removed a minority group from the general population and the rest of society let it happen.[153][154]

The New York Times published an unsigned editorial supporting the use of "concentration camp" in the exhibit.[155] An article quoted Jonathan Mark, a columnist for The Jewish Week, who wrote, "Can no one else speak of slavery, gas, trains, camps? It's Jewish malpractice to monopolize pain and minimize victims."[156] AJC Executive Director David A. Harris stated during the controversy, "We have not claimed Jewish exclusivity for the term 'concentration camps.'"[157]

On July 7, 2012, at their annual convention, the National Council of the Japanese American Citizens League unanimously ratified the Power of Words Handbook, calling for the use of "...truthful and accurate terms, and retiring the misleading euphemisms created by the government to cover up the denial of Constitutional and human rights, the force, oppressive conditions, and racism against 120,000 innocent people of Japanese ancestry locked up in America's World War II concentration camps." [158]

According to the Power Of Words Handbook:

From government documents and propaganda, to public discourse and newspapers, many euphemisms have been used to describe the experiences of Japanese Americans who were forced from their homes and communities during World War II. Words like evacuation, relocation, and assembly centers imply that the United States Government was trying to rescue Japanese Americans from a disastrous environment on the West Coast and simply help them move to a new gathering place. These terms strategically mask the fact that thousands of Japanese Americans were denied their rights as US citizens, and forcibly ordered to live in poorly constructed barracks on sites that were surrounded by barbed wire and guard towers. Although the use of euphemisms was commonplace during World War II, and in many subsequent years, we realize that the continued use of these inaccurate terms is highly problematic.[159]

Expulsions and population transfers of World War II[edit]

The internment of Japanese Americans has sometimes been compared to the persecutions, expulsions, and dislocations of other ethnic minorities in the context of World War II, in Europe and Asia.[160][161][162][163] An estimated 500,000 Volga Germans were rounded up and deported to Siberia and Kazakhstan when Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with many of them dying en route.[160] The Volga Germans were deported prior to the Battle of Stalingrad, as they were regarded, in the "war hysteria of the moment", as a potential "Fifth Column".[161]

In 1944, the Red Army rounded up about 500,000 Chechens and Ingushes for relocation; a third of this population perished in the first year, from starvation, cold, and disease.[162] Other nationalities which faced ethnic cleansing for having been identified as potential collaborators with the Germans were the Balkars, Crimean Tatars, Karachi, Kalmyks, and Meskhetians.[163]

Exhibitions and collections[edit]

The Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History has more than 800 artifacts from its A More Perfect Union collection available online. Archival photography, publications, original manuscripts, artworks, and handmade objects comprise the collection of items related to the Japanese American experience.[164]

On October 1, 1987, the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History opened an exhibition called, "A More Perfect Union: Japanese Americans and the U.S. Constitution." The exhibition examined the Constitutional process by considering the experiences of Americans of Japanese ancestry before, during, and after World War II. On view were more than 1,000 artifacts and photographs relating to the experiences of Japanese Americans during World War II. The exhibition closed on January 11, 2004. On November 8, 2011, the National Museum of American History launched an online exhibition of the same name with shared content.[165]

On April 16, 2013, the Japanese American Internment Museum was opened in McGehee, Arkansas regarding the history at two internment camps.

Media references[edit]

Joseph Yoshinobu Takagi (played by James Shigeta) is a character in the film "Die Hard" and was supposedly "interned at Manzanar from 1942 to 1943" according to main protagonist Hans Gruber (played by Alan Rickman)[citation needed]

The Three Stooges film ''The Yoke's On Me'', which was made in 1944, has The Three Stooges portray farmers who end up killing a group of escapees from the internment camps. For this reason, since the 1970s the film has been blacklisted from television.[citation needed]

Hawaii 5-0 Episode 81, "Honor thy father", is dedicated to solving a fictional murder at the Honouliuli Internment Camp, some 70 years earlier.[166]

Fort Minor's 2005 album The Rising Tied contains a track entitled "Kenji", which relates the tale of a Japanese American family's experience during the internment period. Lead singer Mike Shinoda's paternal grandparents were interned during World War II, along with his father (as an infant). Shinoda is a third generation Japanese American, and his father is Nisei.[citation needed]

Folk/country musician Tom Russell wrote "Manzanar", a song about the Japanese American internment, that was released on his album Box of Visions (1993).[167]

In Billy Bragg's 1991 album Don't Try This At Home, the song "Everywhere" is told by a young Marine in a foxhole in the Philippines, remembering a Japanese American friend who wanted to join and fight alongside him, but instead was taken to a Japanese American internment camp.[citation needed]

The musical Allegiance (musical) was inspired by the personal experiences of George Takei's (who also stars) internment camp experiences.[citation needed]

The Teen Wolf episode "The Fox and the Wolf" centers around flashbacks about the fictional Oak Creek Internment Camp in California.[citation needed]

Both the 1994 novel Snow Falling on Cedars and its 1999 film adaptation make references to the internment of the Imada family in Manzanar.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


References and notes[edit]

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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Archival sources of documents, photos, and other materials[edit]

Other sources[edit]


 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the National Archives and Records Administration.