Japanese-American life before World War II

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

For most Japanese Americans, life before World War II subjected them to legal restrictions in addition to the later internment camps.[1]

Life before World War II[edit]

Some of these legal restrictions included:

  • Curfews. The curfew prohibited affected individuals from traveling more than twenty miles from their homes except to settle their affairs at wartime civilian control offices.
  • Bans on possession of firearms, war materials, short-wave radio receiving and transmitting sets and other contraband to Japanese-Americans.
    • Enemy aliens already had been forbidden to have such articles. In law, an enemy alien is a citizen of a country which is in a state of conflict with the land in which he or she is located. Usually, but not always, the countries are in a state of declared war.[1]

One Japanese American remembers the subtle forms of discrimination he experienced before the war, noting that they were, for the most part, minor inconveniences. He explained that many Japanese immigrants came to America with plans to return to Japan after making some money. Others, however, planned to begin new lives in America. He also describes being torn when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and explains that the reactions of Japanese Americans varied in regards to the bombing.[2]

Timeline of life before World War II[edit]

1913: California passed the Alien Land Law which prohibited "aliens ineligible to citizenship" (i.e. all Asian immigrants, including Japanese) from owning land or property, though it permitted three year leases.[1]

1920–1925: Several states adopted similar alien land laws to prohibit leasing or selling land to "aliens ineligible to citizenship"[3]

June, 1935: Congress passed an act making aliens ineligible to citizenship eligible if they had served in the U.S. armed forces between April 6, 1917, and November 11, 1918, and been honorably discharged, and they were permanent residents of the United States. Only a handful of Japanese residents gained American citizenship under this act before the deadline on January 1, 1937[3]

1940: The Alien Registration Act (the Smith Act) was passed by the US Congress that required all aliens to register with the US government and be fingerprinted. President Roosevelt signed the 'Two Ocean Navy Expansion Act'. This act was the first step in preparing America for war against Germany, Japan, or both.

The first military draft during peacetime in American history takes place.

Roosevelt is elected as President of the United States for a third term with 54 percent of the popular vote.[4]

August 18, 1941: Michigan representative John D. Dingell, Sr. suggests in a letter to President Roosevelt that 10,000 Hawaiian Japanese Americans should be held as hostages to ensure "good behavior" on the part of Japan.

Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941

Japanese-American life under U.S. policies during World War II[edit]

Yellow Peril[edit]

At the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, there were approximately 112,000 Japanese Americans living along the West Coast. A third were immigrants and the rest were U.S. citizens. Like the Chinese, when the Japanese first immigrated they were accepted by the citizens because they were considered to be cheap labor, but as soon as they showed signs of desire to better their economic conditions and because of how Asians were portrayed by the media (as villains engaged in vengeful activities) the public began to distrust the Japanese as well.[5]

Concern over Japanese-American loyalty to U.S.[edit]

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the public began to fear the idea of Japanese Americans possibly aiding a Japanese invasion of Hawaii and the West Coast. At one point, about one month before the Pearl Harbor attack, the U.S. State Department hired a special investigator to report on Japanese-American communities to make sure that the Japanese were not a threat to national security. The investigator's conclusion was that there is no evidence supporting a reason to fear sabotage from the Japanese Americans. This report was kept confidential, however, so the public was never aware of this report. Thus, all of the negative images they had concerning Japanese Americans were initiated by the media. The public was also unaware of the fact that over 65% of the Japanese Americans were U.S. born citizens. Also, there were rumors of possibly Japanese-American spies, but there was never any conclusive evidence.[6]

However, on December 7, 1941, the day of the Pearl Harbor attack, a Japanese Zero crashed on Niihau, the smallest of the inhabited Hawaiian Islands. Three of the island's inhabitants assisted the downed plane's pilot. This help rendered by persons of Japanese descent to the Japanese pilot may have been one of the incidents leading Roosevelt to issuing Executive order for internment.[7]

Executive Order 9066[edit]

Although there were no justifications and because of pressure from various officials of the federal government, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Executive Order 9066[8] on February 19, 1942. By signing the Executive Order, President Roosevelt authorized the internment of thousands of Japanese Americans.[6]

NOW, THEREFORE, by the virtue of the authority vested in me as President of the United States, and Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, I hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of War, and the Military Commanders whom he may from time to time designate, whenever he or any designated Commander deems such action necessary or desirable, to prescribe military areas in such places and of such extent as he or the appropriate Military Commander may determine, from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commanders may impose in his discretion ...

— Franklin D. Roosevelt, The White House, February 19, 1942[8]

The written document had no specifications. It gave the Secretary of War (now known as the Secretary of Defense) and military commanders the authority to exclude any person from a designated area. Although its authority was used only against Japanese Americans, it could have affected any American because there were no geographical locations specified, no ethnic groups mentioned, and there was no distinction made between citizens and aliens, which is why they were able to force even Japanese Americans who were U.S. citizens into the internment camps. The Executive Order gave the military full control.[6]

Evacuation and relocation[edit]

Once the Executive Order was in full swing, the Japanese Americans along the West coast were first asked to relocate. The military felt that the threat of a Japanese invasion was very likely and they thought that the Japanese Americans would be more likely to aid a Japanese invasion than the rest of the population. Thus, to stop any possible sabotage (even if there was no proof), they told the Japanese Americans to relocate. However, a lot of the inland states began to refuse the entrance of Japanese Americans. Therefore, the Japanese Americans were then forced into several internment camps.[9]

Once in the internment camps, the Japanese Americans lost all rights as citizens, including all of their personal rights. They had no ownership rights over their personal belongings. It is also said that they were not allowed to speak Japanese. Therefore, whatever family/cultural relationships they had with each other were lost.[8]

The Japanese Americans were released in 1945. Because of all the personal losses, Japanese Americans suffered socially and economically. Even with their freedom, they struggled to readapt back into society.[10]

Internment camps[edit]

After the executive order was signed in 1942, 120,312 Japanese residents were forced into one of 10 (11 including Crystal City, Texas) internment camps in the United States. Some Japanese residents voluntarily entered these camps to avoid being separated from loved ones. Other residents were forced into other government accommodations.[11] All 10 war relocation centers were located in inland in the United States, and many were in desert areas. The camps were fenced with barbed wire to avoid runaways. The camps themselves were self-sustaining communities; there were many kinds of factories, farms, hospitals, schools, churches, theaters, and shops within them. The prisoners were able to go anywhere they wanted within the camps, but the only time they were permitted to leave the camps was if they were ill beyond the camp hospital's ability to help. The food from farms and fields in the camp fed the entire camp including the detainees and the camp workers. Internment camp housing were barrack style houses in which there were no barriers for the bathrooms. Many prisoners fell ill due to the unsanitary conditions of the housing situations. Japanese detainees did not enjoy many of their civil rights, including freedom of speech. These restraints led to numerous strikes, riots, and attempts at running away.[citation needed]

Locations of camps[edit]

Timeline of during World War II[edit]

July 26, 1941: America freezes all Japanese assets in the U.S.

December 7, 1941: Pearl Harbor was bombed in a surprise attack by the Empire of Japan's 1st Air Fleet, in which nearly 2,500 people were killed.[4] American local authorities and the FBI began to find and hold the leaders of Japanese-American communities. It took two days to put 1,291 Issei under custody. Although they were not formally charged, they were denied visitation from their families. Many of these prisoners spent the war years in enemy alien internment camps.

December 8, 1941: President Roosevelt addresses the U.S. Congress, saying that December 7 is "a date that will live in infamy." Roosevelt signs the declaration of war on Japan.

February 19, 1942: Executive Order 9066 is signed by Roosevelt which authorized the transfer of more than 100,000 German, Italian and Japanese-Americans living in coastal Pacific areas to internment camps in various inland states. Those interned lose an estimated 400 million dollars in property when their homes and possessions are confiscated.[4]

February 23, 1942: In the first attack on the American continent, a Japanese submarine shells the Ellwood Oil Field in Goleta, California, triggering the full-scale West Coast invasion scare.

1945: With the end of World War II, the U.S. emerges as the only economic superpower in the world.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Enemy Alien Curfew Friday", The San Francisco News, March 24, 1942, archived from the original on December 23, 2014
  2. ^ Mineta, Norman, Japanese Americans: The War at Home: Before the War, retrieved 2008-05-28
  3. ^ a b [1]
  4. ^ a b c "Children of the Camps | WWII INTERNMENT TIMELINE". www.children-of-the-camps.org.
  5. ^ "Pre-War Discrimination > World War II & Roundup | Exploring JAI". web.archive.org. May 2, 2007.
  6. ^ a b c "Japanese Internment : Asian-Nation :: Asian American History, Demographics, & Issues". www.asian-nation.org.
  7. ^ Beekman, Alllan. Niihau Incident, The. ISBN 0960913203.
  8. ^ a b c "Executive Order 9066: The President Authorizes Japanese Relocation". historymatters.gmu.edu.
  9. ^ "Home". Asian American Media.
  10. ^ [2]
  11. ^ "全米日系人博物館:強制収容所の概要". www.janm.org.
  12. ^ "Timeline of the Great Depression". www.hyperhistory.com.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]