by Gerald Boerner


“Everybody’s hair and eyebrows would be snow-white with sand.”
— Mary Adachi, Internee

“Every time we had a hot war going on in Asia, it was difficult for Asian Americans here.”
— George Takei, Internee

“I spent my boyhood behind the barbed wire fences of American internment camps and that part of my life is something that I wanted to share with more people.”
— George Takei, Internee

“Down in our hearts we cried and cursed this government every time when we showered with sand. We slept in the dust; we breathed the dust; we ate the dust.”
— Joseph Kurihara, Internee

“But when we came out of camp, that’s when I first realized that being in camp, that being Japanese-American, was something shameful.”
— George Takei, Internee

“Between the barracks there was trellis with morning glories, forming a tunnel of flowers. One block in particular was a showplace. Any outside visitors were taken there.”
— Sada Murayama, Internee

“The country-what I have had the strength enough to see is beautiful. The mountains to the North West are rugged, beautiful and stony, but oh so treacherous looking.”
— Helen Aihara, Internee

“And it seems to me important for a country, for a nation to certainly know about its glorious achievements but also to know where its ideals failed, in order to keep that from happening again.”
— George Takei, Internee

“All ten [internment camp] sites can only be called godforsaken. They were in places where nobody lived before and no one has lived since.”
— Roger Daniels, authority on the Japanese Interment

“Now that the war is going on many Japanese men, women and girls are out of jobs and a lot of my friends are in condertration [concentration] camp. If I go there I hope that I will have a teacher just like you. And rather more I hope the war will strighten [straighten] out very soon so that I would be able to attend Washington school.”
— Letter from a junior high student to her teacher

“Be prepared for the Relocation Center, which is a pioneer community. So bring clothes suited to pioneer life and in keeping with the climate or climates likely to be involved. Bring warm clothing even if you are going to a southern area, because the temperatures may range from freezing in winter to 115 degrees during some periods of the summer.”
— from a War Relocation Authority pamphlet


Today we are attending to one of the aftermath effects of the Pearl Harbor attack that is not among America’s Proudest Moments: The Imprisonment of Japanese-American citizens because of their ethnic heritage. The were removed from their communities, sent to the desert, and punished for their genetics. For a first-hand photographic account of their plight, see Ansel Adams, Born Free and Equal: The Story of Loyal Japanese Americans (1893343057)


Pearl Harbor: The Interment of the Japanese-Americans

Manzanar_Flag Japanese American internment was the forcible relocation and internment by the United States government in 1942 of approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans and Japanese residing in the United States to camps called "War Relocation Camps," in the wake of Imperial Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. The internment of Japanese Americans was applied unequally throughout the United States. Japanese Americans residing on the West Coast of the United States were all interned, whereas in Hawaii, where more than 150,000 Japanese Americans composed nearly a third of that territory’s population, only 1,200 to 1,800 Japanese Americans were interned. Of those interned, 62 percent were United States citizens.

Japanese_American_Internment_Mochida_Family_Awaiting_Evacuation_1942President Franklin Delano Roosevelt authorized the internment with Executive Order 9066 on 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 most of Oregon and Washington, except for those in internment camps. In 1944, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the exclusion orders, while noting that the provisions that singled out people of Japanese ancestry were a separate issue outside the scope of the proceedings.

In 1988, Congress passed and President Ronald Reagan signed legislation which apologized for the internment on behalf of the U.S. government. The legislation stated that government actions were based on "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership". Over $1.6 billion in reparations were later disbursed by the U.S. government to Japanese Americans who had either suffered internment or were heirs of those who had suffered internment.

Historical context

In the first half of the 20th century, California experienced a wave of anti-Japanese prejudice, in part because of the concentration there of new immigrants. This was distinct from the Japanese American experience in the broader United States. Over 90% of Japanese immigrants to the USA settled in California, where labor and farm competition fed into general anti-Japanese sentiment. In 1905, California’s anti-miscegenation law outlawed marriages between Caucasians and "Mongolians" (an umbrella term which, at the time, was used in reference to the Japanese, among other ethnicities of East Asian ancestry). In October 1906, the San Francisco Board of Education separated the Japanese students from the Caucasian students. It ordered ninety-three Japanese students in the district to a segregated school in Chinatown. Twenty-five of the students were American citizens. That anti-Japanese sentiment was maintained beyond this period is evidenced by the 1924 "Oriental Exclusion Law," which blocked Japanese immigrants from attaining citizenship.

Tokio_Kid_Say Anti-Japanese sentiment in the
U.S. peaked during World War II.
The government subsidized the
production of propaganda posters
using exaggerated stereotypes.

In the years 1939–1941, the FBI compiled the Custodial Detention Index ("CDI") on citizens, enemy aliens and foreign nationals, in the interest of national security. On June 28, 1940, the Alien Registration Act was passed. Among many other loyalty regulations, Section 31 required the registration and fingerprinting of all aliens above the age of 14, and Section 35 required aliens to report any change of address within 5 days. In the subsequent months, nearly five million foreign nationals registered at post offices around the country.

About 127,000 Japanese Americans lived on the West Coast of the continental United States at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack. About 80,000 were nisei (Japanese born in the United States and holding American citizenship) and sansei (the sons or daughters of nisei). The rest were issei (immigrants born in Japan who were ineligible for U.S. citizenship).

After Pearl Harbor

The attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 led some 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.

Japanese American Grocer 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.

Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt, head of the Western Command, sought approval to conduct search and seizure operations aimed at preventing alien Japanese from making radio transmissions to Japanese ships. The Justice Department declined, however, stating that there was no probable cause to support DeWitt’s assertion, as the FBI concluded that there was no security threat. On January 2, the Joint Immigration Committee of the California Legislature sent a manifesto to California newspapers which attacked "the ethnic Japanese," whom it alleged were "totally unassimilable." 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.

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. Internment was not limited to those who had been to Japan, but included a small number of German and Italian enemy aliens. 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.

Japanese Americans Children Pledging Allegiance 1942  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.

Civilian and military officials had concerns about the loyalty of the ethnic Japanese, although these concerns seemed to stem more from racial prejudice than actual risk. Major Karl Bendetsen and Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt each questioned Japanese American loyalty. DeWitt, who administered the internment program, repeatedly told newspapers that "A Jap’s a Jap" and testified to Congress,

Civilian and military officials had concerns about the loyalty of the ethnic Japanese, although these concerns seemed to stem more from racial prejudice than actual risk. Major Karl Bendetsen and Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt 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.

Those that were as little as 1/16th Japanese could be placed in internment camps. There is some evidence supporting the argument that the measures were racially motivated, rather than a military necessity. For example, orphaned infants with "one drop of Japanese blood" (as explained in a letter by one official) were included in the program.

Japanese Relocation Newspapers 1942 San Francisco Examiner,
February 1942,
newspaper headlines.

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. Information from the CDI was used to locate and incarcerate foreign nationals from Japan, Germany and Italy (although Germany or 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."

Executive Order 9066 and related actions

Posted_Japanese_American_Exclusion_Order 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.

  • March 2, 1942: 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. 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.
  • March 24, 1942: Public Proclamation No. 3 declares an 8:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. curfew for "all enemy aliens and all persons of Japanese ancestry" within the military areas.
  • March 24, 1942: General DeWitt began to issue Civilian Exclusion Orders for specific areas within "Military Area No. 1."
  • 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."
  • 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."

These edicts included persons of part-Japanese ancestry as well. Anyone with at least one-eighth Japanese ancestry was eligible. Korean-Americans, considered to have Japanese nationality (since Korea was occupied by Japan during World War II), were also included.

Non-military advocates for exclusion, removal, and detention

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." 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… If all the Japs were removed tomorrow, we had 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."

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. The Report sought to link Japanese Americans with espionage activity, and to associate them with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. 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."

Rebuttals of charges of espionage, disloyalty and anti-American activity

Critics of the internment argue that the military justification was unfounded, citing the absence of any subsequent convictions of Japanese Americans for espionage or sabotage.

Architects of the internment, including DeWitt and Army Major Karl Bendetsen, cited the complete lack of sabotage as "a disturbing and confirming indication that such action will be taken" (Memorandum to Secretary of War, 13 FEB 1942).

Critics of the internment also note that it seems unlikely that Japanese Americans in Japan had any choice other than to be conscripted into the Japanese army, given (1) that it was near-impossible for them to return to the U.S. from Japan, and (2) that the United States had already classified all people of Japanese ancestry as "enemy aliens."

An additional reason to question the necessity of internment was an official report by Lieutenant Commander Kenneth Ringle, a naval intelligence officer tasked with evaluating the loyalty of the Japanese American population. LCDR Ringle estimated in a February 1942 report to his superiors that "more than 90% of the Nisei (second generation) and 75% of the original immigrants were completely loyal to the United States." A 1941 report prepared on President Roosevelt’s orders by Curtis B. Munson, special representative of the State Department, concluded that most Japanese nationals and "90 to 98%" of Japanese American citizens were loyal. He wrote: "There is no Japanese ‘problem’ on the Coast… There is far more danger from Communists and people of the Bridges type on the Coast than there is from Japanese."

FBI director J. Edgar Hoover also opposed the internment of Japanese Americans. Refuting General DeWitt’s reports of disloyalty on the part of Japanese Americans, Hoover sent a memo to Attorney General Francis Biddle in which he wrote about Japanese American disloyalty, "Every complaint in this regard has been investigated, but in no case has any information been obtained which would substantiate the allegation." Hoover was not privy to MAGIC intercepts, although he was sometimes sent sanitized synopses.

General DeWitt and Colonel Bendetsen kept this information out of Final Report: Japanese Evacuation from the West Coast – 1942, which was written in April 1943 — a time when DeWitt was fighting against an order that Nisei soldiers (members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service) were to be considered "loyal" and permitted into the Exclusion Zones while on leave. DeWitt and Bendetsen initially issued 10 copies of the report, then hastily recalled them to rewrite passages which showed racist bases for the exclusion. Among other justifications, the report stated flatly that, because of their race, it was impossible to determine the loyalty of Japanese Americans. The original version was so offensive — even in the atmosphere of the wartime 1940s — that Bendetsen ordered all copies to be destroyed. Not a single piece of paper was to be left giving any evidence that an earlier version had existed.

Camp Facilities

While this event is most commonly called the internment of Japanese Americans, in fact there were several different types of camps involved. The best known facilities were the Assembly Centers run by the Wartime Civil Control Administration (WCCA), and the Relocation Centers run by the War Relocation Authority (WRA), 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." German American internment and Italian American internment camps 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.

There were three types of camps. Civilian Assembly Centers were temporary camps, frequently located at horse tracks, where the Nissei 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.


Background and biographical information is from Wikipedia articles on:

Japanese Interment Camps that can be found at…