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U.S. Army Signal Corps./Library of Congress
Japanese-Americans evacuees at the Pinedale (Calif.) Assembly Center eat a meal.

On This Day: President Roosevelt Approves Japanese-American Internment

September 22, 2007 03:23 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On Feb. 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized the internment of Japanese-Americans on the West Coast. About 120,000 immigrants and citizens would be detained during World War II.
The United States declared war on Japan a day after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. The attack fueled anti-Japanese sentiment in the U.S., and many in the government and public suspected that Japanese-Americans had collaborated in the attack. (Our Documents)

The FBI arrested about 1,200 Japanese aliens it suspected of being a threat to the U.S., but some in the government pushed for a crackdown on all Japanese immigrants and natural-born citizens of Japanese descent. (Truman Library)

One adviser of President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent him a memo saying the he must take action to “preserve national safety, not for the purpose of punishing those whose liberty may be temporarily affected by such action, but for the purpose of protecting the freedom of the nation, which may be long impaired, if not permanently lost, by nonaction.” (Truman Library)

On Feb. 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, giving the military the ability to create military areas and exclude any persons from those areas at its discretion. These excluded people would be given accommodations provided by the military.
(Our Documents)

On March 2, the military designated the western halves of California, Oregon, and Washington, and the southern part of Arizona as military zones. Japanese-Americans were ordered to leave these areas, and Roosevelt soon signed an act allowing the military to forcibly remove those who refused to leave. (Truman Library)

Later Developments: Japanese interned for much of war

The federal government created the War Relocation Authority, which oversaw the removal of 120,000 Japanese-Americans from military areas over the next 18 months. The Japanese were taken to 10 internment camps in remote areas in eastern California, northern Arizona, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and Arkansas. (PBS)

“The government made no charges against them, nor could they appeal their incarceration,” according to Our Documents, a Web site of the National Archives. “All lost personal liberties; most lost homes and property as well.” (Our Documents)

Living conditions in these camps were awful. Detainees were crowded together in homes behind barbed wire fences, fed poorly and given inadequate medical care. Even President Roosevelt called them “concentration camps,” according to PBS. (PBS)

The constitutionality of exclusion was challenged in three Supreme Court cases. In the last two, both decided on Dec. 18, 1944, the court ruled that exclusion itself was constitutional, but exclusion of loyal citizens was not. That same day, the WRA announced that it would begin closing camps. The final camp wasn’t closed until 1946, after World War II had ended. (Truman Library)

Background: Pearl Harbor

On Dec. 7, 1941, Japan launched an aerial attack on a U.S. Naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Two waves of Japanese planes dropped bombs, torpedoes and other incendiary devices, sinking or damaging 21 vessels of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and destroying 188 aircraft within two hours. (Naval Historical Center)

More than 2, 400 American military members and civilians died on the attack, according to the Naval Historical Center. The next day, in a speech to Congress, President Roosevelt called Dec. 7, 1941, “a date which will live in infamy.” After the speech, Congress passed a declaration of war against Japan. (Miller Center)

Related Topic: Internment of Germans and Italians

Executive Order 9066 was signed specifically to intern Japanese-Americans, but it was also used to intern U.S. residents of German and Italian descent. According to George Mason University’s History Matters, 3,200 Italians and 11,000 Germans were arrested, while more than 300 Italians and 5,000 Germans were interned. (History Matters)

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