Washington, D.C. · February 19, 1942

On this date in 1942 President Franklin D. Roose­velt signed Execu­tive Order 9066. It autho­rized the War Depart­ment to desig­nate “mili­tary areas” in the U.S. and ex­clude from them any­one whom the depart­ment felt to be a danger to the security of the nation. Although the order was care­fully neu­tral, it ulti­mately led to the intern­ment of more than 110,000 per­sons of Japa­nese an­cestry, citi­zens and nonciti­zens alike, living along the West Coast of the U.S. Almost three-quarters of those interned were Amer­i­can-born U.S. citi­zens, reclas­si­fied by the govern­ment as “non-aliens” to mini­mize any awk­ward­ness. Almost half the internees were chil­dren. (In Canada, 20,000 Japa­nese Cana­dians and Japa­nese suffered similar treat­ment. South of the border almost 5,000 Japa­nese were removed from Mexico’s Pacific Coast.) Deprived of their pro­perty, Japanese Amer­ican and Japa­nese-born inter­nees were taken first to assem­bly cen­ters, or tem­porary deten­tion camps (the Santa Anita, Cali­for­nia race­track stables was one), then to one of ten per­ma­nent in­land relo­cation cen­ters where they were forced to live behind barbed wire, watched over by armed guards (see map below).

Ger­man Amer­i­cans and Ger­man U.S. resi­dents escaped a similar fate and were not in­terned en masse. Under the U.S. Jus­tice Depart­ment’s Enemy Alien Con­trol Pro­gram, the govern­ment detained and in­terned over 11,000 Ger­man enemy aliens, as well as a small num­ber of Ger­man Amer­i­can citi­zens, either natu­ral­ized or native born. The popu­la­tion of Ger­man citi­zens in the United States—not to men­tion Amer­i­can citizens of Ger­man birth—was far too large for a gen­eral policy of in­tern­ment compa­rable to that used in the case of the Japa­nese. Instead, Ger­man citizens were de­tained and removed from coastal areas on an indi­vid­ual basis. The evic­tions amounted to only several hun­dred. In addi­tion, over 4,500 eth­nic Ger­mans were brought to the U.S. from Latin Amer­i­ca and similarly detained based on a list drawn up by the Federal Bureau of Inves­ti­gation. The FBI suspected these Ger­mans of sub­ver­sive activities abroad and, following Ger­many’s declara­tion of war on the U.S., demanded their evic­tion to this coun­try for deten­tion or their return to Ger­many. Many had been resi­dents of Latin Amer­ica for years, some for decades. Nine Latin American countries and Canada set up their own Axis internment camps.

Executive Order 9066 Cleared the Way for the Forced Relocation of West Coast Japanese Americans to Internment Camps Far From Their Homes

Japanese American internment camps in U.S.

Above: Map of World War II intern­ment camps for Japanese Americans as well as for over 31,000 sus­pected enemy aliens and their fami­lies interned under the Enemy Alien Con­trol Pro­gram. (The latter camps and mili­tary facilities are indi­cated by stars; for example, Koos­kia Intern­ment Camp in Idaho and Fort Missoula Intern­ment Camp in Mon­tana.) In the map legend, WCCA = War­time Civil Con­trol Admin­is­tra­tion, WRA = War Relo­cation Autho­rity. More than 110,000 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. The Poston War Relo­cation Cen­ter near the Colo­rado River and the Cali­for­nia border was the largest such camp in America. It became the third-largest “city” in Arizona at the time. Together with the Gila River War Relo­ca­tion Center south of Phoenix, the two camps grew to hold 30,000 peo­ple of Japa­nese descent, most of them American citizens. In Hawaii, where 150,000-plus Japa­nese Amer­i­cans com­prised over one-third of the pop­u­lation, only 1,200 to 1,800 were interned.

San Francisco newspaper headlinePosted exclusion order

Left: “OUSTER OF ALL JAPS IN CALIFORNIA NEAR!” San Francisco Examiner head­lines of Japa­nese relo­ca­tion, Febru­ary 27, 1942. Photo by Doro­thea Lange. Lange was one of three photo­graphers in the WRA Photo­graphy Section, or WRAPS, in 1942–1943. The other two were Clem Albers and Francis Stewart.

Right: Official notice of exclusion and removal, April 1, 1942. Photo­graph by Dorothea Lange. The posted exclu­sion order directed Japa­nese Amer­icans living in the first San Francisco sec­tion to evac­u­ate. Years before the Decem­ber 7, 1941, Japa­nese bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the U.S. govern­ment had drafted plans to intern some Japa­nese Amer­icans and immi­grant aliens and had already placed some West Coast com­mu­ni­ties under su­rveil­lance. This in spite of years worth of FBI and naval intel­ligence data that attested to resi­dents of Japanese descent posing no national security threat.

Mochida family awaits evacuation busYoung evacuee and baggage

Left: With luggage tags affixed to their clothing—an aid in keeping family units intact during all phases of their forced removal—members of the Mochida family await an evac­u­a­tion bus, Ala­meda County (San Francisco Bay area), Cali­for­nia, May 8, 1942. On the luggage tags was written the family’s desig­nated iden­ti­fi­ca­tion number. The Mochidas had oper­ated a two-acre nursery and green­house in Eden, Ala­meda County, before the family’s incar­cer­ation. Photograph by Dorothea Lange.

Right: Staring into uncertainty 2-year-old Yuki Okinaga Haya­kawa, clutching a tiny purse and an apple with a few bites gone, waits with the family’s allot­ment of bag­gage before leaving Union Sta­tion in Los Angeles, even­tu­ally arriving with her mother at Man­za­nar War Relo­ca­tion Cen­ter, more than 200 miles away in Cali­for­nia’s Owens Valley, which would be her home for the next 3 years. Each family mem­ber was permitted to take bedding and linens (no mat­tress), toilet arti­cles, extra clothing, and “essen­tial per­sonal effects,” nothing more; in other words, only what could be carried. Photograph by Clem Albers.

Poster protests summary evacuation orderPresident Reagan signs 1988 Civil Liberties Act

Left: This Oakland, California green grocer closed his store in March 1942 following orders to persons of Japa­nese descent to evac­u­ate from certain West Coast areas (Military Area 1; see map above). The owner, a Uni­ver­sity of Cali­for­nia grad­u­ate, had placed the “I AM AN AMER­I­CAN” sign on his store front on Decem­ber 8, the day after Pearl Harbor. Dec­la­ra­tions like this San Fran­cisco area store owner’s were insuf­fi­cient to over­come the sus­pi­cion and con­tempt directed at people who looked like the enemy and who, it was com­monly assumed at the time, remained loyal to Japan and its em­peror Hiro­hito (post­humously referred to as Emperor Shōwa). Photo­graph by Dorothea Lange.

Right: In 1944 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the consti­tu­tionality of the exclu­sion orders, described by many Amer­i­cans as the worst offi­cial civil rights vio­la­tion in modern U.S. history. After years of law­suits and nego­ti­a­tions, on August 10, 1988, Presi­dent Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liber­ties Act of 1988, which formally acknow­ledged that the war­time exclu­sion, evac­u­a­tion, and intern­ment of Japa­nese Amer­i­cans had been unrea­son­able. The act granted $20,000 in repa­ra­tions to each sur­viving Japa­nese Amer­i­can (about 82,000 people), costing the U.S. Treas­ury $1.6 billion. It took a decade to locate all eligi­ble U.S. recip­i­ents and deliver them their checks and formal apol­ogy. A late 20th-cen­tury study con­cluded that the inter­nal govern­ment deci­sions that led to Roose­velt issuing Exe­cu­tive Order 9066 were based on racial preju­dice, war­time hysteria, and failed political leadership.

Injustice Camouflaged as Military Necessity: Japanese American Intern­ment During World War II