Washington, D.C. February 19, 1942

Seventy-six years ago on this date in 1942, cele­brated today as the Day of Remem­brance, 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 unprec­e­dented order appeared care­fully neu­tral, it ulti­mately led to the intern­ment of almost 120,000 per­sons of Japa­nese ancestry, citi­zens and nonciti­zens alike, living along the U.S. West Coast. Two-thirds of those interned were Amer­i­can-born U.S. citi­zens, reclas­si­fied by the govern­ment as “non-aliens” in a ham-fisted sus­pen­sion of their consti­tu­tional birth­right. 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.) Suddenly uprooted from their homes and work­places and deprived of or forced to sell off prac­ti­cally every­thing they had acquired over a life­time (many had their bank accounts frozen), Japanese Amer­icans and Japa­nese-born U.S. resi­dents 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 impri­soned with­out charge and “for the dura­tion” inside barbed wire enclosures, watched over by armed guards (see map below).

People of Japanese ancestry living in Hawaii and German Amer­i­cans and German U.S. resi­dents were not interned en masse and there­fore escaped disen­fran­chise­ment, measure­less sepa­ra­tion, precious lost years, miser­able depri­va­tion, mono­tonous camp routine, enforced idle­ness, and depend­ence on the federal govern­ment for their food and shelter. Under the U.S. Jus­tice Depart­ment’s Enemy Alien Con­trol Pro­gram, the govern­ment detained and in­terned just 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 disen­fran­chise­ment and in­tern­ment compa­rable to that used against 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 covertly drawn up by the Federal Bureau of Inves­ti­gation with the encour­age­ment of Presi­dent Roose­velt. 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.

In 2017 I had the rare good fortune of inter­viewing two Japa­nese Amer­i­cans who were incar­cer­ated in the Gila River Relo­ca­tion Camp 30‑plus miles south of Phoenix, Arizona. Kenso Howard Zeni­mura (89), son of leg­en­dary Kenichi Zeni­mura (“father of Japa­nese Amer­i­can base­ball”), and Tets Furu­kawa (89) recounted to me their expe­ri­ence building Zeni­mura Field, a base­ball field just out­side the Gila River camp’s barbed wire peri­meter. In the fall of 1942 volun­teer players and youngsters alike attacked the raw desert floor by removing huge boulders and screening pebbles, digging two dug­outs, con­structing bleachers with shade canopies, planting and watering infield and out­field grass, planting an out­field fence of castor beans, and building a score­board in right field. Opening day was March 7, 1943. Many Cauca­sian teams from the Phoenix area began visiting the Gila River camp to play ball against the camp teams. In August 1944 Coach Zeni­mura put together an all-star team that traveled to Heart Mountain Relo­ca­tion Camp in Wyoming. On April 18, 1945, Kenso’s brother Kenshi Zeni­mura drove in the winning run to beat the Tucson High School Badgers, three-time Arizona state base­ball cham­pions. Gila River base­ball is retold in Marissa Moss’s bio­graphy of Kenichi Zeni­mura, Barbed Wire Base­ball, and in Kathryn Fitz­maurice’s histor­ical fiction book, A Diamond in the Desert, both written for young readers.—Norm Haskett

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

Executive Order 9066: U.S. internment camps for Japanese Americans and enemy aliens

Above: Map of massive World War II exclusion zone and intern­ment camps in the conti­nental U.S. for Japanese Americans as well as for over 31,000 sus­pected enemy aliens and their fami­lies interned under the Enemy Alien Con­trol Pro­gram. The 10 hastily built intern­ment camps, euphe­mis­tically called “relo­ca­tion centers,” are iden­ti­fied by black triangles. Justice Depart­ment camps (8) and U.S. Army camps (18) are repre­sented by stars; for example, Fort Missoula Intern­ment Camp in Mon­tana and Fort Lincoln Intern­ment Camp five miles south of Bismarck, North Dakota. It was to these often former Civil­ian Con­ser­va­tion Corps camps that people arrested in Decem­ber 1941 and early 1942—that is, before Exec­u­tive Order 9066 was in place—were brought. In the map legend, WCCA = Wartime Civil Con­trol Admin­is­tra­tion, WRA = War Relo­cation Autho­rity. Nearly 120,000 Japa­nese Amer­i­cans and resi­dent Japa­nese aliens would even­tu­ally be torn from their homes, neighbor­hoods, farms, fishing boats, and places of employ­ment and worship in Califor­nia (where the majority lived), West­ern Oregon and Wash­ing­ton, and South­ern Arizona as part of the single-largest forced relo­ca­tion in U.S. history. The Poston War Relo­cation Cen­ter on the Colo­rado Indian Reser­va­tion south of Parker was the largest such camp in America (peak popu­la­tion 17,814). Housing Japa­nese Amer­i­cans mostly from Southern and Central California, Posten became the third-largest “city” in Arizona at the time. Together with the Rivers War Relo­ca­tion Center on the Gila River Indian Reser­va­tion south­east of Phoenix, the two sites 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 removed to the mainland and interned. On the Hawaiian island of Oahu, there were 17 intern­ment sites, the largest and longest-operating being Honou­liuli Intern­ment Camp, which held 320 internees and 4,000 prisoners of war. For their own “protec­tion,” nearly 900 indig­e­nous Aleuts were rounded up and interned in aban­doned salmon can­neries near Alaska’s capital Juneau, 2,000 miles from their island villages, which were burned to the ground as part of a “scorched earth” policy.

Executive Order 9066: San Francisco newspaper headline, February 27, 1942 Executive Order 9066: Posted 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.

Executive Order 9066: Mochida family awaits evacuation bus, May 8, 1942 Executive Order 9066: Young Japanese American evacuee and baggage, Spring 1942

Left: Wearing identification tags to aid in keeping family units intact during all phases of their move, members of the Mochida family await an evacuation bus, Alameda County, California, May 8, 1942. Photograph by Dorothea Lange.

Right: A young evacuee of Japanese ancestry waits with the family’s allot­ment of baggage and bedding before leaving by bus for an assembly center in the spring of 1942. Photograph by Clem Albers.

Executive Order 9066: Poster protests summary evacuation order, Spring 1942 President Reagan signs 1988 Civil Liberties Act

Left: This Oakland, California store closed in March 1942 following orders to persons of Japa­nese descent to evac­u­ate from certain West Coast areas. 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. 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 of modern U.S. history. On August 10, 1988, Presi­dent Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liber­ties Act of 1988, which granted repa­ra­tions for the war­time intern­ment of Japa­nese Americans. Cost to the U.S. Treasury: $1.6 billion. 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