Washington, D.C. February 19, 1942

Eighty-one 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 admit, exclude, or remove from these areas any­one whom the depart­ment felt to be a danger to the security of the nation. The next month Roose­velt signed an Act of Congress that made any viola­tion of man­dates issued under his execu­tive order (e.g., public procla­ma­tions issued by senior mili­tary author­i­ties) a federal crime. Although the unprec­e­dented order appeared care­fully neu­tral, Execu­tive Order 9066 ulti­mately led to the exile and intern­ment of almost 120,000 per­sons of Japa­nese ancestry, citizens and noncitizens alike, living along the U.S. West Coast.

Approximately 80,000 of those interned under FDR’s exec­u­tive order were second-gener­a­tion Amer­i­can citi­zens born in the United States (Nisei), not-so-cleverly reclas­si­fied by the govern­ment as “non-aliens” in a ham-fisted sus­pen­sion of their birth­right under the 14th Amend­ment to the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion. Almost half the internees were chil­dren. (In Canada, 22,000 Japa­nese Cana­dians and Japa­nese [62 per­cent Cana­dian-born] suffered simi­lar and worse treat­ment: the govern­ment confis­cated and sold their pro­perty to help defray the cost of relo­cating and detaining them. South of the border almost 5,000 Japa­nese were evicted from Mexico’s Pacific Coast and plunked down in Mexico City and Gua­da­la­jara.) 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), native-born Japa­nese Amer­icans and Japa­nese-born U.S. resi­dents (the latter known as Issei and pre­vented by law from holding U.S. citizen­ship) were taken first to one of 15 assem­bly cen­ters, or tem­porary deten­tion camps. Cali­for­nia’s San Joa­quin County Fair­grounds and Santa Anita and Tan­foran race­track stables, still reeking of their former occu­pants, were three con­verted tem­porary camps. Then they were shipped to one of 10 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 Central and South Amer­ica and the Carib­bean island of Cuba 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 the evic­tion of these “danger­ous Axis agents” to this coun­try for deten­tion in camps oper­ated by the U.S. Immi­gra­tion and Natu­ra­li­za­tion Ser­vice and the Justice Depart­ment or else their repat­ri­a­tion to Germany. Many Germans had been resi­dents of Latin Amer­ica for years, some for decades. Nine Latin American countries and Canada set up their own Axis intern­ment camps. Only pro-Fascist Argentina refused to play along.

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. Bill Staples, Jr., delivers a fascinating account of the Japa­nese Amer­i­can base­ball legend in Kenichi Zeni­mura, Japa­nese Amer­i­can Base­ball Pio­neer. 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 Exile and Relocation of West Coast Enemy Aliens and Japanese Americans to a New Existence in Internment Camps Far From Their Homes

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

Above: Map showing (a) the massive West Coast World War II exclusion area (Mili­tary Areas 1 and 2) and (b) 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. The camps were built in 7 states all west of the Mis­sis­sippi. All the camps were remote; many were situ­ated in deso­late deserts or swamps. U.S. Depart­ment of Justice-admin­is­tered camps (there were 27) and U.S. Army camps (18) are repre­sented by stars; for example, Fort Mis­soula Intern­ment Camp in Mon­tana and Fort Lincoln Intern­ment Camp 5 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—as well as thou­sands of German and Ital­ian nationals living in the U.S. or deported from Cen­tral and South America were brought. In the map legend, WCCA = War­time Civil Con­trol Admin­is­tra­tion, WRA = War Relo­cation Autho­rity. Pur­portedly for their own safety roughly 75,000 Japa­nese Amer­i­can citizens and 45,000 immi­grants from Japan living in the U.S., a num­ber equiv­a­lent to the popu­la­tion of Wil­ming­ton, N.C., 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. Eighty-five per­cent of all ethnic Japa­nese living in the conti­nen­tal U.S. were affected. 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 and Japa­nese nationals 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. On Decem­ber 17, 1944, the Roose­velt admin­is­tra­tion rescinded Execu­tive Order 9066, ending mass forced reloca­tion and allowing intern­ees to return to the West Coast exclu­sion area (Mili­tary Areas 1 and 2). Except for Tule Lake, the WRA camps would be emptied by the end of 1945.

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

Left: “OUSTER OF ALL JAPS IN CALIFORNIA NEAR!” San Fran­cisco Exam­iner head­lines of Japa­nese relo­ca­tion, Febru­ary 27, 1942. On May 21, 1942, the rival San Fran­cisco Chron­icle told its readers: “S.F. Clear of All But 6 Sick Japs. . . . The last group, 274 of them, were moved yes­ter­day.” 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. The exclu­sion order also swept up Japa­nese Amer­i­can sol­diers who had taken an oath of allegiance to their country of birth.

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

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: The forced exodus of Japanese in Los Angeles started at the end of March 1942. 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 Los Angeles’s Union Sta­tion, even­tu­ally arriving with her mother at Man­za­nar War Relo­ca­tion Cen­ter, more than 200 miles north of LA 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.

Executive Order 9066: Poster protests summary evacuation order, Spring 1942President 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 of 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. (A month later the Cana­dian prime minis­ter signed a simi­lar settle­ment and apol­ogy.) It took a decade to locate all eligi­ble U.S. recip­i­ents and deliver them their checks and formal apol­ogy. In 1991 sur­vi­vors of the more than 2,200 Latin Amer­i­cans of Japa­nese descent who were evicted by their govern­ments and incar­cer­ated in U.S. camps were com­pen­sated with a piti­fully small $5,000 check. 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

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