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Reparations: A National Apology

Reparations: A National Apology

Magazine article

By: Anonymous

Date: October 22, 1990

Source: "Reparations: A National Apology." Time. October 22, 1990.

About the Author: The primary source was written by an anonymous staff writer ofTime, an American newsweekly.


On December 7, 1941, Japanese forces attacked the U.S. Naval base at Pearl Harbor. The following day, the United States declared war on Japan, entering World War II. While the U.S. military prepared to engage the Japanese on the battlefield, concerns arose regarding the loyalty of Japanese immigrants and their descendents residing in the United States. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) began to detain groups of Japanese residents located on the West coast. Attorney General Francis Biddle proclaimed that the government would not target the entire Japanese-American population, but by December 11th, just days after Pearl Harbor, law enforcement detained approximately 1,200 individuals of Japanese descent. Stripped of citizenship rights, Japanese residents were declared "enemy aliens," even if born in the United States. By the end of 1941, Attorney General Biddle had authorized raids without search warrants on residences of Japanese Americans as long as one occupant was a Japanese alien.

Racist media had long characterized Japanese immigrants and their descendents as racially inferior, disloyal, and unable to assimilate into American society. The attack on Pearl Harbor exacerbated these racist sentiments, influencing government and military policy. The Western Defense Command, led by Lieutenant General John L. Dewitt, was tasked with assessing the alleged threat posed by Japanese-descended residents of the West Coast. Japanese Americans and resident aliens were forced to relinquish their shortwave radios and cameras and a curfew of 7 am to 7 pm was imposed. Those with Japanese ancestry could not congregate or travel in groups larger than five people and a special permit was required for those wanting to travel more than twenty-five miles from their homes.

In January 1942, a report prepared by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Owen Roberts, suggested (without hard evidence) that Japanese Americans living in Hawaii aided the Japanese Navy attack Pearl Harbor. Following a visit to the military base, Navy Secretary Frank Knox proclaimed that "Japanese subversives" residing in Hawaii assisted in planning the attack. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover reported to President Roosevelt that such allegations were unfounded. Racism and sensationalist concerns over wartime security fueled public momentum to remove Japanese residents from the West Coast. In February 1942, Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, as well as several members of Congress and General Dewitt, requested that Japanese resident aliens and American citizens of Japanese decent be removed from California, Oregon and Washington, claiming that internment was a legal exercise of the President's war powers

Two and a half months after the Japanese naval attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 authorizing the internment of Japanese immigrants and U.S.-born Japanese-Americans. On March 18, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9102, creating the War Relocation Authority to facilitate the removal of Japanese Americans and aliens from the West coast. The first "relocation" occurred on March 22, 1942. Residents from Los Angeles were sent to Manzanar center in Northern California, a 6,000-acre detainment site surrounded by barbed wire. Official notification to relocate often came in the form of notices posted on telephone poles, on sides of buildings, or on community bulletin boards. Those affected were given as little as four hours to liquidate their possessions and prepare for their indefinite internment.

Eventually, over 120,000 men, women, and children of Japanese descent were sent to the ten internment camps located in California, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado, and Arkansas. Approximately 77,000 of those interned were American born Nisei, meaning "second generation." The remaining 43,000 interned were immigrants, many of whom were Issei. These first generation immigrants were prevented by law from gaining U.S. citizenship, the result of a series of so-called Exclusion Acts curtailing Asian immigration and naturalization.

The internment program was challenged at the time, but the 1944 landmark case,Korematsu v. UnitedStates ruled that the program was legal. Three justices dissented, noting the inherent racism, unlawful deprivation of personal property, and the abuse of military authority associated with internment. The Japanese surrendered on August 14, 1945, with the official signing ceremony occurring on September 2, 1945. The last internment camp closed in March of 1946. When released from internment, many Japanese Americans had lost their homes and businesses. Racism continued to be a problem as several West Coast communities campaigned to prevent former internees from returning.


Stooping before nine elderly Japanese-Americans, several of them more than 100 years old and in wheelchairs, Attorney General Dick Thornburgh last week presented each one a formal Presidential apology, and a reparation check, for an episode that still stands out as one of the nation's worst violations of individual rights. During World War II, supposedly in order to forestall possible attacks by Japanese agents against strategic installations in the U.S., the federal government summarily ordered the "relocation" of 120,000 ordinary citizens and immigrants of Japanese descent to 10 internment camps.

Culminating decades of lobbying by Japanese-Americans to redress the pain and blot caused by the unjustified imprisonments, the bittersweet event commenced a race against time to reimburse, over the next three years, the 65,000 victims who remain alive. The $1.25 billion Civil Liberties Act of 1988, funded by Congress only this year, authorizes a $20,000 payment to every man, woman and child who suffered as a result of the internment policy and was still alive at the time the law was passed.


In 1981, the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) convened public hearings to investigate the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Over 750 witnesses recalled their experiences, spurring a campaign for an official government apology and monetary reparations to those interned. By 1983, the CWRIC submitted a formal request to the U.S. Congress to further investigate and provide payments to those who spent time in the camps and were still alive. That same year, Japanese-American Fred Korematsu returned to court seeking to overthrow the conviction that sparked his case against internment. The court dismissed Korematsu's arrest and conviction for evading internment orders, but failed to discuss its general ruling on internment. The case garnered further public support for reparations.

The 1988 Civil Liberties Act provided for an official apology and reparations payment of $20,000 a piece to the living victims of U.S. internment policies. An additional $400 million dollars for reparations was authorized in 1992.



Friedrich, Otto. "Pearl Harbor: A Time of Agony for Japanese Americans Interning 120,000 in Desolate Camps." Time. December 2, 1991.

Leo, John. "An Apology to Japanese-Americans; the Senate Says they Were Wrongly Interned During World War II." Time. May 2, 1988.

Molotsky, Irvin. "Senate Votes to Compensate Japanese-American Internees." New York Times. April 21, 1988.

Web sites

Truman Presidential Museum and Library. "The War Relocation Authority and the Incarceration of Japanese Americans During World War II." <http://www. japanese_internment/background.htm> (accessed May 10, 2006).

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