Japanese Internment in America

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Japanese Internment in America

From 1942 to 1944, over one hundred and twenty thousand Japanese Americans living along the Pacific Coast were detained in internment camps (places in which people are confined in wartime) by the United States government. In Canada, about twenty-three thousand people of Japanese descent were removed from their homes in British Columbia and moved to camps further inland. Both governments' actions were defended as a military necessity after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941.

Immigration from Japan to North America began during the late nineteenth century. By 1900 there were over twenty-five thousand Issei (first-generation immigrants from Japan; pronounced "EE-say"), or Japanese citizens, living in the United States. Most settled along the West Coast, where they experienced economic success, especially in agriculture since a large part of the Pacific Coast's economy was built on agriculture and they could bring with them farming skills. However, they did not find social acceptance because of public prejudice against Asian immigrants. By 1940, about one hundred and twenty-seven thousand Japanese Americans lived in the United States. Approximately one-third of these were Issei and the remaining two-thirds were their children and grandchildren, who had been born in the United States and were U.S. citizens.

After the United States entered World War II (1939–45) in 1941, American citizens and government officials assumed Japan would attack the West Coast. In a striking overreaction based on fear and prejudice, Japanese Americans and Japanese aliens were regarded as potential enemy agents. Despite questions from government lawyers about the violation of citizens' constitutional civil rights, the government passed legislation allowing the U.S. Army to detain Japanese Americans based solely on their race. Those living in California, Oregon, Washington, and Arizona were removed from their homes and placed in one of ten internment camps throughout the United States.

Thirty-three thousand Japanese Americans served with distinction in the U.S. armed forces, even though many of their family and friends were detained throughout the war years. Prejudice against Asian Americans had been well established during the early years of the nineteenth century in North America. Restricted immigration, laws, and outright hostility set the stage for detaining an entire class of people based on race.

Japanese immigration into the United States

The United States opened Japan to world trade in the mid-nineteenth century when U.S. commodore Matthew C. Perry (1794–1858) sailed into Tokyo Harbor. Japan strove to meet the new challenges of trade and industrialization. Leaders worked to build a powerful nation that would not fall under the domination of any foreign power. The heavy taxes imposed to fund this drive fell mostly on the Japanese farming class. Under the burden of taxation, young males began to leave Japan to look for work as laborers in the independent monarchy, or realm, of Hawaii. Hearing about the new possibilities in America with rapid growth of industry and agriculture in the American West, Japanese began to arrive in the United States by the 1890s. This first generation of immigrants from Japan to America was called Issei.


People who hold citizenship in a foreign country.
A person held in custody, often for political reasons.
internment camp:
A place in which people are confined in wartime.
Opposition to foreign commitments or involvement in foreign disputes.
The first generation of immigrants from Japan to America.
The process through which a citizen of one country becomes the citizen of another country, often requiring a certain length of residence.
Children of Issei born in the United States.

Issei drew the anger of Americans, who saw the alien Japanese as a competitive threat to their own livelihoods. Alien is a term used to describe people who hold citizenship in a foreign country. Under U.S. immigration law that was strongly prejudiced against Asian immigrants, the Issei were aliens not eligible for citizenship. In contrast, other immigrants arriving from Europe could obtain citizenship. Therefore, they were not able to vote and held no political power among politicians to see that their needs and wants were recognized by the government.

Objecting to the presence of the Japanese on racial and economic grounds, a group of American labor unions formed the Asiatic Exclusion League in 1905 in San Francisco. The League gathered in California in May 1905 to protest the immigration of all Asians into the United States. Various organizations, primarily labor unions, proposed laws and resolutions that encouraged prejudice against the Japanese. In 1906, heightened racism resulted in Japanese children being segregated (separated) from American students in the public school system in California. The move sparked a diplomatic crisis between the two countries. The following year, the United States and Japan reached the Gentleman's Agreement. Japanese children would be integrated back into the public schools, and Japan would not issue any more passports to Japanese wanting to immigrate to the United States to find work.

An unanticipated result of the Gentleman's Agreement was that tens of thousands of Japanese women began to immigrate to the United States. They came in order to participate in arranged marriages with the Issei who desired to create Japanese American families and remain in the United States. The sentiment on the West Coast among the predominantly white public remained one of suspicion against the Japanese, and this new development in immigration only heightened the uneasiness.

While the Japanese were recognized as good laborers with a strong work ethic, they were viewed as competitors for jobs and not welcomed as fellow citizens. This prejudice existed despite the Japanese willingness to take physically difficult and exhausting work that few Americans were willing to take at low pay. They differed in appearance and customs, including clothing and religion, and they experienced limited interaction on a social level with their white neighbors, who were mostly of northern and western European descent. However, the services provided by the Issei became more and more important to the West Coast economy as Japanese small businesses expanded to include everything from produce houses and laundries to hotels and restaurants.

In 1913 and 1920, the California legislature passed the Alien Land Acts which made owning land illegal if the owner was ineligible to apply for citizenship. Some Issei dealt with the problem by setting up corporations to hold title to the land they had accumulated. Others registered their holdings in the names of their children, the Nisei (pronounced "NEE-say"), who had been born in the United States. Anyone born in the United States, even if parents were aliens, was a U.S. citizen. Both attempts to evade the intent of the law were closed by an amendment to the Alien Land Law in 1923.

Like other immigrant groups who had difficulty integrating into U.S. society in large part due to racial and ethnic discrimination, the Issei tended to gather together in isolated communities such as "Little Tokyo" in Los Angeles and "Little Osaka" in San Francisco. These communities provided educational and religious organizations that strengthened the security of the immigrants' position in their adopted country. On the other hand, it set the largely self-sufficient Japanese apart from the larger community and increased the sense of suspicion and discrimination against them. Initiatives and legislation to restrict or prohibit Japanese immigration, land ownership, and U.S. citizenship would continue for decades to come.

Acting on the public prejudices, Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1924 in order to limit immigration to the United States. Immigrants from Asia and eastern and southern Europe were particularly restricted. Asian immigrants were entirely banned. Americans were greatly prejudiced against eastern and southern European immigrants, who had begun arriving in the United States in large numbers in the 1890s. They were darker skinned and had different cultural traditions than western and northern Europeans who had largely settled North America and many of the southern and eastern Europeans were Catholics, a religion much disdained by the general public in the United States. Life became especially difficult and complicated for children of Issei—the Nisei—who, although they were American citizens, were caught between two countries and two identities. The Issei criticized their own children for being too American while American society viewed them as too Japanese. Despite high expectations from their parents, the Nisei faced limited employment opportunities outside their community.

In the late 1920s, the Nisei organized the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) in order to increase their involvement in American politics. Membership was extended only to those who possessed U.S. citizenship. One hundred and two registered delegates attended the first convention in Seattle, Washington, on August 29, 1930. The JACL creed, adopted in 1940, declared "I'm proud I'm an American citizen of Japanese ancestry. I pledge myself to do honor to her [America] at all times and places; to defend her against all enemies, foreign and domestic; to actively assume my duties and obligations as a citizen, cheerfully and without any reservation whatsoever, in the hope that I may become a better American in a greater America."

By 1940, about 127,000 Japanese Americans lived in the United States, approximately 112,000 of them in California and along the Pacific Coast. Less than 50,000 were Issei and the majority were Nisei or their children, called Sansei or "third generation," who were also U.S. citizens.

United States enters World War II

Germany, Italy, and Japan formed an alliance in the late 1930s with the mutual goal of acquiring additional territory for each nation. The three together were known as the Axis Powers. The Japanese leaders believed boundary expansion was necessary to gain control of natural resources for the Japanese people to remain economically competitive with the West and assure Japan's future existence as a strong nation. By the early twentieth century, Japan had already developed an aggressive plan to increase its hold on the territory and natural resources of southern Asia. By 1940, Japan's stated goal was to construct a Japanese Empire that would extend from Manchuria (in Northeastern China) to Thailand.

In 1939, German troops invaded Poland to further expand Germany's growing military domination of Europe. Through a secret agreement with the Soviet Union, Germany divided Poland between itself and the Soviets. As a result of the invasion, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939, marking the beginning of World War II. The United States maintained a position of neutrality (not taking sides).

When France was defeated by Germany in June 1940, the United States changed from a policy of neutrality to supporting Great Britain, the chief country opposing Germany. War strategists concluded that the security of the United States depended on the continued existence of the Great Britain. The American government chose to avoid an outright declaration of war because the general public and Congress favored a policy of isolationism (staying out of foreign commitments or involvement in foreign disputes). Instead, the United States planned to provide the British with war materials while maintaining a defensive position against Japan in the Pacific. In July 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45) froze all Japanese assets, or possessions, in the United States and later established a commercial blockade (shutting off a seaport entrance to prevent ships from entering or leaving) against Japan. This political action greatly increased tensions between Japan and the United States.

In December 1941, Prime Minister Hideki Tojo (1884–1948) began Japan's move toward expansion in the Pacific with an attack on the U.S. naval fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Japan's goal was to cripple the U.S. fleet. Tojo reasoned if the United States was unable to resist at sea, Japanese forces would be able to complete their expansion into Southeast Asia and protect their growing empire. The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7 with devastating success. On December 8, President Roosevelt asked Congress to declare a state of war against the Empire of Japan. Following declarations of war against the United States by Japan's allies, Germany and Italy, the United States also officially entered World War II in Europe.

The final days of 1941 and early months of 1942 were marked by U.S. preparations for war and fear of further attacks, most likely on the West Coast. Reports of successive Japanese victories throughout Southeast Asia filled the news media. Rumors that Japanese Hawaiians had aided the attack on Pearl Harbor were reported in the U.S. press. Statements by government officials as well as newspaper editors added to the public's fears that a West Coast invasion was at hand.

Threat of a Japanese invasion, often referred to as the "yellow peril" in a derogatory reference to skin color, loomed in the minds of Americans living on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. The shores were patrolled constantly in search of the enemy. Because of the perceived threat to national security, the U.S. and Canadian governments began an intense campaign to remove persons of Japanese ancestry, both U.S. and Canadian citizens and non-citizens, from the Pacific Coast. From 1942 to 1944, the U.S. government evacuated over one hundred and twenty thousand Japanese Americans from their homes and transferred them to detention camps because of fears about their loyalty.

Executive Order 9066

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, all Japanese living in North America were regarded as potential enemy agents. There was a great deal of pressure to remove them from their West Coast homes. In Canada, there were about 23,000 people of Japanese descent living in the west, mostly in British Colombia. As a member of the British Commonwealth, Canada had been involved in the war since it began in 1939. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor the Canadian government began to move Japanese men of military age to inland work camps. In February 1942, those Japanese Canadians remaining in British Colombia were relocated to camps farther east. Most of their property was confiscated and they lived under stark conditions with poor protection from harsh winter conditions.

Despite warnings from U.S. attorney general Francis Biddle (1886–1968) that the forced removal of U.S. citizens was unconstitutional, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942. Order 9066 authorized the evacuation of selected persons from certain military areas in the country and established curfews and evacuation directives. Congress quickly passed Public Law No. 503, which put Order 9066 into U.S. law.

All Japanese Americans—Issei, Nisei, and even those with only one grandparent of Japanese ancestry—were affected. With the United States at war with Germany and its ally Italy, German and Italian citizens who lived in the United States, and greatly outnumbered the Japanese people living in the designated areas, were also affected by the order. However, those Germans and Italians who were considered suspect would be allowed individual hearings, while the Japanese were not treated as individuals but as an enemy race. All Japanese, Italian, and German aliens in the United States were designated "enemy aliens" and were required to carry special identification or run the risk of being detained or deported. Besides being restricted from traveling near important defense installations such as military bases and shipyards, enemy aliens could not possess short-wave radios or cameras. The government did not want them potentially communicating with Japanese officials overseas or taking pictures of prospective military targets.

The signing of Order 9066 set in motion the steps leading up to the relocation of Japanese Americans on the West Coast. President Roosevelt established the War Relocation Authority (WRA) to oversee their removal. Milton Eisenhower (1899–1985), brother of famous American general Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890–1969), headed the WRA for its first three months to get the program established. He then left to help lead the Office of War Information. Dillon S. Meyer replaced him.

In early 1942 U.S. Army lieutenant general John L. DeWitt (1880–1962), commanding general of the Army's Western Defense Command, ordered the removal of two thousand Japanese living on Terminal Island in Los Angeles, California. They were given twenty-four hours to sell their homes and businesses. DeWitt then declared the western half of California, Oregon, and Washington to be military zones but allowed for voluntary evacuation. Despite selling their property as directed, most Japanese at this time remained where they were as they had no where else to go.

On March 24, 1942, another military order established a nighttime curfew and a five-mile travel restriction on persons of Japanese ancestry. That same day, a removal order was issued on Bainbridge Island, Washington, where military operations were located. Japanese Americans were given twenty-four hours to evacuate. Attempts to resettle outside the military zones were complicated by the five-mile travel restriction. There was uncertainty and confusion over where the Japanese could evacuate to. The general public's threatening attitude frightened the Japanese Americans trying to comply with the military order. The evacuation was initially very chaotic.

By early spring of 1942, the American government solved the evacuation confusion. Officials posted orders in Japanese communities directing all persons of Japanese ancestry to report to assembly points. Each family was issued a number and a list of approved baggage. They could bring only what they could carry and pets were not allowed. With only days to prepare, the Japanese were forced to sell their homes, cars, and businesses at prices far below their market value. Neighbors and others took advantage of the evacuees' situation by buying their possessions and businesses for very little money. Some welcomed the elimination of Japanese Americans as competitors in agriculture and small business. The U.S. government also began legal proceedings to gain control of the evacuees' farmland and other properties.

Relocation centers and internment camps

By June 1942, all Japanese Americans living in California, Oregon, Washington and Arizona had been removed from their homes. The WRA was placed in charge of overseeing the resettlement process for over one hundred thousand people. Some of the detainees had little awareness of their Japanese ancestry, as they were American citizens with as little as one-sixteenth Japanese blood.

Because the evacuation had been hastily arranged, no facilities for detaining the evacuees existed when the order to relocate was given. The WRA used existing structures such as abandoned stockyards, off-season racetracks, and unused fairgrounds to temporarily house the detainees. Having recently left comfortable houses with every modern convenience, the Japanese Americans often found themselves now calling a horse stall their home. Freedom was eliminated and privacy was minimal. Government officials at the centers administered tests to determine each person's level of loyalty to the United States. Among the numerous questions, they were asked whether they wanted to renounce their U.S. citizenship. Feeling great pressure, almost six thousand did. Families stayed an average of one hundred days at an assembly center before being transported to a detention camp.

The first permanent internment facilities were located at Manzanar, California, and Poston, Arizona. They were army reception centers that had been turned over to the WRA to house the detainees. Other camps were hastily built in remote areas inland because many communities were unwilling to accept the detainees in their neighborhoods. Additional camps were built in Tule Lake, California; Gila River, Arizona; Topaz, Utah; Minidoka, Idaho; Amache, Colorado; Heart Mountain, Wyoming; Rohwer, Arkansas; and Jerome, Arkansas. By the first anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, over one hundred and ten thousand people of Japanese descent had been placed in a WRA camp. Under the direction of a manager appointed by the army, several hundred white staff members and soldiers managed each camp. Amache was the smallest camp, housing seventy-three hundred detainees, and Tule Lake, holding about eighteen thousand, was the largest.

Early on there was a drive to separate loyal Japanese Americans from the threat of pro-Japanese agitators who considered themselves to be prisoners of war because of their internment by the United States. By 1943, most of the openly defiant detainees who professed to be anti-American had been transferred to the camp at Tule Lake in California where they were under heavy guard.

The U.S. military commanders in Hawaii were less prejudiced against the 150,000 Japanese Americans living there, about one-third of the island's population. Therefore, people of Japanese ancestry living in the Hawaiian Islands were not sent to relocation camps. Japanese people were the largest single ethnic group in Hawaii at the beginning of World War II and their businesses were an essential part of the economy. As a result, they were not affected except for a few hundred whose loyalty to the United States was suspect. Those were sent to the U.S. mainland for detention.

Creating a life within camps

The WRA camps were built in remote parts of the country that few other Americans found habitable. Summer temperatures were often suffocating and winter temperatures sometimes dipped below zero degrees Fahrenheit. Each camp consisted of hundreds of wooden barracks covered with tar paper. A single building housed up to three hundred Japanese Americans. Within each building a family's one-room living quarters measured twenty feet wide by twenty-five feet long. Walls were paper thin and families could hear all that went on within their barracks. WRA officials planned for a family of four to live in each unit but as many as ten people often crowded together in order to keep their extended family together. The residents went to work making furniture and sewing curtains to add personality and privacy to their small homes.

The embarrassing lack of privacy in the barracks was overshadowed by the complete lack of privacy in the public showers and toilets in the camp. Women wore swimsuits to take showers in the crowded facilities and the men gathered scrap lumber to build screens for the men's and women's latrines to allow each individual some privacy.

The barracks were not equipped for each family to cook their own meals and so detainees ate in a common dining hall. A recreation hall housed numerous activities in the camps. For recreation, the Issei made traditional Japanese crafts and artwork from whatever materials they could scrape together. For games, the Nisei used whatever equipment the evacuees had brought with them. Ping pong, badminton, and cards were common indoor games in the recreation halls that were much larger than any of the housing. Basketball, football, golf, and tennis were also options, but everything took second place to the favored American sport of baseball. The detainees, using seeds provided by the government, also tended small "victory gardens" that contained lettuce and various vegetable. These gardens were widely promoted by the government to encourage all Americans, even detained Japanese Americans, to add to the nation's production of food.

The camps developed a sense of routine, and each fall nearly thirty thousand Nisei children were prepared to start school in makeshift classrooms set up by the WRA in one of the barracks. The schools lacked textbooks and laboratory equipment. Often each student's only school supplies were a small blackboard and chalk or writing tablet and pencil. The schools were staffed by white teachers as well as teachers selected from among the detainees.

There was plenty of work for the adults in the camps. Many worked in the kitchens, laundries, or administrative offices while others worked in any available fields or orchards. Detainees from the medical professions staffed small hospitals to provide medical care for other residents. Over time, people established churches, post offices, fire departments, and newspapers in order to make life more tolerable in the camps. They made great use of the scant supplies provided them by camp guards or could be salvaged within the camp.

Japanese Americans also willingly worked to do their part for the war effort. Some made huge camouflage nets for the Army to hide military equipment on the battlefield. Where the land allowed, sugar beets were grown to provide sugar for overseas as well as the homefront. Because there was a nationwide shortage of rubber, farmers grew guayule, a plant that contains rubber. It was used to make tires for military vehicles and airplanes necessary for the war. In general, interned Japanese Americans tried to keep up the same homefront activities that all Americans participated in across the nation such as Red Cross blood drives, war bond (government certificates sold to individuals and corporations to raise money to finance war with the purchaser receiving their money back plus interest at a future time) sales, and scrap-metal drives. Scrap-metal drives gathered discarded or unused items made of metal, such as metal pots and pans and car parts, that were needed by the defense industry.

The Ringle Report

The curfews, evacuations, and detentions of Japanese Americans were all legally challenged in the U.S. courts throughout the war. Over one hundred individuals attempted to challenge the government's orders and a few cases even reached the Supreme Court. These included Yasui v. United States (1943), Hirabayashi v. United States (1943), and Korematsu v. United States (1944). Although Gordon Hirabayashi was convicted of curfew violation, his case did cause the Court to consider the constitutional question of whether the curfew orders issued by U.S. Army Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt could be applied selectively on the basis of race. The Court declared that military necessity required Japanese Americans to be selectively subject to the curfew order because their racial group constituted a greater source of danger to military efforts. Fred Korematsu's case forced the Court to rule on the constitutionality of evacuation and internment. The Court sided with the federal government in stating that the detention was a military necessity and Korematsu's conviction was upheld.

Decades later, a 1983 report by the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians concluded that Executive Order 9066 was not justified by military necessity. The Commission's findings allowed the courts to reopen the Korematsu, Yasui, and Hirabayashi cases. It stated that the policies of detention and exclusion were the result of racism, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership. The commission found that the U.S. government had suppressed important information in a report known as the Ringle Report.

Lieutenant Commander Kenneth D. Ringle, of the Office of Naval Intelligence, had questioned the validity of interning Japanese Americans in a memorandum written in February 1942. The Ringle Report estimated that the number of Japanese Americans who could be considered enemy agents of Japan was less than 3 percent of the total, or about 3,500 Japanese Americans in the United States. The most dangerous of these were already in custodial detention or were well known to the authorities. Ringle concluded that the "Japanese Problem" was greatly distorted and cases should be handled individually and not based on race.

De Witt was aware of the Ringle Report and therefore knew that, according to Naval Intelligence estimates, 90 percent of the Army's evacuation of Japanese Americans was unnecessary. When the Department of Justice filed government briefs in the Hirabayashi and Korematsu cases it chose not to mention the Ringle Report. Instead it asserted that Japanese Americans must be evacuated as an entire class. The Ringle Report held key evidence that the court could have used in determining the critical question of military necessity. When the cases were reopened, all three convictions were overturned (decision of lower court reversed). It was determined that the government's suppression of evidence resulted in a miscarriage of justice.

Japanese in the U.S. military

Late in 1942, the WRA distributed a form titled "Application for Leave Clearance" for detainees to fill out. The WRA explained that the form would help administrators determine the loyalty of those interned. Japanese Americans who gave acceptable answers would be allowed to leave the camps and move to cities in the eastern and midwestern parts of the country. It was determined there were fewer prejudices against the Japanese in these cities and there were also many war-industry jobs available. U.S. farms were suffering from a labor shortage and many detainees left to return to jobs in agriculture. Anyone who could prove he had employment outside the camp was permitted to leave. Between 1943 and 1944, many thousands of the detainees left for jobs in government departments, defense plants, agriculture, and the military.

The "Application for Leave Clearance" contained twenty-eight questions. The last two questions initially caused a sharp division among those living in the camps. The applicant was asked to swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and be prepared to serve in the Armed Forces. Many Issei believed renouncing their Japanese citizenship while not being allowed to become U.S. citizens would leave them without a country. There was also a strong negative reaction to sending young men to war to fight for freedom, liberty and justice while it was denied to their families because of their race.

Nevertheless, despite their internment some Nisei believed that joining the military was their opportunity to finally demonstrate the loyalty that they had always sworn to have for the United States. There were twenty-three thousand men of military age in the camps and the Army initially received about twelve hundred volunteer applications for basic training. Of these, approximately eight hundred passed their physicals and were inducted.

Early in 1943, Nisei recruits left the internment camps for basic training at Camp Shelby, near Hattiesburg, Mississippi. They joined a group of Hawaiian soldiers who made up the 100th Infantry Battalion. Once basic training was completed, the Army shipped the Hawaiian 100th and the all-Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team overseas for combat duty. Over twenty-five thousand Japanese Americans served with distinction in the U.S. armed forces, but the 442nd became the most decorated, or honored with awards, army unit of World War II. The 100th Battalion compiled such an impressive war record that it earned the nickname "the Purple Heart Battalion."

In January 1944, Nisei became eligible for the military draft. They participated in all major campaigns in the Pacific. Several hundred Nisei women also joined the Army. In the war against Japan, Japanese Americans also served in Military Intelligence where they translated captured documents, interrogated prisoners of war, worked with signal intelligence intercepting enemy electronic communications, and issued war propaganda (spreading information, often misinformation, to persuade people to adopt a certain viewpoint). The names of former residents serving in the military were proudly displayed as an honor roll on a billboard in each camp.


While Japanese Americans fought and died for their country, many of their friends and families still lived in internment camps. Angry about their continuing confinement, several thousand Japanese Americans renounced their U.S. citizenship while in camp. Those considered by U.S. officials as greater threats to the United States had been sent to other camps with higher security. Some who renounced their citizenship were repatriated back to Japan; however, most had their U.S. citizenship reinstated when it was ruled that their renunciation occurred under coercion.

By December 1944, the end of the war was in sight with a probable Allied victory. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Korematsu v. United States that the forced internments were a military necessity and therefore did not violate the U.S. constitutional principles. Nonetheless, the war was winding down and the remaining forty-four thousand Japanese Americans being detained were freed. Many had nowhere to go and lingered at the camps. As a result, the last camp did not actually close until March 1946.

Japanese Americans were allowed to move anywhere in the United States except to the West Coast. Reports of cruelty and inhumane acts by the Japanese military during the war overshadowed the acts of bravery by the Nisei soldiers for many Americans. A great deal of hatred for people of Japanese heritage still existed in the Pacific states. This sentiment is reflected in a quote from a union leader of a central California agricultural association. As reprinted in Michael Cooper's 2000 book Fighting for Honor: Japanese Americans and World War II, it reads: "We're charged with wanting to get rid of the Japs for selfish reasons. We might as well be honest. We do. It's a question of whether the white man lives on the Pacific Coast or the brown men. They came into this valley to work, and they stayed to take over."

General hostility made some Japanese Americans fearful of returning to U.S. society at all. In November 1945, fifteen hundred renounced their U.S. citizenship and boarded a ship bound for Japan.

Although some community leaders resisted having Japanese Americans settle in their cities, most of the violence against them occurred in rural farming communities. Stores displayed signs stating Japanese would not be served and town buildings were marked with graffiti bearing racial slurs and threatening physical harm. Just as much as anger over the war, the hostilities were believed to be rooted in the fear of economic competition from the Japanese Americans.

The Civil Liberties Act

The economic losses suffered by Japanese American internment amounted to more than $400 million in property and income. The psychological stress of confinement and the humiliation of being regarded as traitors to their country cannot be calculated. After the war, some Japanese Americans began to seek financial compensation for the losses they had suffered. The American government passed the Japanese American Evacuation Claims Act of 1948 to compensate evacuees for property damage. The McCarran-Walter Act of 1952 removed the ethnic and racial bars to immigration and naturalization (the process through which a citizen of one country becomes the citizen of another country, often requiring a certain length of residence). Japanese immigrants, as well as resident aliens who had lived in the United States for many years, were allowed to become naturalized citizens. In 1959, U.S. citizenship was restored to Japanese Americans who had renounced it in protest during their confinement.

The extreme ethnic and racial discrimination against Japanese Americans during World War II was long overlooked or ignored by the American public. Finally, in 1976 President Gerald R. Ford (1913–; served 1974–77) formally revoked Executive Order 9066 and issued a statement declaring that the evacuation was wrong. In 1980, Congress established the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. The Commission's report, issued in 1983, concluded that 9066 was not justified by military necessity and the government withheld information in the Ringle Report. Congress passed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 and symbolically named the bill House Resolution 442, in honor of the Nisei battalion 442 of World War II. President Ronald Reagan (1911–2004; served 1981–89) signed the bill, which awarded each person who had been interned an apology and $20,000.

Forty years after the bombing of Pearl Harbor by Japanese, the United States was faced with fear of another ethnic group, Arab Americans. On September 11, 2001, almost three thousand civilians died when terrorists from the Middle East attacked the U.S. mainland. As a result, the U.S. government investigated and deported many Middle Eastern people who were staying in the country illegally. However, the Civil Liberties Act guaranteed that the government would never again incarcerate a group of its owncitizens without due process of law (treated fairly and their civil liberties respected). They could not be detained solely on the basis of race Because of that bill, the government did not round up and detain American citizens of Middle Eastern descent or Middle Easterners who were legally in the country as it had with Japanese Americans during World War II.

The government offered little assistance for Japanese Americans in their efforts to resettle. The loss of property and income left most with little to return to and the additional challenge of starting over. Those who had managed to store some of their property often found it had been stolen or vandalized during their three-year absence. Complicating the struggle to resettle was a housing shortage in many U.S. cities. The severe shortage was caused by American workers who had moved into cities to take advantage of the high wages of war-industry jobs plus the return of millions of veterans. To alleviate the situation, Japanese American churches organized hostels, or inns, for those returning from the camps while others settled into old Army barracks or trailers. Many Japanese Americans were able to integrate back into mainstream society but they carried with them a fear that their ancestry, rather than their actions, would always determine how they would be treated.

For More Information


Conrat, Richard, and Maisie Conrat. Executive Order 9066. Los Angeles: California Historical Society, 1972.

Cooper, Michael L. Fighting for Honor: Japanese Americans and World War II. New York: Clarion Books, 2000.

Fugita, Stephen S., and Marilyn Fernandez. Altered Lives, Enduring Community. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2004.

Lehman, Jeffrey, and Shirelle Phelps, eds. West's Encyclopedia of American Law. 2nd ed. Detroit: Thomson Gale, 2005.

Wells, Anne Sharp. Historical Dictionary of World War II: The War Against Japan. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1999.


Japanese American Citizens League. http://www.jacl.org/ (accessed on November 22, 2006).

Japanese American National Museum. http://www.janm.org (accessed on November 22, 2006).

National Japanese American Historical Society. http://www.nikkeiheritage.org/ (accessed on November 22, 2006).

"The War Relocation Authority and The Incarceration of Japanese-Americans During World War II." Truman Presidential Museum and Library. http://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/japanese_internment/background.htm (accessed on November 22, 2006).

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