On December 7, 1941, the day that President Franklin Roosevelt called a "day that would live in infamy", the Empire of Japan launched an attack on Pearl Harbor Naval Station and the various air fields across the island of Oahu. The response to that attack was to declare war on the Empire of Japan. It brought the United States into World War II. Two months later, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066. The declared purpose of that order was to provide for the security of certain regions along the west coast of the United States.
Following the events at Pearl Harbor, the level of fear for imminent attack on the mainland increased. The most obvious target was the west coast region. California, Oregon, and Washington state were the most accessible regions if the Empire of Japan decided to make a thrust at the United States (Hawaii and Alaska were not states at that time). According to Executive Order 8972, signed by President Roosevelt on Dec. 12, and EO9066, there was an active effort to investigate and protect against espionage and sabotage within the United States. The Federal Bureau of Investigation was tasked with identifying potential spies or saboteurs. According to a letter from J. Edgar Hoover, then head of the F.B.I., to the President, the Bureau identified over 1,200 potential Japanese spies. Within 48 hours of the Pearl Harbor attack, all of those identified were taken into custody.
The west coast was a significant region vital to the growing war effort. The west coast was also home to hundreds of thousands of immigrants or direct descendants of immigrants from Japan. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, they became the targets of a growing hysteria against the Japanese. Businesses began to exclude customers who even looked Asian. There was increased pressure on government officials to do something to "protect" the people who lived there.
It was the decision of the President to issue an order to create "exclusion" zones. Within these areas, military officials had the authority to determine to exclude "any or all persons" and to restrict the rights of those persons to "enter, remain in, or leave". Furthermore, military forces were authorized to enforce compliance with these restrictions. EO9066 gave the military the right to declare any area deemed appropriate as a military area. They could then decide who could enter, remain, or leave that area. This order, while not specifically designating people of Japanese heritage, effectively was used to order any person of Japanese heritage to vacate that area, be transported to a holding location, and then relocated to another part of the country.
What happened from the experience of those impacted by the order was much more personal. They were given hours, or days, to liquidate their properties or secure their holdings. Land and homes that they owned, they were now forced to sell, lease, or entrust to another. They were allowed to pack two suitcases. They were loaded, under guard, onto trains. They were sent to a holding camp for days or weeks. Then they were sent by trains to camps that were established, under military control, for their internment. These camps stretched from the inland regions of the west coast all the way to Arkansas. There were approximately 122,000 people removed their homes and sent to these new camps.
The painful number in this is 70,000. It is estimated that about 70,000 of the people who were forced to surrender their homes and their lives were United States citizens. These people had all of the same rights and liberties and freedoms that every other person within the United States possesses. They shared the same right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness". And with the swipe of a pen, those rights and freedoms and liberty were disregarded. The "and justice for all" pledge that we all declare was completely ignored. There was no due process. There were no trials. There was no crime.
The Japanese Americans were selected because of hysteria and fear. They were living a normal, American life. They had jobs and went to school. They were business owners and professionals. They were laborers and farmers. They were young and teen age. They were married couples with children. They were singles looking for a bright future. And their lives were interrupted because it was decided that they were a threat just for living in the wrong place.
For more information (and a listing of my sources for this post):
- George Takei: Why I love a country that once betrayed me - YouTube
- Colorado Experience: Amache (full length) - YouTube
- Amache internment camp survivors remember tough times - The Denver Post
- Amache (Granada) | Densho Encyclopedia
- Encyclopedia of the Great Plains | AMACHE INTERNMENT CAMP
- Amache - Japanese-American Relocation Center
- Amache | Archives
- Granada War Relocation Center - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- Amache.org | Remembering the wrongful imprisonment of Japanese Americans
- Amache Japanese-American Relocation Center - Google Maps
- Photos: 3 Very Different Views Of Japanese Internment : Code Switch : NPR
- Our Documents - Executive Order 9066: Resulting in the Relocation of Japanese (1942)
- Roosevelt signs Executive Order 9066 - Feb 19, 1942 - HISTORY.com
- History - Suffering Under a Great Injustice: Ansel Adams's Photographs of Japanese-American Internment at Manzanar - Collection Connections | Teacher Resources - Library of Congress
- Executive Order 9066 | United States history | Britannica.com