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Japanese American Internment

The Japanese American internment refers to the exclusion and subsequent removal of approximately 112,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans, officially classified as "persons of Japanese ancestry", from certain parts of the United States during World War II to temporary relocation camps in the nation's interior. The government of the United States officially apologized for this action in the 1980s and has paid reparations, and claims for about 60 years to survivors.

Table of contents
1 Terminology
2 History
3 Compensation
4 Terminology: Internment vs. Relocation
5 Conditions in the camps
6 Criticisms
7 Other camps
8 Legal Legacy
9 List of internment camps
10 External links
11 Documents of Interest


While this action is most commonly referred to as internment, some argue that relocation is a more appropriate term. The main arguments for this view are (1) internment occurs in a prison; the Japanese Americans were not required to stay in the camps and they were permitted to settle anywhere outside the exclusion area; (2) an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 internees did eventually settle outside the exclusion area; (3) the contemporaneous term used by Roosevelt administration and the WRA was relocation center and officials specifically distinguished the WRA camps from internment camps.

Many other things besides both internment and relocation are involved, among them: individual and group exclusion from "military" zones, deportation, illegal detainment, de-naturalization, alien enemy registration requirements, curfews, travel restrictions, and property confiscation (including seizures, freezing, bond seizure, and restrictions) for those of foreign birth and/or of "enemy" ancestry.

Using different definitions of internment, you can arrive at different numbers of those affected.

Only 9,009 people of Japanese ancestry from the US were interned under the Alien Enemy Act of 1798 (50 USC 21-24), compared to a total of 23,435 internees from America. Of those 9,009, only 8,004 were from the continental US.

Of all American citizens who were descended from "enemy" ancestry (Italian, German and Japanese), the only recorded instances of American citizens asking for renunciation of their citizenship were of Japanese ancestry. 5,620 of these renunciants, who had asked to be repatriated to Japan, were not included in the general internment totals (which would otherwise be 14,629 out of 29,055 - not including any non-American residents).

Internment is strictly limited to non-citizens, under the Alien Enemy Act, however with governmental approval children and spouses who were American citizens were allowed to also be interned with their relatives. Luckily in almost all Japanese cases the children were permitted to go with their parents, instead of being left to fend for themselves, or placed in orphanages/foster homes.

The individual exclusion zones were particularly onerous, as they were personally targeted, and very swift - allowing very little time to relocate. Government agents continued to follow the excludees they couldn't convict of crimes and warn potential new employers, police, and people of their new towns on how "dangerous" they were.

For example in Korematsu's case the Japanese population had 5 days from May 3, 1942 until 12 noon, May 8 (or 9th) to leave their hometown according to General DeWitt's Civilian Exclusion Order No. 34.


During the period of 1939-1941, the FBI compiled the Custodial Detention index ("CDI") on citizens, enemy aliens and foreign nationals which might be dangerous.

On June 28, 1940 the Alien Registration Act of 1940 (or Smith Act) is passed, Section 31 required the registration and fingerprinting of aliens above the age of 14, Section 35 required reports of change of address within 5 days. Registered aliens are to get back their Green Cards, after form processing. Within 4 months 4,741,971 registered at post offices around the country. Of the 1.1 million aliens above the age of 14 who would be classed as enemy aliens, 683,259 were males of which only 56,332 were Japanese.

The attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 led many to suspect the Japanese were preparing a full-scale attack on the West Coast. Further attacks, such as the submarine shelling of an California oil refinery in 1942 redoubled these suspicions. Also, Japan's rapid military conquest of much of Asia made their military machine seem to Americans frighteningly unstoppable. Thus, the presence of about 100,000 ethnic Japanese on the West Coast was considered a huge security risk.

Critics of the exclusion often claim that there was no military justification for it as there are no cases of military espionage was ever that has was ever attributable to Japanese-Americans. David Lowman has, however, asserted the decryption of the MAGIC codes suggested to the military and political leaders at the time that there was a vast spy network of Japanese-Americans feeding information to Japan's war machine. His claims have been controversial with others pointing out that much of the information that the Japanese obtained may have come from public sources such as newspapers, and that communications by Japanese consular officials stating an attempt to recruit Japanese-Americans did not necessarily mean that those attempts were successful. However, some of the intercepted messages specifically said that the information had come from Japanese-American spies. One captured Japanese officer who had graduated from UCLA, and spoke fluent English specifically reported attempting to cultivate contacts for such spying, as reported in a letter sent to Congressman Wallop of Wyoming by a serviceman.

Commander Kenneth Ringle estimated that 25% of all Americans of Japanese ancestry were of doubtful loyalty and that about 3,500 could be expected to become espionage agents and sabotageurs.

Approximately 20,000 Japanese-americans in Japan at the start of the war joined the Japanese war effort, and hundreds joined the Japanese Army. Tomoya Kawakita, an American citizen who worked as an interpreter and a POW guard for the Japanese army, actively participated in the torture (and at least one death) of American soldiers, including survivors of the Bataan Death March.

In January 25, 1942 the Secretary of War reported that "on the Pacific coast not a single ship had sailed from our Pacific ports without being subsequently attacked". Due to this espionage was suspected.

In addition to espionage, there was also concern that in the event of an invasion there could be sabotage of both military and civilian facilities inside the United States. For instance, California's water systems were highly vulnerable, and there were concerns about arson, brush fires in particular.

Administration and military leaders doubted the loyalty of ethnic Japanese. Many, including some born in America, had been educated in Japan, where school curricula emphasized reverence for the Emperor. Several pro-Japan groups, such as the Black Dragon Society, functioned both inside and outside the camps, and pro-Japan riots occurred in many camps, which required moving some residents to Tule Lake (see below). 19,000 Japanese applied to be returned to Japan during the war. 94% of military-aged men said they would not serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. Some, however, did serve, in the famed 442nd regiment which operated in Europe (not Japan, as some believe). Many of the American residents refused to take a loyalty oath to America (or a promise to abide by American laws), which with the exception of a reference to the Japanese Emperor, was the same as required by draftees and war industry workers. There was no comparable refusal by Germans, Italians or other Europeans living in America.

On December 7, 1941 Presidential Proclamations 2525 (German), 2526 (Italian) and 2527 (Japanese) were signed. Many homes were raided using the CDI and other information, and hundreds of aliens were in custody by the end of the day, including Germans and Italians (although war was not declared on Germany or Italy until Dec 11). As of 11:AM, Dec 9th 1,801 aliens were in custody, of which 1,221 were Japanese (376 of them in Hawaii) - the author of that memorandum "did not believe there would be very many more arrests of Japanese."

Only 6,056 of the 16,811 foriegners arrested in security measures by the FBI between December 7, 1941 and June 30, 1945 were of non-European descent.

Presidential Proclamation 2537 issued on Jan.14, 1942, 1 million enemy aliens register. Any change of address, employment or name had to be reported to the FBI/DOJ. Enemy aliens were not allowed to enter restricted areas. Violaters of regulations were subject to "arrest, detention and internment for the duration of the war."

Executive Order 9066, signed by Franklin D Roosevelt on February 19, 1942, allowed military commanders to designate areas "which any or all persons may be excluded, and with such respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave...". These exclusion zones, unlike internment, were applicable to both citizens and non-citizens. Eventually such areas would include both the East and West Coasts, and about 1/3 of the country, and were applied to all of those of Enemy Alien Ancestry (of which the Japanese were a minority).

On March 2, 1942 General DeWitt issued Public Proclamation No. 1, applying to all those of enemy ancestry in areas of the West Coast were required to file Change of Residence Notices. Subsequent proclamations expanded the coverage all of California, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Nevada and Utah, and the southern portion of Arizona.

March 11, 1942 Executive Order 9095 created the Office of the Alien Property Custodian giving it discretionary, plenary authority over all alien property interests. Many assets were frozen, creating immediate financial difficulty for the affected aliens.

March 27, 1942, by Proclamation No. 4, General DeWitt proclaimed as of March 29, 1942 all Japanese and Americans of Japanese ancestry were restricted from leaving Military Area No. 1, in order to ensure an orderly migration.

May 9, 1942 most were forced from their homes.

Over 112,000 residents of Japanese ancestry were excluded from regions of the US, however nearly 40% of those excludees were enemy aliens who should have been interned, the remaining 67,000+ were US citizens by birth. The last of these "subversives" was not removed until 11 months after Pearl Harbor, 3 months after the last exclusion order was issued. The leisure with which such orders were issued, and the fact that martial law was not declared, leads to the conclusion that military necessity was not as urgent as represented.

The Japanese internees were first sent to one of 17 temporary "Civilian Assembly Centers," where most awaited shipment to a more permanent relocation center. Some of those who did report to the civilian assembly centers were not sent to relocation centers, but were released upon condition that they remain outside the prohibited zone until the military orders were modified or lifted. Almost 120,000 Japanese Americans and resident Japanese aliens would eventually be removed from their homes in California, western Oregon and Washington, and southern Arizona as part of the single largest forced relocation in U.S. history. Only those of Japanese ancestry were offered berths in the relocation centers, whereas the bulk of the population of enemy ancestry effected by exclusion orders faced immediate and mandatory resettlement with minimal assistance.

Many Japanese spent the next three years in one of ten "relocation centers" across the country, which were run by the newly-formed War Relocation Authority (WRA). Although 35,000 of them rapidly left for portions of the US not in the exclusionary zones. Others would be held in facilities run by the Department of Justice and the U.S. Army. Federal officials attempted to conduct the massive relocation in a humane manner.

Most of these camps/residences, gardens, and stock areas were placed on Native American reservations, for which the Native Americans were not compensated, nor consulted about. The Native Americans consoled themselves that they might at least get the improvements made to the land, but at the end of the duration such buildings, and gardens were bulldozed or sold by the government instead.

National Student Council Relocation Program, which only gave benefits to Japanese relocatees, placed 4,300 individual scholarships to more than 500 colleges and universities located outside of the exclusionary zone.

Japanese Americans in Hawaii were not subject in the internment policy, despite the fact that they were closer to essential military facilities than most of the Japanese Americans in the western states. The main reason for this is the colony was already virtually under martial law. Also, given that about a third of the Hawaiian population was Japanese American, it is likely that a wholesale detention of Japanese Americans in Hawaii would have collapsed the local economy.

A key supporter of the internment was California Attorney General Earl Warren.

In early 1944, the government began clearing individuals to return to the West Coast. And on January 2, 1945, the exclusion order was rescinded entirely, although the relocation camps remained open for residents who weren't ready to make the move back. The fact that this occurred long before the Japanese surrender (see V-J day), while the war was arguably at its most vicious, weighs heavily against the charge that the relocation was simply because of "racism".

The last internment camp was not closed until August 1948, although all Japanese were cleared sometime in 1945.

One of the WRA camps, Manzanar, was designated a National Historic Site in 1992 to "provide for the protection and interpretation of historic, cultural, and natural resources associated with the relocation of Japanese Americans during World War II" (Public Law 102-248).


During the internment precautions were taken to protect the property of those forced to move. The personal possessions of Japanese were indexed and warehoused, and the owners issued receipts. Items requested would be shipped to the camps free of charge. Farms were tended in their owners' absence, the products sold, and the proceeds deposited in the proper bank accounts.

Despite this, however, many families still suffered heavy losses as a result of the internment. A key contributor to their losses was California's Alien Land Act, which prohibited non-citizens from owning property in that state. Consequently, many of the Japanese American farmers were tenant farmers and lost their rights to those farm lands. To compensate these losses, the U.S. Congress ion July 2, 1948 passed the "American Japanese Claims Act ", stated that all claims for war losses not presented within 18 months "shall be forever barred". Approximately $147 million in claims are submitted, 26,568 settlements to family groups totalling more than $38 million are disbursed.

Only those of Japanese descent have been offered recompensation for internment and relocation.

Some of the laws passed to reimburse them:

1951: PL 82-116 1952: PL 82-545 1956: PL 84-673 1960: PL 86-782

This settled the matter—for some time. However, a movement beginning around the 1960s, largely focused on condemning America as a racist society, pushed to reopen the issue and gain government apologies and further reparations.

1972: PL 92-603 - Social Security adjustment.

The movement's first success was in 1976, when President Gerald Ford proclaimed that the evacuation was "wrong".

1978: PL 95-382 - another Social Security adjustment.

In 1980, under Jimmy Carter, a commission was established by Congress to study their matter. The ideological biases of this commission has been questioned by some, with 40% of the commission staff being of Japanese descent, some with vested financial interests. The commission's refusal to address non-Japanese interment/relocation also weighed on their impartiality. On February 24, 1983, they issued a report entitled Personal Justice Denied condeming the internment.

These conclusions largely having become accepted, President [[Ronald Reagan]] signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 which provided redress of $20,000 for each surviving detainee, totalling $1.2 billion dollars. Despite congressional cries to individually determine worth, this was a straight dole, and included about 3,500 Japanese who had renounced their citizenship during the war and asked to be returned to Japan, and hundreds who live in Japan today and have virtually no connection to the United States.

On September 27 1992: PL 102-371 (H.R. 4551) the Amendment of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, and an additional $400 million in benefits was signed into law by President George H. W. Bush, who also issued another formal apology from the U.S. government.

Terminology: Internment vs. Relocation

Most historical references refer to internment camps, although others favor the name 'relocation camps'. Others, more critical of this action, refer to them as detention camps or prisons.

Whatever name is used, the perimeters of many camps were lightly fenced and guarded, and more so in the later war years. Camp administrations eventually allowed relatively free movement outside the marked boundaries of the camps. Still, all of the camps were in remote, desolate areas far from any population centers.

As the war progressed, nearly a quarter of the internees left the camps to live and work elsewhere in the United States, outside the exclusion zone. Later in the war, some were authorized to return to the exclusion zone under supervision of a sponsoring family or agency.

One of the camps, Tule Lake, was in fact later turned into a prison camp, with watchtowers, fences, and guards. Tule Lake was reserved for those Japanese who were specifically suspected of espionage, treason, or other such disloyalty, and their families. Other famlies were held at Tule Lake because they requested to be "repatriated" to Japan. A number of pro-Japan demonstrations were held there throughout the war.

These camps are sometimes referred to as concentration camps, but the use of this loaded term should not be construed to mean they were on the same severity as Nazi Germany's extermination camps during the war.

Conditions in the camps

The relocation camps also had the highest live-birth rate and the lowest death rate in the US during the wartime period.


The internment is widely condemned today, often attacked as racist. People frequently cite it as a precedent for large-scale violations of civil liberties, and a warning sign of what might happen again. However, others defend it as a harsh necessity in a bitter and desperate war.

Former Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark, who represented the US Department of Justice in the "relocation," writes in the Epilogue to the book ''Executive Order 9066: The Internment of 110,000 Japanese Americans'' (written by Maisie & Richard Conrat):

The truth is — as this deplorable experience proves
—that constitutions and laws are not sufficient of themselves...Despite the unequivocal language of the [[United States Constitution|Constitution of the United States]] that the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, and despite the Fifth Amendment's command that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, both of these constitutional safeguards were denied by military action under Executive Order 9066....

Some estimate that by the time the last relocation camps (except Tule Lake) closed on December 1, 1945, the Japanese Americans had lost homes and businesses estimated to be worth, in 1999 values, 4 to 5 billion dollars, and that deleterious effects on Japanese American individuals, their families, and their communities, went beyond monetary damages.

Other camps

Crystal City, Texas was an internment camp where together with Japanese, Germanss, enemy aliens from Latin America, and other people were interned as well. During the war tens of thousands of Germans and Italians were also detained, most of whom were foreign nationals or otherwise seen as subversive.

Japanese Canadians were interned by their government during World War II. See Japanese Canadian internment.

Legal Legacy

A number of significant legal decisions arose out of Japanese American internment, relating to the powers of the government to detain people in wartime. Among the cases which reached the Supreme Court were Yasui v. United States (1943), Hirbayashi v. United States (1943), ex parte Endo (1944) and Korematsu v. United States (1944). In Yashui and Hirabayashi, the court upheld the constitutionality of curfews based on Japanese ancestry, and in Korematsu, the court upheld the constitutionality of the exclusion order. In Endo, the court accepted a petition for a writ of habeas corpus and ruled that the WRA had no authority to subject a citizen whose loyalty was acknowledged to its procedures.

A number of legal scholars have expressed the opinion that these decisions have taken on an added relevance in the context of the War on terror.

List of internment camps

External links

Documents of Interest