On this day in 1942, 10 weeks after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs Executive Order 9066, authorizing the removal of any or all people from military areas “as deemed necessary or desirable.” This order in effect authorized the Secretary of War to prescribe certain areas as military zones, clearing the way for the incarceration of Japanese, German and Italian Americans in US concentration camps.
As a result, approximately 120,000 men, women, and children of Japanese ancestry were evicted from the West Coast of the United States and held in American internment camps and other confinement sites across the country. Japanese Americans in Hawaii were not incarcerated in the same way, notwithstanding the attack on Pearl Harbor. Although the Japanese population there was nearly 40% of the total of Hawaii itself, only a few thousand people were detained there, supporting the eventual finding that their mass removal on the West Coast was motivated by reasons other than “military necessity.”
Over two-thirds of the people of Japanese ethnicity were incarcerated; almost 70,000 were American citizens. Many of the rest had lived in the country between 20 and 40 years. Most Japanese Americans, particularly the first generation born in the US (the nisei), considered themselves loyal to America. No Japanese American citizen or Japanese national residing in the US was ever found guilty of sabotage or espionage.
In notably lesser numbers, Americans of Italian and German ancestry were also targeted by these restrictions, including internment. 11,000 people of German ancestry were interned, as were 3,000 people of Italian ancestry, along with some Jewish refugees. The interned Jewish refugees came from Germany, as the US government did not differentiate between ethnic Jews and ethnic Germans.
The constitutionality of the order was meekly tested in Korematsu v. United States, a shameful decision, technically still good law, which upheld Executive Order 9066 in a 6–3 decision. Along with Dred Scott and the Missouri Compromise(s), this remains one of the most craven legal moments in American history.
On December 17, 1944 Major General Henry C. Pratt issued Public Proclamation No. 21, declaring that, effective January 2, 1945, Japanese-American “evacuees” from the West Coast could return to their homes. During the course of WW2, 10 Americans were convicted of spying for Japan, not one of them of Japanese ancestry. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill to recompense each surviving internee with a tax-free check for $20,000 and an apology from the US government.
And here, this awful lesson endeth.