American Concentration Camps

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.

Author: Bill Urich

A tail-end baby-boomer, Bill Urich was born in Cleveland to a grade school teacher and her Navy vet husband, and reared in Greater Detroit. Working his way through school primarily at night, Mr. Urich holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism, Phi Beta Kappa, and a Juris Doctorate from Wayne State University. In his legal career he has acted as an assistant state prosecutor, city attorney, special prosecutor, mediator, magistrate, private practitioner and mayor of Royal Oak, a large home-rule city in Michigan. Mr. Urich continues in private practice and municipal prosecution, is on faculty to DePaul University, pens regular contributions to political publications, and remains active in selected campaigns and causes related to labor, social and criminal justice. A father of three mostly-grown sons, he spends his precious free time on family, friends, the pursuit of happiness, beauty and truth, three rescue cats, and fronting the rock band Calcutta Rugs from behind the drum kit.

6 thoughts on “American Concentration Camps

  1. Mr. Ulrich, mahalo for the succinct and accurate account of the incarceration of those citizens of Japanese descent. Most articles I’ve seen don’t cover the 160,000 people living in Hawaii at that time, but as you indicated only a few thousand were interned. Why? When reading the linked article, readers should google the names to find out more about these courageous individuals. http://archives.starbulletin.com/2006/12/07/features/story07.html

  2. Mahalo for writing such a succinct and accurate account of the incarceration of those citizens of Japanese descent. While many are aware of what happened tragically to the 120,000 folks living along the West Coast, very few know about the 160,000 people in Hawaii where you pointed out only a few thousand were interned. For your readers who may be interested in what happened in Hawaii, please google names such as Hung Wai Ching, Shigeo Yoshida, Charles Hemenway, Robert Shivers, John Burns, Kendall Fielder, Delos Emmons to find out what these courageous individuals did to minimize incarceration in Hawaii. Aloha!.

  3. This is such a disgrace!
    My family was one of the families placed in these concentration camps divided into 2 groups!
    My Grandmother, lost her life there due to malnutrition…
    And because of that I only have a picture of her!
    At this time my Father was in the Army and was put on duties that were humiliating!
    They came back to nothing!
    They lost everything!
    And they got an I’m sorry and a check for 20,000.00.
    Absolutely Pathetic!
    And now….
    You see all of the other races here in our United States…..
    People not even born here causing all kinds of problems
    Here in the US and they do not even get put in prison because THEY have rights!
    Seriously!!
    This is a nice article…
    But if you are going to tell it…….
    Tell all of it!
    Not a white washed version of it!
    Elizabeth Yamamoto
    Sansei

  4. THAT’S HEARTBREAKING FOR THE JAPANESE AND HEARTWARMING THAT THEY WERE GIVEN AND APOLOGY WHERE IS THE APOLOGIES AND CHECK FOR THE SUFFERING OF THE AFRICAN AMERICANS DESCENDANTS OF AFRICAN HERITAGE…..WE ARE NOT CATTLE WE ARE HUMAN BEINGS WE DESERVE RESPECT JUST AS OUR FELLOW BROTHERS PLEASE THOSE OF YOU WHO CAN SEE AND KNOW THE TRUTH AND THE WRONG THAT HAS BEEN DONE AND STILL SEE THE EVIL BEING IMPARTED UPON AFRICAN AMERICANS OF AFRICAN HERITAGE SPEAK UP THE SILENCE IS DEAFENING BUT THE PAIN AND SUFFERING AND THE GENOCIDE IS LOUD AND CLEAR. ON TOP OF IT ALL THEY’RE RAPING THE LAND OF OUR HERITAGE AS WE ARE SUFFERING IN POVERTY AT BOTH ENDS. WE’RE NOT ENTITLED TO NOTHING BUT JUST TO LIVE AND DIE AND IF THEY CAN STOP THAT WE WOULD NOT EVEN BE BORN WHERE IS THE JUSTICE FOR WE THE AFRICAN AMERICANS OF AFRICAN HERITAGE TO WHICH OUR ANCESTORS HELP TO BUILD AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL??? AGAIN I ASK WHERE IS THE APOLOGIES AND REPARATIONS FOR THE ATROCITIES AGAINST AN INNOCENT PEOPLE WHO WERE BROUGHT HERE AGAINST THEIR WILL AND TREATED LOWER THEN ANIMALS ….WE’RE TOLD TO FORGET WHAT HAPPENED BUT TOLD TO REMEMBER D-DAY︎THE HOLOCAUST ︎PEARL HARBOR ︎YOU SEE THESE PEOPLE ARE NO LONGER SUFFERING THESE PAINFUL WRONGS YET THEY ARE AND HAVE BEEN RECIEVING AN ANNUITY WE ARE STILL SUFFERING EVERYDAY THROUGH EVERY EVIL MEANS AS POSSIBLE TO KEEP US IN POVERTY AND TO SMOTHER OUR MORALE TO BREAK OUR SPIRIT WHERE IS OUR APOLOGIES AND REPARATIONS FOR AFRICAN AMERICANS OF AFRICAN HERITAGE???

What say you, the people?