Internment camps and further institutions of the War Relocation Authority in the western United States.

Japanese American Internment refers to the forced removal of approximately 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans (62 percent of whom were United States citizens)[1][2] from the West Coast of the United States during World War II. While approximately 10,000 were able to relocate to other parts of the country, the remainder – roughly 110,000 men, women and children – were sent to hastily constructed camps called "War Relocation Centers" in remote portions of the nation's interior.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized the internment with Executive Order 9066, which allowed local military commanders to designate "military areas" as "exclusion zones", from which "any or all persons may be excluded." This power was used to declare that all people of Japanese ancestry were excluded from the entire Pacific coast, including all of California and most of Oregon and Washington, except for those in internment camps.[3] In 1944, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the exclusion, removal, and detention, arguing that it is permissible to curtail the civil rights of a racial group when there is a "pressing public necessity."[4]

Some compensation for property losses was paid in 1948, but most internees were unable to fully recover their losses.[2] In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed legislation which apologized for the internment on behalf of the U.S. government. The legislation stated that government actions were based on "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership",[5] and beginning in 1990, the government paid reparations to surviving internees.


While this event is most commonly called the internment of Japanese Americans, in fact there were several different types of camps involved. The best known facilities were the Assembly Centers run by the Western Civilian Control Administration (WCCA), and the Relocation Centers" run by the War Relocation Authority (WRA), which are generally (but unofficially) referred to as "internment camps." The Department of Justice (DOJ), operated camps officially called Internment Camps, which were used to detain those suspected of actual crimes or "enemy sympathies." The WCCA and WRA facilities were the largest and the most public. The WCCA Assembly Centers were temporary facilities that were first setup in horse racing tracks, fairgrounds and other large public meeting places to assemble and organize internees before they were transported to WRA Relocation Centers by truck, bus or train. The WRA Relocation Centers were camps that housed persons removed from the exclusion zone after March 1942, or until they were able to relocate elsewhere in America outside the exclusion zone.

Most historians now use the term internment camp for several reasons. Many definitions of internment refer to detention of "enemy aliens" or "prisoners of war";[6] while the Japanese-Americans were not prisoners of war, they were considered to be enemy aliens for several purposes, notably the draft, during the early stages of the war. So internment implies a sense of detention, which is not true of relocation, which is the official term used during World War II. Finally, the term concentration camp, though used by some government officials at the time, today is less appropriate due to its highly negative association with the Nazi concentration camps.

DOJ Internment Camps[7]

During World War II, over 7,000 Japanese Americans and Japanese from Latin America were held in internment camps run by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, part of the Department of Justice. There were twenty-seven U.S. Department of Justice Camps, eight of which (in Texas, Idaho, North Dakota, New Mexico, and Montana) held Japanese Americans. The camps were guarded by Border Patrol agents rather than military police and were intended for non-citizens including Buddhist ministers, Japanese language instructors, newspaper workers, and other community leaders.

In addition 2,210 persons of Japanese ancestry taken from 12 Latin American countries by the U.S. State and Justice Departments were held at the Department of Justice Camps. Approximately 1,800 were Japanese Peruvians. The rumor persists that the United States intended to use them in hostage exchanges with Japan, but there is no historical evidence that this was ever the plan. There was a program to repatriate Americans (civilian and POW) and Japanese nationals, but this was ended after reports by international observers described the treatment given to internees.

After the war, 1,400 were not allowed to return to their Latin American homes and more than 900 Japanese Peruvians were "voluntarily" deported to Japan. Three hundred fought deportation in the courts and were allowed to settle in the United States. Initially, the Japanese brought into the United States from South America were initially denied this because they had entered the country without passports or visa. Later Court of Appeals decisions overturned this absurd finding, pointing out that they had been brought into the country both against their will and following a process which was essentially a form of kidnapping at the behest of the United States.

WCCA Assembly Centers[8]

Although Executive Order 9066 authorized the evacuation of all persons of Japanese ancestry from the west coast, it was signed when there was no place for the Japanese Americans to go. When voluntary evacuation proved impractical, the military took over full responsibility for the evacuation; on April 9, 1942, the Wartime Civilian Control Agency (WCCA) was established by the military to coordinate the evacuation to inland relocation centers. However, the relocation centers were far from ready for large influxes of people. For some, there was still contention over the location, but for most, their placement in isolated undeveloped areas of the country exacerbated problems of building infrastructure and housing. Since the Japanese Americans living in the restricted zone were considered too dangerous to freely conduct their daily business, the military decided it was necessary to find temporary "assembly centers" to house the evacuees until the relocation centers were completed.

WRA Relocation Centers[9]
Name State Opened Max. Pop'n
Manzanar California March 1942 10,046
Tule Lake California May 1942 18,789
Poston Arizona May 1942 17,814
Gila River Arizona July 1942 13,348
Granada Colorado August 1942 7,318
Heart Mountain Wyoming August 1942 10,767
Minidoka Idaho August 1942 9,397
Topaz Utah September 1942 8,130
Rohwer Arkansas September 1942 8,475
Jerome Arkansas October 1942 8,497

WRA Relocation Camps

The War Relocation Authority (WRA) was the U.S. civilian agency responsible for the relocation and detention. The WRA was created by President Roosevelt on March 18, 1942 with Executive Order 9102 and officially ceased to exist June 30, 1946. Milton S. Eisenhower, then an official of the Department of Agriculture, was chosen to head the WRA. Within nine months, the WRA had opened ten facilities in seven states, and transferred over 100,000 people from the WCCA facilities.

The WRA camp at Tule Lake, though initially like the other camps, eventually became a detention center for people believed to pose a security risk. Tule Lake also served as a "segregation center" for individuals and families who were deemed "disloyal" and for those who were to be deported to Japan.

Key government actions involving Japanese Americans

The roots of the internment run back to the turn of the 20th century. Tensions between Caucasian and Asian immigrants (especially in California) starting in the late 1840s, had begun to increase in the 1890s. A series of laws were passed, aimed at discouraging Japanese immigration and prohibiting naturalization and even land ownership by Japanese. Eventually there was a ban on virtually all immigration from Japan, beginning in 1924. Other laws prevented nearly all marriages between Caucasians and Asians, though Nikkei were able to marry non-Caucasians (a number of those went into the camps when their spouses and children were interned).

Government actions prior to Pearl Harbor attack

During the period of 1939–1941, the FBI compiled the Custodial Detention index ("CDI") on citizens, "enemy" aliens and foreign nationals who might be dangerous based principally on census records. These definitions of "enemy aliens" did not include those of German and Italian descent.[citation needed]

On June 28, 1940, the Alien Registration Act was passed. Among many other "loyalty" regulations, Section 31 required the registration and fingerprinting of all aliens above the age of 14, and Section 35 required aliens to report any change of address within 5 days. Within 4 months, 4,741,971 foreign nationals had registered at post offices around the country.[citation needed]

Immediate responses to the Pearl Harbor attack

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 of the United States. Moreover, Japan's rapid military conquest of a large portion of Asia and the Pacific between 1936 and 1942 made their military forces seem to some Americans frighteningly unstoppable.

Civilian and military officials had concerns about the loyalty of the ethnic Japanese on the west coast and considered them to be security risks, although these concerns often arose more from racial bias than actual risk. Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt, who administered the internment program, repeatedly told newspapers that "A Jap's a Jap" and testified to Congress, "I don't want any of them [persons of Japanese ancestry] here. They are a dangerous element. There is no way to determine their loyalty...It makes no difference whether he is an American citizen, he is still a Japanese. American citizenship does not necessarily determine loyalty...But we must worry about the Japanese all the time until he is wiped off the map."[10][11] The inclusion of orphaned infants with "one drop of Japanese blood" (as explained in a letter by one official) lends credence to the argument that the measures were politically motivated, rather than military necessity.

Authorities also feared sabotage of both military and civilian facilities inside the United States. Military officials expressed concerns that California's water systems were highly vulnerable, and there were concerns about the possibility of arson — brush fires in particular.[citation needed]

Administration and military leaders also doubted the loyalty of ethnic Japanese because many of them (including some born in America) had been educated in Japan, where school curricula emphasized reverence for the Emperor. These Kibei were painted as a direct threat, a possible fifth column.[citation needed]

Upon the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Presidential Proclamations 2525 (Japanese), 2526 (German) and 2527 (Italian) were signed. Many homes were raided using information from the CDI, 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 December 11).

Presidential Proclamation 2537 was issued on January 14, 1942, requiring aliens to report any change of address, employment or name to the FBI. Enemy aliens were not allowed to enter restricted areas. Violators of these regulations were subject to "arrest, detention and internment for the duration of the war."

Executive Order 9066 and related actions

Executive Order 9066, signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt on February 19, 1942, allowed authorized military commanders to designate "military areas" at their discretion, "from which any or all persons may be excluded." These "exclusion zones", unlike the "alien enemy" roundups, were applicable to anyone that an authorized military commander might choose, whether citizen or non-citizen. 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).[citation needed]

American citizens of German and Italian ancestry were excluded from the classification of "enemy race", which was due largely to political concerns. The German and Italian communities represented a significant Democratic voting block, and those ethnic groups had become more assimilated into American culture.[citation needed] The Japanese people represented only a small minority, making internment feasible. Those of German and Italian ancestry were actually praised by President Roosevelt for their "loyalty" as to relieve any anxiety that those groups might also be interned.[citation needed]

  • March 2, 1942: General DeWitt issued Public Proclamation No. 1, informing all those of Japanese ancestry that they would, at some later point, be subject to exclusion orders from "Military Area No. 1" (essentially, the entire Pacific coast to about 100 miles inland), and requiring anyone who had "enemy" ancestry to file a Change of Residence Notice if they planned to move.[3] A second exclusion zone was designated several months later, which included the areas chosen by most of the Japanese Americans who had managed to leave the first zone.
  • March 11, 1942: Executive Order 9095 created the Office of the Alien Property Custodian, and gave it discretionary, plenary authority over all alien property interests. Many assets were frozen, creating immediate financial difficulty for the affected aliens, preventing most from moving out of the exclusion zones.[3]

Official notice of exclusion and removal

  • March 24, 1942: Public Proclamation No. 3 declares an 8:00 pm to 6:00 am curfew for "all enemy aliens and all persons of Japanese ancestry" within the military areas.[12]
  • March 24, 1942: General DeWitt began to issue Civilian Exclusion Orders for specific areas within "Military Area No. 1."[12]
  • March 27, 1942: General DeWitt's Proclamation No. 4 prohibited all those of Japanese ancestry from leaving "Military Area No. 1" for "any purpose until and to the extent that a future proclamation or order of this headquarters shall so permit or direct."[3]
  • May 3, 1942: General DeWitt issued Civilian Exclusion Order No. 346, ordering all people of Japanese ancestry, whether citizens or non-citizens, to report to assembly centers, where they would live until being moved to permanent "Relocation Centers."[3]

Non-military advocates for exclusion, removal, and detention

Internment was popular among many white farmers who resented the Japanese American farmers. These individuals saw internment as a convenient means of uprooting their Japanese American competitors. Austin E. Anson, managing secretary of the Salinas Vegetable Grower-Shipper Association, told the Saturday Evening Post in 1942: "We're charged with wanting to get rid of the Japs for selfish reasons. We do. It's a question of whether the white man lives on the Pacific Coast or the brown men ... If all the Japs were removed tomorrow, we'd never miss them in two weeks, because the white farmers can take over and produce everything the Jap grows. And we don't want them back when the war ends, either."[13]

In fact, the internment is directly responsible for a massive influx in immigration from Mexico, labor necessary to take over the Japanese Americans' farms at a time when many American laborers were being inducted into the Armed Forces. Ironically, thousands of Nikkei, temporarily released from the internment camps to harvest Western beet crops, were credited with saving those industries.

Exclusion, Removal, and Detention

Over 112,000[14] residents of Japanese ancestry were subject to this mass exclusion program. Of those, approximately two-thirds were U.S. citizens by birth. The remaining one-third were non-citizens legally subject to internment under the Alien Enemies Act. It is worth noting that the laws of the time prohibited naturalization of immigrants from Asian countries, so legal residents not born in the U.S. could not obtain citizenship.

Internees of Japanese descent were first sent to one of 17 temporary "Civilian Assembly Centers," where most awaited transfer to more permanent relocation centers being constructed by the newly-formed War Relocation Authority (WRA). 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[14] Japanese Americans and resident Japanese aliens would eventually be removed from their homes in California, the western halves of Oregon and Washington and southern Arizona as part of the single largest forced relocation in U.S. history.

Most of these camps/residences, gardens, and stock areas were placed on Native American reservations, for which the Native Americans were neither compensated nor consulted. The Native Americans consoled themselves that they might at least get the improvements made to the land, but at the end of the war such buildings and gardens were instead bulldozed or sold by the government.

Under the National Student Council Relocation Program (supported primarily by the American Friends Service Committee), students of college age were permitted to leave the camps in order to attend institutions which were willing to accept students of Japanese ancestry. Although the program initially granted leave permits to only a very small number of students, this eventually grew to 2,263 students by December 31, 1943. [citation needed]

Curfew and exclusion

Removal and detention

Most internees suffered significant property losses. Upon evacuation, the Japanese American internees were told that they could bring only as many articles of clothing, toiletries, and other personal effects as they could carry. The US government promised to find a place to store larger items (such as iceboxes and furniture) if boxed and labeled, but did not make any promises about the security of those items.[citation needed]

Conditions in the camps

According to a 1943 War Relocation Authority report, internees were housed in "tar paper-covered barracks of simple frame construction without plumbing or cooking facilities of any kind." The spartan facilities met international laws, but still left much to be desired. Many camps were built quickly by civilian contractors during the summer of 1942 based on designs for military barracks, making the buildings poorly equipped for cramped family living. In other areas, the internees had to build the barracks-like structures themselves.[citation needed]

To describe the conditions in more detail, the Heart Mountain War Relocation Center in northwestern Wyoming was a barbed-wire-surrounded enclave with unpartitioned toilets, cots for beds, and a budget of 45 cents daily per capita for food rations.[citation needed] Because most internees were evacuated from their West Coast homes on short notice and not told of their destination, many failed to pack appropriate clothing for Wyoming winters which often reached temperatures below zero Fahrenheit. Many families were forced to simply take the "clothes on their backs."[citation needed]

Armed guards were posted at the camps, which were all in remote, desolate areas far from population centers. Internees were typically allowed to stay with their families, and were treated well unless they violated the rules. There are documented instances of guards shooting internees who reportedly attempted to walk outside the fences. One such shooting, that of James Wakasa at Topaz, led to a re-evaluation of the security measures in the camps. Some camp administrations eventually allowed relatively free movement outside the marked boundaries of the camps. Nearly a quarter of the internees left the camps to live and work elsewhere in the United States, outside the exclusion zone. Eventually, some were authorized to return to their hometowns in the exclusion zone under supervision of a sponsoring American family or agency whose loyalty had been assured.[citation needed]

The phrase "shikata ga nai" (loosely translated as "it cannot be helped") was commonly used to summarize the interned families' resignation to their helplessness throughout these conditions. This was even noticed by the children, as mentioned in Farewell to Manzanar. Although that may be the view to outsiders, the Japanese people tended to comply with the U.S. government to prove themselves "loyal citizens".

Loyalty questions and segregation

Some Japanese Americans did question their American loyalties after the government removed them and their families from their homes and held them in internment camps, although such cases were isolated incidents and did not reflect the larger sentiment of the Japanese-American people, who remained loyal to the United States.[citation needed] Several pro-Japan groups formed inside the camps, and demonstrations[15] and riots occurred for various reasons in many camps, most notably Tule Lake, which caused the WRA to move "troublemaker" internees to Tule Lake. When the government asked whether internees wished to renounce their U.S. citizenship, 5,589 of them did so. Of those who renounced their citizenship, 1,327 were repatriated to Japan, although many of these deportees were not accepted by the Japanese Government.[citation needed] However, the American Civil Liberties Union successfully challenged most of these renunciations as invalid because of the conditions under which the government obtained them. These conditions were described as "coercion, duress, and mass compulsion" by Marvin Opler, a WRA official who had observed some of the renunciation hearings and supported the restoration of citizenship to the expatriated Japanese Americans.[citation needed] It is interesting to note that many of the deportees were Issei (first Generation Japanese immigrants) who often had difficulty with English and often did not understand the questions they were asked.[citation needed] Even among those Issei who had a clear understanding, Question 28 posed an awkward dilemma: Japanese immigrants were denied US citizenship at the time, so when asked to renounce their Japanese citizenship, answering "Yes" would have made them stateless persons. Faced with possible deportation to Japan, the Issei largely refused to renounce their only citizenship.[citation needed]

When the government circulated a questionnaire seeking army volunteers from among the internees, 6% of military-aged male respondents volunteered to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces.[citation needed] Most of those who refused, however, tempered that refusal with statements of willingness to fight if they were restored their rights as American citizens. How, they asked, could any government dare ask them to fight for freedoms for others, freedoms which that same government had taken away from them?[citation needed]

The famed and highly decorated 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which fought in Europe, was formed from those Japanese Americans who did agree to serve. This unit was the most highly decorated unit of its size and length.[16] Most notably, the 442nd was known for saving the 141st or the "lost battalion" from the Germans. The 1951 film Go For Broke! was a fairly accurate portrayal of the 442nd, and starred several of the RCT's veterans.

Other camps

As early as 1939, when war broke out in Europe and while armed conflict began to rage in East Asia, the FBI and branches of the Department of Justice and the armed forces began to collect information and surveillance on influential members of the Japanese community in the United States. Agents in the Department of Justice's Special Defense Unit classified the subjects into three groups: A, B and C, with A being "most dangerous," and C being "possibly dangerous."[citation needed]

After the Pearl Harbor attacks, Roosevelt authorized his attorney general to put into motion a plan that arrested all of the Japanese on the potential enemy alien lists. Armed with a blanket arrest warrant, the FBI seized all of the men on the eve of December 8th, 1941. These men were held in municipal jails and prisons until they were moved to Department of Justice detention camps, separate from those of the Wartime Relocation Authority (WRA). These camps operated under far more stringent conditions and were subject to heightened military guard.

Crystal City, Texas, was one such camp where together with Japanese, Germans, Japanese-Latin Americans, and other people were interned as well. During the war, over 11,000 Germans and several thousand Italians were also detained; most of whom were foreign nationals or otherwise seen as subversive enemy aliens. Only the Nikkei were subjected to internment on the basis of ancestry.

Canadian citizens with Japanese ancestry were also interned by the Canadian government during World War II (see Japanese Canadian internment). Japanese people from various parts of Latin America were brought to the United States for internment, or interned in their countries of residence.


Although there was a strong push from mainland Congressmen (Hawaii was only a US territory at the time, and did not have a voting representative or senator in Congress) to remove and intern all Japanese Americans and Japanese immigrants from Hawaii, it never happened. In fact, only about 2,500 were interned, either in two camps on Oahu or in one of the mainland internment camps.[citation needed]

The vast majority of Japanese Americans and their immigrant parents in Hawaii were not interned because the Government had already declared martial law in Hawaii and this allowed it to significantly reduce the risk of espionage and sabotage by residents of Japanese ancestry. Also, since these individuals comprised over 35% of the territory's population, it was not economically prudent to remove them. They were laborers in the sugar cane and pineapple fields and canneries, as well as merchants, restaurant owners, etc. In fact, scholarly research has shown that government and military officials realized that removing and interning all people of Japanese ancestry from Hawaii would ruin the territory's economy. This was a major factor in their decision that no mass removal and internment be instituted.[citation needed]

There were two internment camps in Hawaii, referred to as "Hawaiian Island Detention Camps". The Hawaiian camps primarily utilized tents and other temporary structures and few permanent structures.[citation needed] One camp was located at Sand Island, which is located in the middle of Honolulu Harbor. This camp was prepared in advance of the war's outbreak. All prisoners held here were "...detained under military custody...because of the imposition of martial law throughout the Islands... ." The other Hawaiian camp was called Honouliuli, near Ewa, on the southwestern shore of Oahu. This camp is not as well-known as the Sand Island camp, and it was closed before the Sand Island camp in 1944.

  • Weglyn, Michi. (1976, 1996). Years Of Infamy: The Untold Story Of America's Concentration Camps, University of Washington Press. ISBN 0-295-97484-2.
  • Civil Liberties Public Education Fund. (1997). Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, Civil Liberties Public Education Fund and University of Washington Press. ISBN 0-295-97558-X.

The Internment ends

In early 1944, the government began clearing individuals to return to the West Coast; on January 2, 1945, the exclusion order was rescinded entirely. The internees then began to leave the camps to rebuild their lives at home, although the relocation camps remained open for residents who were not ready to make the move back. The fact that this occurred long before the Japanese surrender, while the war was arguably at its most vicious, weighs against the claim that the relocation was an essential security measure. However, it is also true that the Japanese were clearly losing the war by that time, and were not on the offensive. The last internment camp was not closed until 1946,[17] although all Japanese were cleared from the camps sometime in 1945.[citation needed]

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). In 2001, the site of the Minidoka War Relocation Center in Idaho was designated the Minidoka Internment National Monument.

Compensation and reparations

During World War II, Colorado governor Ralph Lawrence Carr was the only elected official to publicly apologize for the internment of American citizens. The act cost him reelection, but gained him the gratitude of the Japanese American community, such that a statue of him is erected in Sakura Square in Denver's Japantown.[citation needed]

Beginning in the 1960s, a younger generation of Japanese Americans who were inspired by the Civil Rights movement began what is known as the "Redress Movement", an effort to obtain an official apology and reparations from the federal government for interning their parents and grandparents during the war. The movement's first success was in 1976, when President Gerald Ford proclaimed that the evacuation was "wrong."

In 1980, Congress established the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) to study the matter. Some opponents of the redress movement argued that the commission was ideologically biased because 40% of the commission staff was of Japanese descent, and that some members of the commission had previously expressed opinions against the internment.[citation needed] In addition, opponents of the redress movement criticized the commission because the panel did not include military or intelligence experts.[citation needed] On February 24, 1983, the commission issued a report entitled Personal Justice Denied, condemning the internment as "unjust and motivated by racism rather than real military necessity".[citation needed] Members of the redress movement and their allies considered the report a necessary recognition of the great injustice of the internment program.[citation needed] Opponents of the redress movement criticized the report for focusing on the civil liberties of Japanese Americans rather than the alleged security risks posed by Japanese Americans, and argued that no apology was necessary.[citation needed]

In 1988, U.S. President (and former California governor) Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which had been pushed through Congress by Representative Norman Mineta and Senator Alan K. Simpson — the two had met while Mineta was interned at a camp in Wyoming — which provided redress of $20,000 for each surviving detainee, totaling $1.2 billion dollars. The question of to whom reparations should be given, how much, and even whether monetary reparations were appropriate were subjects of sometimes contentious debate.[citation needed]

In some cases, Japanese American farmers were able to find families who were willing to tend their farms for the duration of their internment. In other cases, however, Japanese American farmers had to sell their property in a matter of days, usually with great financial loss. In these cases, the land speculators who bought the land made huge profits. California's Alien Land Laws of the 1910s, which prohibited most non-citizens from owning property in that state, contributed to Japanese American property losses. Because they were barred from owning land, many older Japanese American farmers were tenant farmers and therefore lost their rights to those farm lands. To compensate these losses, the US Congress, on July 2, 1948, passed the "American Japanese Claims Act", stating that all claims for war losses not presented within 18 months "shall be forever barred." Approximately in claims were submitted; eventually, 26,568 settlements to family groups totaling more than $38 million were disbursed.[citation needed]

On September 27, 1992, the Amendment of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, appropriating an additional $400 million in order to ensure that all remaining internees received their $20,000 redress payments, was signed into law by President George H. W. Bush, who also issued another formal apology from the U.S. government.

Key disputes

This event remained relatively uncontroversial and unknown until an organized campaign was started to obtain "redress and reparations". Since this subject became a topic of historical inquiry, there have been individuals and organizations who have argued that the suspicion of ethnic Japanese was indeed justified. Others rebut some Japanese American accounts of hardship during the evacuation and in the camps.

Key disputes over redress and reparations include:

  • Whether there was sufficient military necessity for exclusion, removal, and detention
  • Extent of hardship experienced by the Japanese Americans
  • Failure to include reparations for German and Italian Americans who were detained
  • The historical context of anti-Asian sentiment in general, and anti-Japanese sentiment in particular

The strongest evidence of espionage was derived from a series of decrypted communications from the Japanese government. These messages referred to a network of Japanese Americans with military contractors, as the Japanese consulate stated in the encrypted messages that it was attempting to recruit Japanese American spies.[citation needed] The impact of these communications has been questioned on the claim that much of the information that Japanese officials obtained may have come from public sources such as newspapers, and that there is no data indicating the success of these recruitment efforts.[citation needed]

The most widely reported examples of espionage and treason are the Tachibana spy ring and the Niihau incident. The Tachibana spy ring was a group of Japanese nationals who were arrested shortly before the Pearl Harbor attack and were deported.[citation needed] The Niihau incident occurred just after the Pearl Harbor attack, two Japanese Americans on Niihau freed a captured Japanese pilot and assisted him in his machine-gun attack on Native Hawaiians there.[18]

Some present-day supporters of the internment have argued that some Japanese Americans were indeed disloyal, as seen by the approximately 20,000 Japanese Americans in Japan at the start of the war who joined the Japanese war effort, hundreds joining the Japanese Army.[citation needed] One particular example is Tomoya Kawakita, an American citizen who worked as an interpreter and a POW guard for the Japanese army, and who actively participated in the torture (and at least one death) of American soldiers, including survivors of the Bataan Death March. Kawakita was convicted for treason and imprisoned.

Critics of this viewpoint note that it seems unlikely that Japanese Americans in Japan had any choice other than to be conscripted into the Japanese army, given (1) that it was near-impossible for them to return to the U.S. from Japan, and (2) that the United States had already classified all people of Japanese ancestry as "enemy aliens."

  • Weglyn, Michi. (1976, 1996). Years Of Infamy: The Untold Story Of America's Concentration Camps, University of Washington Press. ISBN 0-295-97484-2.

Military necessity

Critics of the internment argue that the military justification was unfounded, citing the absence of any subsequent convictions of Japanese Americans for espionage.

An additional reason to question the necessity of internment was an official report by Lieutenant Commander Kenneth Ringle, a naval intelligence officer tasked with evaluating the loyalty of the Japanese American population. LCDR Ringle estimated in a 1941 report to his superiors that "more than 90% of the Nisei [second generation] and 75% of the original immigrants were completely loyal to the United States." A 1941 report prepared on President Roosevelt's orders by Curtis B. Munson, special representative of the State Department, concluded that most Japanese nationals and "90 to 98 percent" of Japanese American citizens were loyal. He wrote: "There is no Japanese 'problem' on the Coast ... There is far more danger from Communists and people of the Bridges type on the Coast than there is from Japanese."[citation needed]

FBI director J. Edgar Hoover opposed the internment of Japanese Americans. Refuting General DeWitt's reports of disloyalty on the part of Japanese Americans, Hoover sent a memo to Attorney General Francis Biddle in which he wrote about Japanese-American disloyalty, "Every complaint in this regard has been investigated, but in no case has any information been obtained which would substantiate the allegation."

The role of the MAGIC intercepts is a central issue in the military necessity dispute. The MAGIC intercepts contained decrypted communications by the Japanese government and military. In a handful of the decrypted messages, the Japanese consulate stated that it was attempting to recruit Japanese American spies.[citation needed] The main criticism of the relevance of the intercepts is that much of the information that Japanese officials obtained may have come from public sources such as newspapers, and that there is no data indicating the success of these recruitment efforts.[citation needed] Another point of dispute is whether the key decision makers (a) had access to the MAGIC intercepts, and (b) the extent to which these intercepts contributed to the perception of military threat posed by the Japanese American community.

General DeWitt, who ordered the internment, was not on the severely limited distribution list for intelligence developed from MAGIC. Ironically, Nisei members of the Military Intelligence Service were assigned to analysis and translation of the raw intercepts.

It should be noted that DeWitt ordered the placement of an Air Corps bomber and fighter airfield directly across the highway from the internment camp at Manzanar, which was also sited just 900 feet from the Los Angeles Aqueduct (with the southern boundary of the central residential area being a channel which drains into the Aqueduct. This belies the basic justification for the internment, which was to keep the Nikkei -- as potential spies and saboteurs -- away from military installations and key sources of drinking water. In addition, the design of the field disperses the aircraft widely, a defense against aerial attack, but significantly increasing any risk of sabotage. The majority of the aircraft were dispersed on the side of the field closest to the camp, some as close as 100 yards. Aircraft landing or taking off from either runway were in view of the camp, which was under the landing pattern for two of the four runway options. Other military installations (mostly airbases) were sited near Manzanar, as well as Minidoka, Topaz, Poston and Gila River. Some of these were closer than any important installations had been to the homes from which most Nikkei had been removed, an irony not lost on the internees.

Severity of hardship

In April of 1984, John J. McCloy claimed that the Japanese-Americans "were permitted to go anywhere else in the country they saw fit to go at the expense of the government. They were not 'interned.'" McCloy added, "Generally speaking, I would say that our Japanese/American population benefited from the relocation rather than suffered, as did so many others of our population as a result of the war."[19]

This point of view was not shared by the internees, however, most of whom lost irreplaceable personal property due to the restrictions on the amount which could be taken into the camps, combined with theft and destruction of items placed in storage with the government. A number of persons died or were permanently injured for lack of medical care, and several were killed by sentries (such as James Wakasa, killed at Topaz Relocation Center near the perimeter wire). McCloy also failed to note that Nikkei were prohibited from leaving the Military Zones during the last few weeks before internment, and only able to leave the camps by permission of the camp administrators.

The psychological injury of the internment was noted by Dillon S. Myer, director of the WRA camps. In June 1945, Myer described how the Japanese Americans, once so enterprising and energetic, had grown increasingly obsessed with feelings of helplessness, personal insecurity, and inertia the longer they remained in camp. (The WRA says Thirty, New Republic 112, pgs 867-868)

Civil rights violations

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 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.[citation needed]

To this day, some believe that the legality of the internment has been firmly established as exactly the type of scenario spelled out, quite clearly, in the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. Among other things, the Alien Enemies Act (which was one of four laws included in the Alien and Sedition Acts) allowed for the United States government, during time of war, to apprehend and detain indefinitely foreign nationals, first-generation citizens, or any others deemed a threat by the government. As no expiration date was set, and the law has never been overruled, it was still in effect during World War II, and still is to this day. Therefore, some continue to claim that the civil rights violations were, in fact, not violations at all, having been deemed acceptable as a national security measure during time of war by Congress, signed into law by President John Adams, and upheld by the Supreme Court. However, the majority of the detainees were American-born, thus exempt under law from the Alien and Sedition Acts except if found to directly be a threat due to their actions or associations. This exemption was the basis for drafting Nisei to fight in Europe, as the Laws of Land Warfare prohibit signatory nations (including the United States) from compelling persons to act against their homelands or the allies of their homelands in time of war.

Compensation for losses

Some estimate that by the time the last of the relocation camps closed on December 1, 1945, Japanese-Americans 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.[citation needed]

California Attorney General Earl Warren originally supported the internment, but later in life came to regret his support. He wrote in his autobiography:

I have since deeply regretted the removal order and my own testimony advocating it, because it was not in keeping with our American concept of freedom and the rights of citizens. Whenever I thought of the innocent little children who were torn from home, school friends and congenial surroundings, I was conscience-stricken.[citation needed]

John McCloy strongly opposed reparations, on the grounds that "it would be most unjust to all Americans, indeed, to all nationalities who suffered as a result of the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, to have those who were affected by the President's order be further compensated for their removal from the sensitive military areas of the West Coast." McCloy specifically criticized the reparations investigations, arguing "the so-called investigation which sought to obtain unconscionably large unproven lump sums for added compensation for the relocation which had been given when evidence was fresh and witnesses were alive and in a position to testify was really outrageous. No serious attempt was made to recreate the conditions that the Japanese attack created on the West Coast, nor, the reasonableness of the steps that the President ordered to meet the devastating attack."[citation needed]

However, McCloy's comments must be read in light of his having played a key role in the internment, and his continued association of 120,000 men, women and children with the actions of a foreign government on the basis of their race is evidence of personal bias continuing into his later years.

Historical context of anti-Asian/Japanese sentiment

Legal legacy

Several significant legal decisions arose out of Japanese American internment, relating to the powers of the government to detain citizens in wartime. Among the cases which reached the Supreme Court were Yasui v. United States (1943), Hirabayashi v. United States (1943), ex parte Endo (1944), and Korematsu v. United States (1944). In Yasui and Hirabayashi the court upheld the constitutionality of curfews based on Japanese ancestry; 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.

Korematsu's and Hirabayashi's convictions were vacated in a series of coram nobis cases in the early 1980s. In the coram nobis cases, federal district and appellate courts ruled that newly uncovered evidence revealed the existence of a huge unfairness which, had it been known at the time, would likely have changed the Supreme Court's decisions in the Yasui, Hirabayashi, and Korematsu cases.[citation needed] These new court decisions rested on a series of documents recovered from the National Archives showing that the government had altered, suppressed and withheld important and relevant information from the Supreme Court, most notably, the Final Report by General DeWitt justifying the internment program. The Army had destroyed documents in an effort to hide the fact that alterations had been made to the report.[citation needed] The coram nobis cases vacated the convictions of Korematsu and Hirabayashi (Yasui passed away before his case was heard, rendering it moot), and are regarded as one of the impetuses for the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.

It is important to note, however, that while the coram nobis cases totally undermined the factual underpinnings of the 1944 Korematsu and Hirabayashi cases, the legal conclusions in Korematsu, specifically, its expansive interpretation of government powers in wartime, were not overturned. They are still the law of the land because a lower court cannot overturn a ruling by the Supreme Court. In light of this fact, a number of legal scholars have expressed the opinion that the original Korematsu and Hirabayashi decisions have taken on an added relevance in the context of the War on terror.

  • Irons, Peter. (1976, 1996). Justice At War: The Story of the Japanese American Internment Cases, University of Washington Press. ISBN 0-520-08312-1.

References and Notes

  1. Semiannual Report of the War Relocation Authority, for the period January 1 to June 30, 1946, not dated. Papers of Dillon S. Myer. Scanned image at Accessed 18 Sept. 2006.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "The War Relocation Authority and The Incarceration of Japanese Americans During World War II: 1948 Chronology," Web page at, accessed 11 Sep 2006
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Korematsu v. United States dissent by Justice Owen Josephus Roberts, reproduced at, accessed 12 Sept. 2006
  4. Korematsu v. United States majority opinion by Justice Hugo Black, reproduced at, accessed 11 Sept. 2006
  5. 100th Congress, S. 1009, reproduced at; accessed 19 Sept. 2006.
  7. "Department of Justice and U.S. Army Facilities," web page from U.S. National Park Service, accessed 31 Aug 2006
  8. Confinement and Ethnicity: An Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites, by Jeffery F. Burton, Mary M. Farrell, Florence B. Lord, and Richard W. Lord, reproduced as an online document (Chapter 16) at, accessed 31 Aug 2006
  9. Confinement and Ethnicity: An Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites, by Jeffery F. Burton, Mary M. Farrell, Florence B. Lord, and Richard W. Lord, reproduced as an online document (Chapter 3) at, accessed 31 Aug 2006
  10. Fred Mullen, "DeWitt Attitude on Japs Upsets Plans," Watsonville Register-Pajaronian, April 16, 1943. p.1, reproduced by Santa Cruz Public Library, accessed 11 Sept. 2006
  11. Testimony of John L. DeWitt, 13 April 1943, House Naval Affairs Subcommittee to Investigate Congested Areas, Part 3, pp. 739-40 (78th Cong ., 1st Sess.), cited in Korematsu v. United States, footnote 2, reproduced at, accessed 11 Sept. 2006
  12. 12.0 12.1 Hirabayashi v. United States, reproduced at; accessed 15 Sept. 2006
  13. Korematsu v. United States dissent by Justice Frank Murphy, footnote 12, reproduced at, accessed 11 Sept. 2006
  14. 14.0 14.1 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named howmany
  17. "Japanese-Americans Internment Camps During World War II," web page at Accessed 01 Oct 2006.
  19. Attributed to a letter from John J. McCloy to Jane B. Kaihatsu, April 12, 1984. This reference should be upgraded.

Further information


There were three types of camp. Civilian Assembly Centers were temporary camps, most located at horse tracks, where the Nikkei were sent as they were removed from their communities. Eventually, most were sent to Relocation Centers, also known as internment camps. Detention camps housed Nikkei considered to be disruptive or of special interest to the government.

Civilian Assembly Centers

List of internment camps

Detention and other camps

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.