Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
Teaser Image

Japanese Americans

Title: Japanese American children at relocation center
Button: Click to display an enlarged version of the image.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, there was tremendous paranoia in the United States regarding Japanese Americans and a general belief among the U.S. counterintelligence community, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), that Japanese Americans were engaged in widespread spying for Japan. Certainly, racism, especially on the West Coast of the United States, played a role. During the conflict, the U.S. government treated Japanese Americans very differently from German Americans and Italian Americans.

On 11 December 1941, the FBI ordered the detention of 1,370 Japanese classified as "dangerous enemy aliens." By early January 1942, many notable American politicians were calling for the complete removal of Japanese immigrants and many Japanese American citizens from the entire West Coast. Later that year, the California State Personnel Board voted to remove all "descendants of natives with whom the United States is at war" from civil service positions. Although this act clearly included German and Italian Americans, it was only enforced on Japanese. Almost simultaneously, the U.S. Army created 12 West Coast "restricted zones," in which enemy aliens were confined to a 5-mile radius around their homes and subjected to a curfew; again, this measure pertained almost exclusively to the Japanese.

Then, on 19 February 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order (EO) 9066, authorizing the secretary of war to define military areas "from which any or all persons may be excluded as deemed necessary or desirable." Secretary of War Henry Stimson ordered Lieutenant General John DeWitt, commander of Fourth Army and the Western Defense Command, to enforce EO 9066. On 2 March, DeWitt issued Public Proclamation No. 1, creating military areas in Washington, Oregon, California, and parts of Arizona and declaring the right to remove German, Italian, and Japanese aliens and anyone of "Japanese ancestry" living in specified military areas should the need arise. In March, the government opened its first concentration camp, Manzanar, in Owens Valley, California. That same month, the government began the forced removal of Japanese Americans from the military zones. By 7 August, eight months after Pearl Harbor, General DeWitt announced the complete evacuation of 111,000 Japanese (64 percent of whom were U.S. citizens) from two of the major military zones to army concentration camps. Included in the removal were West Coast Japanese and those having at least one grandparent who had emigrated from Japan. Forced to settle their personal affairs immediately, the Japanese were removed to 10 camps located in California, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, and Utah.

Ultimately, the government did allow 35,000 Japanese to leave the camps in return for loyalty oaths and pledges not to settle on the West Coast. Japanese living in the Hawaiian Islands were untouched. That U.S. territory contained the nation's largest concentration of Japanese Americans: 150,000 people, representing 37 percent of the islands' population. Deporting them would have destroyed the islands' economy.

Despite its actions in forcibly relocating Japanese Americans, the U.S. government began recruiting American-born Nisei (second-generation) Japanese for the armed forces in 1943. The Nisei 442nd Regimental Combat Team, recruited from Japanese American volunteers from the mainland concentration camps and from Hawaii, fought with distinction in the European Theater of Operations and became one of the most highly decorated units in U.S. military history. The 442nd also proved to be an invaluable asset in the Pacific Theater, decoding communications, interrogating prisoners, and broadcasting propaganda. In June 1943, while the Nisei were fighting and dying in the Pacific and European Theaters, California Governor Earl Warren signed a proclamation forbidding Japanese Americans from filing for fishing licenses.

By 1945, the U.S. government began authorizing the return of Japanese Americans to their homes. Racism continued, however, for in that same year, Hood River, Oregon, removed the names of 17 Nisei soldiers from its community roll of honor because they were Japanese. During the four years the United States was at war, even as thousands of Japanese were detained in military camps, only 10 people were convicted of spying for Japan; all were Caucasian. Not until a half century later did the U.S. government admit its mistake regarding the Japanese Americans and make partial restitution.

John Noonan

Further Reading
Houston, James D. Farewell to Manzanar: A True Story of Japanese American Experience during and after the World War II Internment. New York: Bantam Books, 1983.; Lowman, David D. magic: The Untold Story of U.S. Intelligence and the Evacuation of Japanese Residents from the West Coast during WW II. Provo, UT: Athena Press, 2001.; Ng, Wendy. Japanese American Internment during World War II: A History and Reference Guide. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002.

©2011 ABC-CLIO. All rights reserved.

  About the Author/Editor
  Documents Prior to 1938
  1939 Documents
  1940 Documents
  1941 Documents
  1942 Documents
  1943 Documents
  1944 Documents
  1945 Documents
ABC-cLIO Footer