Forced Internment of Japanese Americans


Japanese Americans are imprisoned at Santa Anita, California, internment camp, 1942. (© Corbis)

On February 19, 1942, months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which permitted the Secretary of War and military commanders to issue civilian exclusion orders barring all persons of Japanese ancestry, including United States citizens, from portions of Washington, Oregon, California, and Arizona. The explanation for the orders was “military necessity” based upon the unsubstantiated fear that Japanese Americans on the West Coast posed a threat to national security in the war against Japan.

Some 120,000 men, women, and children were forced into ten internment camps located in isolated parts of California, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, and Arkansas. Internment camps were bleak barracks with no running water or furnishings other than army cots, surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards.

Facing imminent removal, Japanese Americans in the West had to liquidate their assets quickly, usually at a fraction of their value. Consequently, at the end of the war, most emerged from the camps with no homes or property, no jobs, and little savings. President Gerald Ford formally rescinded Executive Order 9066 on February 16, 1976. On August 10, 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act, which provided payment of $20,000 to the internees, evacuees, and persons of Japanese ancestry who lost their liberty or property because of discriminatory action by the federal government during World War II.