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Running head: Japanese internment of world war ii 1

Japanese Internment of World War II


Sara Jean Spaulding
Southern New Hampshire University

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Japanese Internment of World War II
On December 7th, 1941, Japanese fighter planes launched an attack on a United States
Naval basePearl Harborlocated near Honolulu, Hawaii. This attackwhich killed many
naval officers occupying ships near the base, as well as officers occupying the baseopened the
door to the United States involvement in the now declared World War II against Japan and other
enemy nations. This attack created an even rockier relationship between Americans and
Japanese-Americans residing within the United States, as Americans feared that JapaneseAmericans, as well as Japanese aliens, would launch an attack within the borders of the country
and thus sparked public outcry for the removal of Japanese-Americans and aliens residing in
each state as a way to ensure national security and safety of American citizens throughout the
duration of World War II. Hearing the cries of his citizens, as well as military officials, United
States President Franklin Delano Roosevelt answered by issuing the Executive Order 9066 which
declared certain areas on the west coast be designated military zones while removing those of
Japanese ancestry and relocating them to designated zones created and overseen by the newly
formed War Relocation Authority. To most, this was a huge step to ensuring the safety of
Americans, and preventing acts of sabotage and espionage by Japanese sympathizers. However,
to an important few, this was an act of racism, and a blatant violation of the Constitutional rights
given to those who arein spite of their ancestrycitizens of the United States of America.
Although American safety and national security may have played a role in the beginning, the acts
committed by the United States towards Japanese-Americans, and the direction in which they
took to ensure the safety of Americans not only violated the rights of Japanese-Americans, but
also aired an obvious racist view towards Japanese as seen with the handling of a threat which

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never existed, and was fueled entirely by false fears inflated by top officials itching for a reason
to remove them from their states.
When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Executive Order 9066 in February
of 1942, the once granted liberties all Japanese-Americans enjoyed abruptly ended. The right to a
fair trial, the right to receive a warrant prior to search and seizure, and the most basic liberties
given to all citizens of the United States under the Constitution were now void to the Japanese
who were now considered enemies of the state because of their ancestral ties to an enemy
country. Considering that World War II involved more countries than just Japan, German and
Italian Americans and aliens were also viewed as enemies of the state. General John DeWitt, who
was overseeing the operations of the War Relocation Authority on the west coast had made it
clear of his intentions to not only remove and intern Japanese-Americans, but also German and
Italian-Americans. After he was rebuffed, he then urged that they be placed in camps after the
Japanese were removed (Fox, S. 1988, para 2). However, with their enormous financial
contribution to the economy, as well as their disbursement across the nation and the unease with
the treatment of American-Germans during World War I, they were spared from the executive
order that would imprison and void the Constitutional rights the Japanese were facing throughout
the duration of World War II. What also played a role in German and Italian-Americans dodging
of internment was also the fact they couldnt be easily picked out in public whereas the Japanese
could. It could be asserted that their internment was justifiable, as the nation did succumb to an
air attack on the naval base of Pearl Harbor near Honolulu, and it could be possible that
sympathizers living in the nation would also attack, but no proof that this was even remotely
possible had been provided by the War Department, and was actually quite opposite. The

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Executive Order 9066 was a quasi-permission slip to void the Constitutional rights of JapaneseAmericans with preventing sabotage and espionage being the reason for doing so.
Within the Executive Order 9066, President Roosevelt stated that, nor shall it be
construed as limiting or modifying the duty and responsibility of the Federal Bureau of
Investigation, with respect to the investigation of alleged acts of sabotage (Roosevelt, F.D.
1942, para 5), however, prior to this order being created, a memo sent to the President by
Attorney General Francis Biddle made it clear that the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the
War Department had no evidence of potential sabotage or espionage as he stated in the memo,
my last advice from the War Department is that there is no evidence of imminent attack and
from the FBI that there is no evidence of planned sabotage (Biddle, F. 1942, para 1). Since there
was no evidence to support a potential act of espionage or sabotage by Japanese sympathizers,
the desire of west coast politicians to remove Japanese from the west coast in such haste was
more so based on racism and land grabbing than a fear of attack from within by the Japanese.
Capitalizing on the attack at Pearl Harbor, and the fears of Americans just made it that much
easier to do so under the radar of their true intentions at that time, as Francis Biddles memo to
the President clearly stated that, a great many of the west coast people distrust the Japanese,
various special interests would welcome their removal from good farm land and the elimination
of their competition (Biddle, F. 1942, para 1). It could have easily been resolved had anyone
came forward to speak to America about there being no evidence to suggest an attack was
imminent on American soil by Japanese, and thus eliminating or minimizing the fears of
Americans, yet no officials, including the President himself, came forward, and instead allowed
the violation of Japanese-Americans rights to go on for years.

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Using the potential, yet non-existent threat of American safety as the reason to remove
Japanese-Americans from their homes easily settled into the minds of many Americans who
were genuinely in fear for their lives, but uninformed of the true status of Japanese-American
relations in respect to national securitythat is, that there wasnt a threat at all. Although the
Federal Bureau of Investigation and the War Department concluded that there wasnt a threat of
espionage or sabotage, this information was not made available to the general public, which
allowed the negative views of Americans toward Japanese-Americans to flourish. However, there
were some Americans who knew that Japanese-Americans were not a threat by any means, and
the very removal of Japanese-Americans as well as their internment was based on a racist agenda
and not that of ensuring national security as some top officials would assert.
While Japanese-Americans sat within these internment camps throughout the United
States, some Americans were fighting for their release and stating that these internments were
based on racist views spanning back for years and not national security. A paper written by
Robert Shaffer, an assistant professor of history at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania
titled Opposition to Internment: Defending Japanese American Rights During World War II,
explains how racist views towards the Japanese in the past by residents on the west coast played
a role in their immediate removal and detainment during World War II. In this paper, Shaffer
recalls a long-standing racial issue toward Japanese immigrants on the west coast that
contributed to American views of justifiable internment as he stated that, the wholesale
internment of Japanese-American citizens and resident aliens alike climaxed a long history of
racism on the west coast directed against Asian immigrants, as well as state and federal
legislation that discriminated against these immigrants (Shaffer, R. 1999, para 6). Negative
views of Japanese-Americans as well as Asians as a whole reverberates throughout history as

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seen with the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and a United States Senators
campaign slogan of Keep California White in opposition to Japanese living in California
(Shaffer, R. 1999, para 6). With historical documentation detailing the anti-Asian sentiment as
seen in American citizens and politicians, many who have learned about these issues in school
and those who have directly witnessed these views of Japanese-Americans saw past the
justification of officials interning Japanese-Americans during World War II as ensuring the
safety of Americans, and began to see a more clear reason for the military placing these
Japanese-Americans in internment camps. Students at the University of Washington began to
protest the internment of their fellow Japanese-American students as detailed in Shaffers paper.
The faculty also extended their support to their Japanese-American students by speaking out
against the internment of their students and blaming these internments on not just racism, but
also business interests, as a fellow student named Jack Sheedy blamed business groups out to
make money and the American Legions misguided flag-waving, not real security needs, for
demands for removal of Japanese Americans (Shaffer, R. 1999, para 11).
Preying on the fears of American citizens, the government of the United States justified
their racially and financially motivated internment by convincing a scared nation that the only
way to secure the west coast boarders from potential espionage and sabotage was to relocate and
imprison the Japanese until the threat was over. Even though the treatment of GermanAmericans during World War I was still fresh in the minds of the people, it is terrifying to realize
how quickly the country came to accept the notion that the Japanese were others, and how
quickly dehumanizing a group can turn the majority against it. As Benjamin Franklin said,
Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.

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References:

Biddle, F. (1942). Memorandum to the President from Attorney General Francis Biddle.
Retrieved from http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/archives/pdfs/internment.pdf

Fox, S. C. (1988). General John DeWitt and the Proposed Internment of German and Italian
Aliens During World War II. Pacific Historical Review 57, 407-438.

Roosevelt, F.D. (1942). Executive Order 9066. Retrieved from


http://www.vlib.us/amdocs/texts/fdrrelocation1942.htm

Shaffer, R. (1999). Opposition to Internment: Defending Japanese American Rights During


World War II. Historian, 61(3), 597-619.