World War II: Internment of Japanese Americans


Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, authorizing the secretary of war to designate military zones within the U.S. from which "any or all persons may be excluded." The order was not targeted at any specific group, but it became the basis for the mass relocation and internment of some 110,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry, including both citizens and non-citizens of the United States. In March 1942, Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt, commander of the U.S. Army Western Defense Command established a massive exclusion zone along the west coast and demanded that all persons of Japanese ancestry report to civilian assembly centers. On short notice, thousands were forced to close businesses, abandon farms and homes, and move into remote internment camps, also called relocation centers. Some of the detainees were repatriated to Japan, and others moved eastward to other parts of the U.S. outside of the exclusion zones. A number even enlisted with the U.S. Army. But most simply endured their internment in frustrated resignation. In January 1944, a Supreme Court ruling halted the detention of U.S. citizens without cause, and the exclusion order was rescinded, and the Japanese Americans began to leave the camps, most returning home to rebuild their former lives. The last camp closed in 1946, and by the end of the 20th century the U.S. government had paid $1.6 billion in reparations to detainees and their descendants. See also color film of the camps in our video channel. (This entry is Part 10 of a weekly 20-part retrospective of World War II)
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