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Simpson Street Free Press

The Sad Story of Japanese-American Internment During World War II

Anti-Asian sentiments have been around for some time now, but with COVID-19, Asian hate has risen all across the globe. However, this is not the first time Asian groups have faced discrimination. A prime example is the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attacks in 1941, when the Japanese military attacked the US Naval base by surprise, killing 2,403 service members, seriously injuring 1,178 others, and destroying about 170 planes and multiple ships.

The response from President Franklin Roosevelt was Executive Order 9066, which established Japanese internment camps from 1942 to 1954 during World War II. This policy —now known as one of the worst American civil rights violations — stripped the civil rights of people of Japanese descent, including U.S. citizens, and forced them into isolated camps.

What exactly was Executive Order 9066? After the tragic Pearl Harbor attacks, Roosevelt signed the order on February 19, 1942, to prevent espionage on American shores, creating military zones in states with large Japanese demographics — such as California, Washington, and Oregon. Americans of Japanese descent and Japanese immigrants were forced out of their homes and into the camps. The order impacted an estimated 120,000 people, many of whom were Americans.

However, the United States was not the only country removing people with Japanese ancestry from their homes. Peru, for example, removed over 2,200 of its residents, Canada removed an estimated 21,000 from its west coast, and Mexico, Brazil, Chile, and Argentina withdrew additional residents.

On December 7, 1941, hours after the Pearl Harbor bombing, the FBI arrested an estimated 1,291 Japanese-American community and religious leaders without evidence, had their assets frozen, and their family members had no information about their whereabouts. Later in January, those arrested were transferred to prison camps in Montana, New Mexico, and North Dakota and remained there for the rest of the war.

Similarly, Hawaii confiscated fishing boats that were the property of Japanese individuals. Not only that, but politicians were asking for the mass imprisonment of their Japanese population, which made up over one-third of the Hawaiian people.

Meanwhile, thousands of Japanese people were arrested and placed in camps. The FBI continued to violate their rights by searching their homes, mainly on the West Coast, and took the items they believed were to be contraband.

The imprisonment of innocent Japanese Americans and Japanese immigrants was extreme, violating the 14th and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. It was made possible by Roosevelt’s order to suspend the writ of habeas corpus of the Fifth Amendment, so those impacted by the order could not even be tried in court.

Lt. General John L. DeWitt, the leader of the Western Defense Command, wanted to include Italian and German Americans in the executive order. The American public, however, did not rally for this belief as they were of European descent. DeWitt wanted to prevent another Pearl Harbor and believed the solution was to control all civilians. In the congressional hearings of February 1943, he declared that all Japanese individuals should be removed.

Some people were against the executive order. One of these people was Milton S. Eisenhower, who was part of the Department of Agriculture. He was meant to lead the War Relocation Authority until he resigned due to what he described as the incarceration of innocent citizens.

There were debates, and after much trouble, approximately 15,000 Japanese Americans chose to move out of prohibited spaces. These prison camps ended in 1945 following a unanimous Supreme Court decision that ruled the camps were illegal.

[Sources: History; New York Times; Britannica]

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