Japanese Internment During World War II
A Comparison of U.S. & Canadian
• Japanese immigration to the U.S. and Canada began in
the 1860s and saw the greatest influx from 1900-1920
• U.S. Japanese immigrants settled in California,
Washington, and Oregon. 90% in California. Most made
their living in farming.
• 1941, approximately 110,000 Japanese nationals lived in
the Pacific states and 150,000 lived in Hawaii. 62% were
• Canadian Japanese immigrants settled in British
Colombia making their living in fishing.
• 1941, 22,000 Japanese nationals lived in British
Colombia. Over 70% were Canadian citizens.
Racial Tension in the U.S.
• Prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor anti-Japanese (Chinese, Korean)
sentiment grew as the immigrant population increased. For example:
• U.S., Asiatic Exclusion Leagues form to prevent Asians from joining
• Webb-Haney Act (1913), state law denying "all aliens ineligible for
citizenship" (i.e. all Asians except Filipinos) the right to own land in
• U.S. Supreme Court rules in Takeo Ozawa v. U.S. that
naturalization is limited to "free white persons and aliens of African
nativity,“ i.e. not Asians.
• Congress passes Cable Act (1922). “…any woman marrying an
alien ineligible for citizenship shall cease to be an American citizen."
Meaning that anyone marrying an Issei would automatically lose
citizenship. Repealed in 1932.
• Congress passes Immigration Exclusion Act (1924), barring all
immigration from Japan
Racial Tension in Canada
• Prior to WWII, 21,000 Japanese lived in B.C., 75% were Canadian
• Most settled on the west coast and made a living in the fishing and
• 1907, Anti-Asiatic League:
– Organization of white business owners
– Fought to restrict business licenses for people of Japanese
• Japanese-Canadian citizens were denied voting rights
• Restrictions placed on Japanese immigration
• Anti-Japanese sentiment intensified in the mid 30’s
– Fear of “Fifth Column” espionage
– Competition for scarce jobs during the Depression
Racial Tension in Canada
• Canadian election of 1935 was marked by anti-Japanese smears,
MP Halford Wilson recommended forcing Japanese into ghettos like
• Some believed that Japanese rural and coastal patterns of
settlement was proof that they were part of a Fifth Column of spies
and saboteurs placed strategically to aid in a possible invasion.
• Provincial government of British Columbia began limiting the
number of fishing licenses issued to Japanese
• Prime Minister McKenzie King did nothing to halt the rising
discrimination. A clue to King’s feelings toward Japanese is quoted
in his diary from 1945:
– "It is fortunate that the use of the bomb should have been upon the
Japanese rather than upon the white races of Europe."
• Canadian Nisei were not allowed to vote in 1941
Internment in the U.S.
Los Angeles, Santa Fe Station, 1942
Alien Registration in U.S.
• 1939–’41 the FBI compiled the
Custodial Detention index
("CDI") on citizens, "enemy"
aliens and foreign nationals,
based on census records, in
the interest of national security.
• June 1940, Alien Registration
Act passed. Loyalty
regulations, Sect. 31 required
the registration & fingerprinting
of all aliens above the age of
14, and Sect. 35 required
aliens to report any change of
address. Five million foreign
nationals registered at post
offices around the country
• December 7th, 1941, Pearl Harbor attacked
• Dec. 8th, Congress declares war on Japan. FBI arrests
736 Japanese nationals as security risks
• Dec 11th, Congress declares war on Germany and Italy.
2000 prominent Issei in Hawaii and are imprisoned by
the U.S. government
• Lt. General John DeWitt, head
of the Western Command,
requested approval to conduct
search and seizure operations
to prevent alien Japanese from
making radio transmissions to
Japanese ships. DoJ required
probable cause & warrants
and the FBI dismissed Army
(i.e. Dewitt's) alarm.
Lt. General John DeWitt
• In congressional testimony, DeWitt
“I don't want any of them [persons of
Japanese ancestry] here. They are a
dangerous element. There is no way to
determine their loyalty... It makes no
difference whether he is an American
citizen, he is still a Japanese. American
citizenship does not necessarily
determine loyalty... But we must worry
about the Japanese all the time until he
is wiped off the map.”
• DeWitt found common cause with Joint
Immigration Committee of the California
Legislature which sent a manifesto to
newspapers summing up 'the charges
against the Japanese,' who, ‘were
Executive Order 9O66
• Signed by FDR on Feb.19, 1942,
allowed authorized military
commanders to designate "military
areas" at their discretion, as "exclusion
zones", Exclusion was applicable to
anyone that an military commander
might choose, citizen or non-citizen
• March 1942, DeWitt issued Public
Proclamation No.1, informing all those
of Japanese ancestry that they would
be subject to exclusion orders from
"Military Area No. 1" (essentially, the
entire Pacific coast to about 100 miles
inland), and requiring anyone who had
"enemy" ancestry to file a Change of
Residence Notice if they planned to
U.S. Internment Camps
Post-9O66 Catch 22
• Executive Order 9095 created the Office of the Alien Property
Custodian, giving it authority over all alien property. Assets were
frozen, creating financial difficulty for the affected aliens, preventing
most from moving out of the exclusion zones.
• Public Proclamation No.3 declares an 8 pm to 6 am curfew for "all
enemy aliens and persons of Japanese ancestry" in military areas.
• DeWitt began to issue Civilian Exclusion Orders for specific areas
within "Military Area No. 1."
• DeWitt's Proclamation No. 4 prohibited all those of Japanese
ancestry from leaving "Military Area No. 1" for "any purpose until a
future proclamation or order of this headquarters shall so permit."
• DeWitt issued Civilian Exclusion Order No. 346, ordering all
people of Japanese ancestry, citizens or non-citizens, to report to
assembly centers, where they would live until being moved to
permanent "Relocation Centers."
• In spite of he Ringle Report and FBI reports by J. Edgar Hoover that
found no evidence of Japanese disloyalty, FDR issued 9066
knowing that it would lead to internment. Why?
• In his book By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of
Japanese Americans, Prof. of History Greg Robinson argues
– FDR had “unenlightened views of the Japanese” seeing them as
Japanese first, then American & shared the anti-Japanese prejudices of
his age and class.
– FDR was content to leave the “Japanese question” to Lt. Gen. DeWitt
• In, Magic: The Untold Story of US Intelligence and the Evacuation of
Japanese Residents From the West Coast During World War II,
former Assistant Director of the NSA, David Lowman argues
– FDR agreed to remove the Japanese from the Pacific Coast to avoid the
possibility charging anyone with espionage because, an espionage trial
would require that the government disclose evidence, i.e. that they
intercepted and broken Japanese naval coded transmissions.
• Greed and Racism among California farmers
– “White farmers can take over and produce everything the Jap grows.
We don’t want them back after the war either.” Austin Ansen, head of
the Salinas Growers Association
Internment in Canada
R.C.N. officer confiscating the boat of a Japanese-Canadian fishermen, 1942
Confiscation of Vessels
• Within hours of the Pearl Harbor
attack, the Japanese also
invaded Hong Kong (part of the
• Municipal governments &
newspapers in British Colombia
called for the internment
• In spite of Canadian military &
RCMP assurances to the
contrary, the public believed
fishermen were mapping the
coastline for Japanese Navy.
• Japanese fishing boats were
Boats corralled at mouth of the Fraser river first confined to port, &
eventually, the Canadian Navy
seized 1,200 vessels.
Internment of Japanese Men
• Jan.1942, a 100 mile exclusion
zone was established along the
• All men of Japanese descent
ages 18-45 were removed from
the zone and taken to road
camps in the British Columbian
interior, to sugar beet projects
on the Prairies, or to internment
in a POW camp in Ontario.
• The camp at Tashme was
notorious for harsh conditions.
• Canadian Pacific Railroad &
other business fired Japanese
• The Canadian government
spent 1/3 per capita on
interness than the U.S.
War Measures Act ‘42
• February 24, 1942 an Order-in-
Council passed under the War
Measures Act giving the federal
government the power to intern all
"persons of Japanese racial origin."
• Ten camps were established, only
four “relocations centers”
• Under Canadian "Custodian of
Aliens" the government sold the
possessions of Japanese Canadians
without the owners' permission.
Auctioned off items, ranging from
farm land, houses possessions sold
at prices below market value. Funds
raised went towards the fees of
realtors and auctioneers, and
storage/handling charges, and
Japanese owners rarely received
much income from the sales.
Canadian Internment Camps
• In spite of he RCMP assurances that there was no evidence of
Japanese disloyalty or Fifth Column activity, King made no attempt to
stop relocation via the War Measures Act. Why?
• In her book, The Politics of Racism: The Uprooting of Japanese
Canadians During World War Two, Ann Sunahara describes Prime
– King was an astute politician who often changed positions to suit popular
opinion. Thus he was swayed by the unfounded paranoia from B.C. &
the racism of west coast politicians like MP Ian MacKenzie.
– In a quote to Vancouver Sun MacKenzie declared
"It is the government’s plan to get these people out of B.C. as fast as
possible. It is my personal intention, as long as I remain in public life, to
see they never come back here. Let our slogan be for British Columbia:
‘No Japs from the Rockies to the seas.”
• Canadians benefited financially buying confiscated property
Life in the Camps
WRA Relocation Center Manzanar, California
• War Relocation Authority (WRA) directed by Milton Eisenhower
managed the ‘Relocation Centers’ not the same as internment camp.
Largest at Tule Lake, California held over 18,000. The most distant
facilities were in Rohwer & Jerome Arkansas
• April ’42, Wartime Civilian Control Agency (WCCA) was established
by the military to coordinate the evacuation to inland relocation
centers. Japanese Americans were held in temporary ‘assembly
centers’ awaiting completion of the Relocation centers.
• The Department of Justice operated ‘internment camps (aka
detention centers’) which held those suspected of Japanese
sympathies, causing trouble at relocation centers, or Japanese
nationals rounded up and turned over to the U.S. by governments in
Latin America (ex. Peru, Bolivia and Guatemala)
– DOJ and INS also operated camps (ex. Crystal City, Texas) to hold
Germans deported from Latin American countries
• Eventually 120,000 Japanese were settled into 10 War Relocation
Centers. 2/3 were American citizens. In the largest forced
migration in U.S. history
• Internees were housed in "tar paper-covered barracks of simple
frame construction without plumbing or cooking facilities of any
kind. Facilities met the requirements of Geneva Convention for
• Based on designs for military barracks, most of the buildings were
poorly equipped for cramped family living.
• Heart Mountain War Relocation Center in Wyoming (above) was a
barbed-wire-surrounded enclave with unpartitioned toilets, cots for
beds, and a budget of 45 cents daily per capita for food rations.
• Armed guards were posted at
the camps, which were all in
remote, desolate areas far
from population centers.
• Internees were typically
allowed to stay with their
families, and were treated well
unless they violated the rules.
• Some camp commanders were
very lenient with security
• Nearly 1/4 of the internees left
the camps to live and work
elsewhere in the U.S., outside
the exclusion zone. Some
were allowed to return to their
hometowns in the exclusion
zone under supervision of a
sponsoring American family.
• The phrase shikita ga nai (translated as "it cannot be helped") was
commonly used to summarize the interned families' resignation to their
current condition. Most internees cooperated to prove loyalty to the
• Internees were encouraged to form civic organizations within the
camps and given responsibility to manage their communities.
• Activties like baseball leagues, traditional holiday celebrations like
Shogatsu (New Year) were allowed in most of the camps that housed
Camp Manzanar California
• Internees at Hastings Park, were placed in stables and barnyards,
where they lived without privacy in an unsanitary and “intense cold
during the winter”
• General conditions were poor enough that the Red Cross transferred
fundamental food shipments from civilians affected by the war to the
• Middle-class families deemed as no threat to national security were
sent to less-restrictive “relocation centers”
U.S. Legal Challenges
• Hirabayashi v. United States (1943), the US Supreme Court held
that curfews against members of a minority group were
constitutional when the nation was at war with the country from
which that group originated.
• Korematsu v. United States (1944)[ was a landmark Supreme
Court case concerning the constitutionality of Executive Order 9066
– 6-3 decision, the Court sided with the government ruling that the
exclusion order was constitutional.
– The opinion, written by justice Hugo Black, held that the need to protect
against espionage outweighed Fred Korematsu's individual rights, and
others of Japanese descent.
• Ex parte Mitsuye Endo (1944) the Court ruled that, regardless of
whether the US government had the right to exclude people of
Japanese ancestry from the West Coast but, they could not continue
to detain a citizen that the government itself conceded was loyal to
– This decision helped lead to the re-opening of the West Coast for
resettlement by Japanese-American citizens following their internment
in camps across the United States during World War II.
Legacy of Internment
• Emotional impact: depression, anger, and humiliation.
• Cultural: Internment eroded traditional Japanese family
– property seized and sold off by both state and federal
government without compensating the owners
– Loss of thousands of acres in family farms
– 1948 American Japanese Claims Act (symbolic)
• Civil Liberties Act (1988) Federal government awards
each surviving internee $20,000
• Historical: recognition of the civil rights violation.
Manzanar and Minikoda designated as national historical