Sunday, February 19, 2017

On This Day: February 19, 1942

Executive Order 9066 and the Imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II

Toyo Miyatake (Photographer), Boys Behind Barbed Wire, 1944

In commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of Executive Order 9066, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt this day in 1942, we invited guest writer Alison Moore to explore the parallels between the creation of incarceration camps for Japanese Americans during World War II and the recent, controversial Muslim travel ban. Issued and signed by President Donald Trump on January 27, 2017, Executive Order 13769 provides "Protection of the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States."

“This, Our Legacy”
Executive Order 9066 

Dorothea Lange (Photographer), Exclusion order posted at First and Front Streets—
the first San Francisco section affected by evacuation—directing the removal of 
persons of Japanese ancestry, 1942
Courtesy Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

On February 19, 1942, upon the advice of Lt. General John L. De Witt, head of the Army’s Western Defense Command, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order requiring the mass evacuation and incarceration of over 100,000 people from the West Coast of the United States. Although no cases of sabotage related to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor had emerged in California, Oregon, or Washington—nor, in fact, were any shown to have occurred in Hawaii—the Army stated that “military necessity” required removal and imprisonment due to the potential for such acts. “Racial affinities are not severed by migration,” wrote General De Witt. “The Japanese race is an enemy race,” and though many Japanese Americans had become “Americanized,” “the racial strains are undiluted.” “Along the Pacific Coast over 112,000 potential enemies, of Japanese extraction, are at large today.” [Emphasis ours.]

As a result, over 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry—two-thirds of them U.S. citizens—were forced to abandon their homes, businesses, farms, schools, universities, and places of work. They initially were transported to so-called “Assembly Centers” (in many cases the actual horse stalls of local racetracks) and later to hastily built “internment” camps in isolated areas of central and northern California, Utah, Colorado, Texas, and Arkansas, among other locations.

Dorothea Lange (Photographer), Children in front of the gardens and barracks, formerly horse stalls, where families from San Francisco lived at Tanforan Assembly Center, California, 1942
Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration

Many remained in these camps for the duration of the war, losing homes, businesses, jobs, and years of formal education. Others were allowed to leave the camps and start new lives away from their former homes on the West Coast. And many, somewhat ironically, were called or volunteered for service for the remaining years of the war.

Siberius Y. Saito (1908–1980), Letter to William H. Irwin, June 22, 1942 
 California Historical Society

The 100th Infantry Battalion, composed primarily of American-born children of Japanese immigrants, called Nisei, receive grenade training in Hawaii, 1943
Courtesy U.S. Army

Years of racist sentiment against Japanese immigrants set the stage for these actions. Although evidence was suppressed at the time, no act of espionage or sabotage was ever found. Even if one had, the incarceration of many thousands of people “wholly ignored the fundamental principle that a free society judges by individual acts, not by ancestry,” noted Tom C. Clark, Retired Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. “The stubborn fact is, our fellow Japanese American citizens lost their liberty simply and only because of their ancestry.”

Americans All Booth, Pan-Pacific Industrial Exposition, Los Angeles, September 6, 1945
The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley; photograph by Hikaru Iwasaki

Last month’s executive order by President Trump barring entrance to the United States from seven predominantly Muslim countries has given new life to the concerns raised by Executive Order 9066. Once again—and again despite claims by the government—thousands of individuals are being denied rights afforded them by the U.S. government (by way of invalidating previously issued visas), based apparently on their heritage.

Although the government has denied that race or religion has played a role in the order, some believe otherwise. Despite carefully crafted wording in the order, according to media reports, statements made by President Trump in televised interviews and by advisers to the president about using the word “danger” rather than advocating an outright ban on Muslims led many to believe that the intent of this executive order was to ban people based on religious affiliation, rather than on specific concerns about violence. Media reports in early February stated that as many as 100,000 individuals from predominantly Muslim countries have been denied entrance into the United States since the order went into effect. These actions, along with random acts of racial and religiously-based violence, have raised concerns among many Muslims currently living in the United States about what may lie ahead for them.

 Protest against Executive Order 13769, John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), New York City, January 28, 2017
Creative Commons

Speaking to a crowd of fellow employees gathered to protest the executive order in Sunnyvale, California, on February 2, 2017, Comcast engineer Mark Hashimoto, whose great grandmother was incarcerated during World War II said, “If we are all silent, it could happen again. We could have internment camps again.”

In the 1972 book Executive Order 9066, published by the California Historical Society on the occasion of its groundbreaking exhibition of the same name, Japanese American civil rights activist Edison Uno wrote this in the book’s introduction:
History must be written by those who lived it. We must give full recognition to the facts that were responsible for such an outrage against the United States Constitution. Racism, economic and political opportunism were the root causes of this crime that is now a part of our American heritage. This, our legacy, is a reminder to all Americans that it can happen again.

Alison Moore
Guest writer

Shelly Kale, photo editor
Publications and Strategic Projects Manager 


CHS and Wartime Civil Liberties
CHS’ collections include the records of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California (ACLU-NC), which document the organization’s legislative, legal, and educational efforts to protect and extend individual liberties in California, from 1934 to the present day. The records reveal the ACLU-NC’s consistent advocacy for civil liberties and social justice, particularly during times of civic stress in which these values were strenuously tested.

Outstanding among the cases represented by the ACLU-NC is its courageous intervention on behalf of Fred Korematsu—whose lawsuit declaring the unconstitutionality of his relocation and incarceration to an internment camp during World War II made it all the way to the Supreme Court—and against the detention and relocation of other Japanese Americans. Nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated in camps, two-thirds of them U.S. citizens. The collection includes poignant correspondence between Mr. Korematsu and the indefatigable Ernest Besig, who served as the ACLU-NC’s Executive Director from 1935 to 1971.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California records are available for research at the California Historical Society’s North Baker Research Library. The Library is open to public, free of charge, Wednesday through Friday from 1 to 5 p.m.

Explore the Finding Aid for these records.


Don’t miss these CHS events commemorating the 75th Anniversary of Executive Order 9066

Cover, Executive Order 9066, 1972
California Historical Society

Thursday, February 23, 2017, 6:00 pm
Celebrating the California Historical Society’s 1972 Landmark Exhibition and Book, Executive Order 9066
Free event

The first exhibition to fully and publicly explore the World War II incarceration of Japanese American citizens and people of Japanese descent, Executive Order 9066 premiered at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor and UC Berkeley’s University Art Museum before traveling nationally. Our program, moderated by historian Charles Wollenberg, will include individuals and descendants of those who visited the exhibition, along with the curator of the Dorothea Lange collection at the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA). It is followed by an open house in our North Baker Research Library, where we will show collections related to Executive Order 9066, the CHS exhibition, and its companion publication, Executive Order 9066, copies of which will be available for sale at our Ten Lions Bookstore.

Letter from architect Siberius Saito, June 22 1942
California Historical Society

Thursday, April 27, 2017, 6:00 pm
Letters from the Camps: Voices of Dissent
Presidio’s Officers Club, Moraga Hall

Using original letters from the internment camps of World War II, now preserved at the California Historical Society, this interdisciplinary presentation focuses on Japanese Americans who spoke out during and after internment. Contemporary descendants, writers, and performers will read from the letters and share their responses, including Stan Yogi author of Wherever There's a Fight, and Fred Korematsu Speaks Up, John Crew of the ACLU, and Bonnie Akimoto, actress of 30 years and in the play, Beneath the Tall Tree.

In partnership with the Presidio Trust

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