Treatment of Japanese-Americans during WW2

Reminder:  the persons of Japanese ancestry enduring civil rights violations in the 1940s are mostly American citizens.   This wasn’t the first time, and won’t be the last, that civil liberties were violated under the justification of national security during a time of war.

Japanese Relocation filmStep 1.  Watch this video – click here – and answer the 2 questions below.  Source: This film was produced by the U.S. government’s Office of War Information (propaganda) to put a happy face on the treatment of Japanese-Americans (JAs) living and working on the west coast.  This was created before television was in widespread use.

1.  What reasons are given for the necessity of relocating JAs? (list 2+)

2.  How does the film show the U.S. government “helping” the JAs “relocating”?  (List 3+)

Step 2.  Read “The Munson Report” Source: In 1941 Pres. Roosevelt ordered the State Department to investigate the loyalty of Japanese Americans.  The investigation was carried out in October-November of 1941.  State Department employee Curtis Munson presented the “Munson Report” to the President on November 7, 1941 – exactly one month before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, HI.

There is no Japanese ‘problem’ on the [West] Coast.  There will be no armed uprising of Japanese.  There will undoubtedly be some sabotage financed by Japan and executed largely by imported agents… In each Naval District there are about 250 to 300 suspects under surveillance.  Privately, [the U.S. Intelligence Services] believe that only 50 to 60 in each district can be classed as really dangerous.  The Japanese are hampered as saboteurs because of their easily recognizable physical appearance.  It will be hard for them to get near anything to blow up if it is guarded.  There is far more danger from Communists…than there is from Japanese.  There Japanese here is almost exclusively a farmer, fisherman or small businessman.”

3.  What is the only possible justification given by the Munson Report for the “internment program”?

Step 3.  Read “Americans in Concentration Camps”  Source: This is an excerpt of an editorial that appeared in “The Crisis” in September 1942.  “The Crisis” is one fo the oldest black periodicals in America dedicated to promoting civil rights.

“Along the eastern coast of the United States, where the numbers of Americans of Japanese Ancestry is comparatively small, no concentration camps have been established.  From a military point of view, the only danger on this coast is from Germany and Italy… But the American government has not taken any such high-handed action against Germans and Italians – and their American-born descendants – on the East Coast, as has been taken against Japanese and their American-born descendants on the West Coast.  Germans and Italians are “white”.  Color seems to be the only possible reason why thousands of American citizens of Japanese ancestry are in concentration camps.”

4.  What double standard is recognized by the editorial?

Step 4.  Read:  Supreme Court Ruling “Korematsu v. United States”  Source: In 1944, a JA convicted of evading internment, brought his case to the Supreme Court.  In a controversial ruling, the Court decided that national security outweighted Korematsu’s individual rights and upheld the constitutionality of Executive Order 9066.  The excerpt below (edited for clarity) is from the Court’s majority opinion written by Chief Justice Hugo Black.

“We uphold the order… In doing so, we are [mindful] of the hardships imposed by it upon a large group of American citizens… But hardships are part of war, and war is an aggregation of hardships.  All citizens alike, both in and out of uniform, feel the impact of war.  Citizenship has its responsibilities, as well as its privileges, and in the time of war, the burden is always heavier.   Compulsory exclusion of large groups of citizens from their homes…is inconsistent with our basic governmental institutions.  But when our shores are threatened by hostile forces, the power to protect must be commensurate with the threatened danger.

To cast this case into outlines of racial prejudice merely confuses the issue. Korematsu was not excluded from the Military Area (the West Coast) because of hostility to him or his race. He was excluded because we are at war with the Japanese Empire, because the properly constituted military authorities feared an invasion of our West Coast and felt constrained to take proper security measures, because they decided that the military urgency of the situation demanded that all citizens of Japanese ancestry be segregated from the West Coast temporarily, and finally, because Congress reposing its confidence in this time of war in our military leaders… determined that they should have the power to do just this.”

5.  What reasons are given in the Court’s majority opinion in upholding the “internment” as legal?

6.  Imagine you are writing a dissenting opinion.  Under what constitutional basis would you argue this is not legal.  (e.g. – which amendments are being violated by the “internment” program?)

Step 5. “Personal Justice Denied” Source: In 1980, Congress established the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians to investigate the detention program and the constitutionality of Executive Order 9066.  Their report was released on February 24, 1983.

“The Commission held 20 days of hearings in cities across the country, particularly on the West Coast, hearing testimony from more than 750 witnesses: evacuees, former government officials, public figures, interested citizens, and historians… An extensive effort was made to locate and review the records of government action and to analyze other sources of information including contemporary writings, personal accounts and historical analyses…

…Executive Order 9066 was not justified by military necessity, and the decisions which followed from it – detention, ending detention and ending exclusion – were not driven by analysis of military conditions.  The broad historical causes which shaped these decisions were race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership.  Widespread ignorance of Japanese-Americans contributed to a policy conceived in haste and executed in an atmosphere of fear and anger at Japan.  A grave injustice was done to American citizens and resident aliens of Japanese ancestry who, without individual review or any… evidence against them, were excluded, removed and detained by the United States during World War II.”

7.  What factors did the commission blame for the illegal detainment of JAs?

8.  What compensation do you think would be fair to victims of “internment”?

9.  In 100+ words, write a letter to your member of Congress, explaining why you believe (or don’t believe) that JAs are entitled to compensation for their “internment” and loss of their property?


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