"Most of the 110,000 persons removed for reasons of 'national
security' were school-age children, infants and young adults not
yet of voting age."
- "Years of Infamy", Michi Weglyn
Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941,
President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which permitted the military to circumvent the constitutional
safeguards of American citizens in the name of national defense.
The order set into motion the exclusion from certain areas, and
the evacuation and mass incarceration of 120,000 persons of Japanese
ancestry living on the West Coast, most of whom were U.S. citizens
or legal permanent resident aliens.
These Japanese Americans, half of whom were children, were incarcerated
for up to 4 years, without due process of law or any factual basis,
in bleak, remote camps surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards.
They were forced to evacuate their homes and leave their jobs;
in some cases family members were separated and put into different
camps. President Roosevelt himself called the 10 facilities "concentration
Some Japanese Americans died in the camps due to inadequate medical
care and the emotional stresses they encountered. Several were
killed by military guards posted for allegedly resisting orders.
At the time, Executive Order 9066 was justified as a "military
necessity" to protect against domestic espionage and sabotage.
However, it was later documented that "our government had in its
possession proof that not one Japanese American, citizen or not,
had engaged in espionage, not one had committed any act of sabotage."
(Michi Weglyn, 1976).
Rather, the causes for this unprecedented action in American history,
according to the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment
of Civilians, "were motivated largely by racial prejudice, wartime
hysteria, and a failure of political leadership."
Almost 50 years later, through the efforts of leaders and advocates
of the Japanese American community, Congress passed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. Popularly known as the Japanese American Redress Bill, this
act acknowledged that "a grave injustice was done" and mandated
Congress to pay each victim of internment $20,000 in reparations.
The reparations were sent with a signed apology from the President of the United States on behalf of the American
people. The period for reparations ended in August of 1998.
Despite this redress, the mental and physical health impacts of the trauma of the internment experience continue to affect
tens of thousands of Japanese Americans. Health studies have shown
a 2 times greater incidence of heart disease and premature death
among former internees, compared to noninterned Japanese Americans.