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Pearl Harbor

The Internment of Japanese-Americans

During World War II, American enthusiasm for fighting the overseas enemy surged, but so did fear of an "enemy within." After the December 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor, the United States declared war on Japan and joined the Allied forces in World War II. Rumors of sabotage and espionage by Japanese-Americans ran rampant. These raged despite an FBI investigation that showed the fears to be groundless.

In February 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, setting into motion the evacuation and internment of all Americans of Japanese extraction and Japanese resident aliens on the West Coast. Fueled by lingering anti-German sentiments from World War I and by Germany's and Italy's wartime alliance with Japan, the executive order also authorized a smaller internment program for German and Italian nationals in this country. Thousands of Latin American residents of Japanese and German descent were forcibly sent to internment camps in the United States.

Only in the late 1980s, due to the tireless efforts of survivors and their descendents, did Japanese-Americans win token acknowledgement of the wrong done to them. But no amount of monetary compensation could equal the extent of their losses - of livelihoods and homes - and the psychological scars handed down from one wartime generation to the next.

Japanese-Americans were among the first to recognize the parallels between targeting Japanese-Americans in 1942 and rounding up American Muslims soon after Sept. 11, 2001.

Moments in History

1941: Japan bombs the U.S. Navy base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The United States declares war on Japan the next day. Germany and Italy declare war on the United States soon thereafter.

1942: President Roosevelt signs Executive Order 9066, which authorizes the internment of 110,000 U.S. residents of Japanese descent and 2,264 more who are sent from Latin America to the United States for internment.

1944: Roosevelt allows the Japanese and German internees to return home.

1945: Japan surrenders; World War II ends.

1952: Congress passes the Immigration and Nationality Act (the McCarran-Walter Act) to deny visas to those with fascist and communist ties. Previous racial restrictions are abolished, but a quota system restricts the number of immigrants from designated countries.

1988: Congress passes the Civil Liberties Act, providing compensation to surviving Japanese-American internees, and apologizes on behalf of the nation.

2000: Congress passes the Wartime Violation of Italian-American Civil Liberties Act, which acknowledges the persecution of Italian-Americans during World War II.

Historians’ Perspectives

Geoffrey Stone
Geoffrey Stone
Price of Safety. The burden of the restriction of civil liberties tend to fall on a group ... (1:07)
Ellen Schrecker
Ellen Schrecker
Rise of the Communist Party. During the 1930s and 1940s, the Communist party ... (1:06)
Gary Okihiro
Gary Okihiro
The Japanese Menace. The US government sent various commissions to Hawaii ... (1:12)
Hostage in America. The US in anticipation of prisoner of wars in the Pacific ... (1:11)
Campaign of Americanization. The Japanese-American case illustrates ... (1:48)