This weekend marked the 67th anniversary of the conclusion of one of the more controversial policies in United States history. On December 17, 1944, the U.S. army announced the end of the war-time policy of excluding Japanese Americans from the West Coast—a policy that had been in effect for nearly three years and resulted in the relocation and detainment of more than 110,000 men, women and children of Japanese descent.
In February 1942, less than two months after Pearl Harbor was bombed, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the exclusion of Japanese Americans from the West Coast. A month later, Congress implemented the relocation and internment policy by passing Public Law 503.
During the following years, thousands of Japanese Americans were relocated to ten different internment sites in remote areas further inland. Confined to fenced and guarded relocation centers, these individuals—70,000 of whom were American citizens—were denied the right to appeal their incarceration, and lost their homes and property.
For a view into life at one such site, take a look at the National Park Service’s virtual museum about the Manzanar internment camp. The National Park Service also hosts a teaching site with lots of pictures and information about war relocation.
Interestingly, while denying Japanese Americans their basic civil rights, the government simultaneously encouraged them to serve in the armed forces. Throughout the war, more than 30,000 Japanese Americans served with distinction in segregated units of the United States armed forces—some through voluntary enlistment and some through the draft.
More than forty years after the end of the war, President Reagan issued an official—and very belated—apology.
For an insightful study of governmental searches and Japanese American internment, check out Eric Muller’s American Inquisition: The Hunt for Japanese American Disloyalty in World War II (UNC Press, 2007). Muller also has a forthcoming book—Colors of Confinement: Rare Color Photographs of Japanese American Incarceration in World War II—scheduled for publication in 2012.