skip to content

Japanese American Internment Resource Library

library

Students Hong Chau and Jeffrey Alton making use of the
Japanese American Internment Resource Library

The Japanese American Internment Resource Library (JARL) was initiated through a grant from the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund. Located on the 4th floor of Beach Hall, the JARL is maintained entirely through monetary and in-kind contributions made by supporters of the Asian American Studies Institute.

The internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry during World War II is a significant yet often neglected moment in U.S. history. The growth in this area of study is evident in the wide array of materials available from videos, books and teaching aids, to oral histories, CD-ROM, slides and other visual documentation. We are constantly adding to our holdings, so if you want to make a donation or have suggestions for new material, please contact us.

 

The Internment of Japanese Americans
A Moment in US History

During the hysterical days following the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, and fear of a Japanese attack on the West Coast ran rampant, military commander John L. DeWitt filed a report accusing Japanese Americans of engaging in espionage and disloyal conduct. Japanese Americans were said to be signaling with lights and by radio to Japanese submarines lying off the West Coast.

Less than three months after General DeWitt's warning, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, which empowered the Secretary of War to single out Japanese Americans, expel them from their homes and businesses, and incarcerate them in internment camps.

Approximately 120,000 Japanese American men, women and children in the states of California, Oregon and Washington were rounded up. Without specific charges or hearings, the government herded them out to the remotest parts of Utah, California, Arizona, Wyoming and Arkansas, where they lived in barracks (with little privacy) surrounded by barbed wire and watched over by armed sentry guards.

The Census of that period showed that two-thirds of the Japanese Americans living here were born in the United States. The other third were legally admitted aliens without citizenship; the immigration laws of that time did not allow immigrants born in Japan to become citizens regardless of how long they had been living in the US.

The majority of the Japanese American population lived along the West Coast. And it was there that anti-Japanese sentiment was particularly abusive. The Issei, the first Japanese immigrants to arrive in the US, and the Nisei, the second generation born in this country, were hardworking, diligent and independent - virtues usually attributed to good American citizenship.

But many in the general population, particularly those who resented the success of Japanese Americans, looked upon them with suspicion and apprehension. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, anti-Japanese prejudices were openly ventilated. The state of California joined the hysteria and refused to allow Japanese Americans to practice law or medicine.

General DeWitt's reports of Japanese Americans' disloyalty were, however, being disputed. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover sent a secret six-page memo to Attorney General Francis Biddle in which he ridiculed General DeWitt's conclusions. Hoover said, "Every complaint in this regard has been investigated, but in no case has any information been obtained which would substantiate the allegation."

Nevertheless, the government convinced the US Supreme Court that the Japanese Americans were security risks, and so it was a military necessity to round them up and incarcerate them. The Justice Department attorneys were aware that General DeWitt's allegations were "in conflict with information in possession of the Department of Justice."

But this information was suppressed and not made available to the Supreme Court as it deliberated about the constitutionality of the government's actions. Thus, the government asked for Supreme Court approval at the same time the Justice Department withheld documents that proved there was no evidence to support the government's case.

Lawyers for those who challenged the evacuation and internment (Gordon Hirabayashi, Min Yasui and Fred Korematsu) argued "that the mass evacuation of all persons of Japanese ancestry amounted to a racial classification that violated the constitutional guarantee of equal protection of the laws."

The War Department's claim of disloyalty and espionage was presented to the Court as the single most important part of the government's legal brief. And the Supreme Court had no knowledge of the suppressed evidence that would have seriously undermined the credibility of the government's case in chief.

In justifying its decision, the Court reiterated false stereotypes about Japanese Americans and ignored the constitutional guarantees of due process, equal protection, and the individual right not to be deprived of life, liberty or property except upon conviction of an individual's own wrongdoing - not the wrongdoing of others or of a group. Regretfully, the judicial system failed in its constitutional responsibility. No Japanese American was ever charged with espionage or treason.

World War Two's 442nd Regimental Combat Team, an exclusively Japanese American unit, was the most decorated in US military history and participated in the liberation of European concentration camps, ironically while family members languished in concentration camps back in the United States.

On December 17, 1944, the Western Defense Command then under General Henry C. Pratt, rescinded the exclusion and detention orders. Japanese Americans were free to return to their homes on the West Coast effective January 1945.

The return of Japanese Americans to their homes in California, Oregon and Washington was marked by vigilante violence and the agitation of pressure groups to keep them out permanently. When news of hostility reached those still remaining in the camps, they became reluctant about returning home. The Pacific War ended in August 1945, but the last of the mass internment camp did not close until October 1946, and the very last of the "special security risks" internment camp did not close until 1952.

In 1988 the US government enacted the Civil Liberties Act, after hearings were held and the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians issued its report declaring that there was no military necessity and recommending a public apology and monetary restitution. By that time, about half of the 120,000 internees had already passed away.



Japanese American Internment Resource Library (JARL) Materials Available:

Children's Fiction

Young Adult Fiction

Plays and Biographies

Poetry and Fiction

Non-Fiction

Video, Audio, Oral Histories, CD-Rom, Slides and Teaching Aids

 

Acknowledgments

The Asian American Studies Institute at the University of Connecticut gratefully acknowledge the contributions of Mobuhiro Adachi, Shiro Aisawa, the late Helen Brill, the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund, Kimiko and Michael Ego, Monika Kin Gagnon, Dr. Frank Kitamoto, Norman and Kyoko Ikari, Satoshi Oishi, Gary Okihiro, the Estate of Michi Nishiura Weglyn, and George Yoshida.