Today In History — FDR Signs Executive Order 9066
A dark chapter in American history begins with the signing of an Executive Order:
United States Executive Order 9066 was a presidential executive order issued during World War II by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on February 19, 1942, using his authority as Commander-in-Chief to exercise war powers to send ethnic groups to internment camps.
This order authorized U.S. armed forces commanders to declare areas of the United States as military areas “from which any or all persons may be excluded.” It was eventually applied to one-third of the land area of the U.S. (mostly in the West) and was used against those with “Foreign Enemy Ancestry” – Japanese, Italians, and Germans.
The order led to the Japanese American internment in which some 120,000 ethnic Japanese people were held in internment camps for the duration of the war. Of the Japanese interned, 62 percent were Nisei (American-born, second-generation Japanese American) or Sansei (third-generation Japanese American) and the rest were Issei (Japanese immigrants and resident aliens, first-generation Japanese American).
The Secretary of War (then Henry L. Stimson) was to assist those residents of such an area who were excluded with transport, food, shelter, and other accommodations.
Americans of Japanese ancestry were by far the most widely-affected, as all persons of Japanese ancestry were removed from the West Coast and southern Arizona. In Hawaii, however, where there were 140,000 people of Japanese ancestry (constituting 37 percent of the population), the Japanese were neither relocated nor interned — there were so many that the political and economic implications of such a move would have been overwhelming. The Japanese were only vulnerable on the mainland. Americans of Italian and German ancestry were also targeted by these restrictions, including internment, though to a much lesser extent.
One thing that was remarkable about the internment order was that there was virtually no opposition. Even people who were generally pretty liberal accepted the notion that internment was acceptable — even desirable. Interestingly, one of the few voices in Washington opposed to internment was FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. By the time World War II began, after nearly a decade of Democratic control of Washington under President Roosevelt, Hoover was one of the few Republicans left with any power. His opposition to internment is ironic, considering how some labeled his career as one in opposition to civil liberties.
This decision, which deprived hundreds of thousands of American citizens of the liberty and their property was later upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States:
It is said that we are dealing here with the case of imprisonment of a citizen in a concentration camp solely because of his ancestry, without evidence or inquiry concerning his loyalty and good disposition towards the United States. Our task would be simple, our duty clear, were this a case involving the imprisonment of a loyal citizen in a concentration camp because of racial prejudice. Regardless of the true nature of the assembly and relocation centers-and we deem it unjustifiable to call them concentration camps with all the ugly connotations that term implies-we are dealing specifically with nothing but an exclusion order. To cast this case into outlines of racial prejudice, without reference to the real military dangers which were presented, merely confuses the issue. Korematsu was not excluded from the Military Area 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-as inevitably it must-determined that they should have the power to do just this. There was evidence of disloyalty on the part of some, the military authorities considered that the need for [323 U.S. 214, 224] action was great, and time was short. We cannot-by availing ourselves of the calm perspective of hindsight-now say that at that time these actions were unjustified.
Remember this the next time you hear someone talk about how much of a liberal Franklin Roosevelt supposedly was.
H/T: Democratic Central