Franklin D. Roosevelt Day by Day – February

FDR and Japanese American Internment

February 2012 marks the 70th anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066. The decision to intern Japanese Americans is widely viewed by historians and legal scholars as a blemish on Roosevelt’s wartime record.

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the FBI arrested over 1200 Japanese aliens throughout the United States. Over the next several weeks, President Roosevelt received contradictory advice about further action.

FDR’s military advisers recommended the exclusion of persons of foreign descent, including American citizens, from sensitive areas of the country as a safeguard against espionage and sabotage. The Justice Department initially resisted any relocation order, questioning both its military necessity and its constitutionality.

But the shock of Pearl Harbor and of Japanese atrocities in the Philippines fueled already tense race relations on America’s West Coast. In the face of political, military, and public pressure, Roosevelt accepted the relocation proposal. The Attorney General acquiesced after the War Department relieved the Justice Department of any responsibility for implementation.

On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 granting the War Department broad powers to create military exclusion areas. Although the order did not identify any particular group, in practice it was used almost exclusively to intern Americans of Japanese descent. By 1943, more than 110,000 Japanese Americans had been forced from their homes and moved to camps in removed inland areas of the United States.

Please see our document packet on FDR and Japanese Internment for more information as well as documents from the FDR Library related to this topic.

Pictured below is baggage belonging to evacuees of Japanese ancestry at an assembly center prior to transfer to a War Relocation Authority Center. This photograph was taken several months after the February Executive Order, on July 1, 1942.


4 thoughts on “Franklin D. Roosevelt Day by Day – February

  1. This comment did not appear on the day it was originally posted. Our commenting policy was misapplied in this instance and the comment is being posted now.

    Chris: I think it is difficult if not impossible for anyone who was not alive in the late 1930s to understand the widespread hatred of Japanese people at that time. At almost every movie theater, there would be a ten-minute newsreel of important events of the times; some were about the war in Europe but most were about the war the Japanese were waging against the Chinese people as Japan invaded more and more areas of China.

    Americans had seen many newsreels of the Japanese slaughter of Chinese civilians during the Rape of Nanking (the 1937–1938 Nanking Massacre), in which the Japanese soldiers raped and tortured any civilian they chose to. They killed 300,000 Chinese people in the city of Nanking alone, often in the most fiendish ways possible. The top men in the Japanese army encouraged the soldiers to kill civilians — including women, babies, children, and very old people — without any mercy. There were contests among the soldiers to see who could think up the most hideous way to kill a Chinese person. The goal was to toughen up the soldiers for the battles ahead. Newsreels showed Japanese soldiers laughing as the disemboweled a Chinese civilian or killed another by turning a flame thrower on him or her.

    The Japanese people of today have done a very good job of taking the focus off what the Japanese did to people under their control in the 1930s and 1940s, so that today the conversation is all about what WE did to them, instead of what THEY did to the victims of their aggression. I am not even sure the Japanese government ever apologized to the Chinese people for what their soldiers did to Chinese civilians: they used germ warfare, biological warfare and gas warfare on Chinese civilians all over conquered China.

    But we don’t hear much about all that these days, do we?

    Today, the people of Japan are our friends so it is hard to think of how Japanese people in America were viewed at that time. They were widely despised because it was assumed they condoned what their friends and family members were doing to the conquered people of Asia. It was also feared they could be signaling Japanese submarines off the coast of California, Oregon or Washington. There WERE Japanese submarines that came in close to the West Coast during WWII, so the fear was not without merit.

  2. I have always admired FDR and feel certain he would NOT have wanted my post to be deleted (as it was).

    1. This comment did not appear on the day it was originally posted. Our commenting policy was misapplied in this instance and the comment is being posted now.

  3. Shame on the FDR Library and Museum.

    You have written in agreement with those who criticize FDR for the internment, but you have deleted my post in which I explained the atmosphere that existed when FDR had to make his decision. I provided accurate information about WHY that atmosphere prevailed at the time.

    Do you dispute any of the factual information I provided?

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