70 Years Since Executive Order 9066

Real democracy is not hereditary. It is a way of living.

— Student government page, 1944 Hunt High School yearbook, Minidoka Relocation Center

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, authorizing the establishment of military zones. Angus Johnston reminded me of this anniversary this afternoon, and I thought I’d jump in on marking one of the more somber occasions in American history first with some overview and then with a look into more local history.

Map of internment camps

Executive Order 9066 authorized military leaders to establish military areas and to exclude civilians from those areas. With these powers, Lt. Gen. John DeWitt began instituting curfews directed at Japanese-Americans in Military Area No. 1 – all of California and parts of Washington, Oregon, and Arizona (Japanese-Americans in Hawaii, interestingly, did not face relocation or internment). Throughout March of that year, DeWitt issued several proclamations that increasingly restricted the rights of Japanese-Americans, culminating in the Civilian Exclusion Order No. 34, which included the mandatory evacuation and detention of Japanese-Americans. Almost simultaneously, Congress passed a law making violation of Executive Order 9066 a misdemeanor.

Over the next few months, approximately 112,000 people involuntarily left their homes and were interned in camps across America. 2/3 of them were American citizens. None of them was ever charged with treason or disloyalty, although over a hundred were sent to prison for challenging the internment itself. Most lost all of their belongings and livelihood, and only those still alive in 1988 received any compensation from the government.

The federal government’s actions were challenged several times: the curfews were challenged (and upheld) in Hirabayashi v. United States and the constitutionality of the order itself was challenged (and also upheld) in the more famous Korematsu v. United States. Neither of these decisions has yet to be overturned. On the same day as the Korematsu decision, the Supreme Court also ruled, in Ex parte Endo, that the government could not continue to detain people that it recognized as loyal, but it also left loyalty to be determined by the government itself.

Military Area No. 1 bisected Phoenix

While the demarcation of Military Zone No. 1 encompassed California, it cut through the other states. In Arizona, and likely Washington and Oregon, the line zig-zagged through many cities. If you’re a native of the Phoenix area, you’ll recognize the roads on the map to the right, which I got from the Arizona Historical Society. The line ran along Grand Avenue, Van Buren, Mill Avenue, and the Southern Pacific Railroad. If you lived southwest of this line, you were forcibly evacuated to relocation centers (usually in Poston or on the Gila River Indian Reservation). The arbitrary line decided whether or not some families had to endure the trying ordeal of relocation and internment.

When the war first began, Japanese-Americans were kicked out of the military due to suspicions of sabotage. The prohibition wasn’t lifted until 1943, and the draft was reinstated in 1944 while many still lived in internment camps. Across the country, many Japanese-Americans protested the contradiction of living in camps due to their disloyalty but being drafted to defend the country. In the Poston Relocation Center 100 men resisted the draft and were prosecuted by the government. A sympathetic judge decided that their punishment should be a 1 cent fine, since living in the camps was punishment enough.

The United States has a history marked with good and bad deeds. The internment of Japanese-Americans is one of the darkest events in modern American history. It’s important to be aware of this history, and to acknowledge just how much damage hatred and racism can do. It’s important to remember that 70 years ago, a hundred thousand civilians were rounded up because of their heritage.

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2 thoughts on “70 Years Since Executive Order 9066

    • Dissenting judges in these types of situations are definitely in the minority. We have independent judges, but no judge would risk being the person who set free a saboteur working for the enemy. It’s an unfortunate part of the hysteria that emerges in these types of situations.

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