Betrayed by Their Country

Monday, February 17, 2014

February 19, 1942 was an evil day for America. That’s the day President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066.

But lets put it in context.

On February 14, 1942, General John L. DeWitt, who was commanding general of the Western Defense Command, sent a memorandum to the Secretary of War recommending that Japanese Americans living on the West Coast be removed from their homes and sent inland. His reasoning went this way:

The Japanese race is an enemy race and while many second and third generation Japanese born on United States soil, possessed of United States citizenship, have become “Americanized,” the racial strains are undiluted. . . . It, therefore, follows that along the vital Pacific Coast over 112,000 potential enemies of Japanese extraction are at large today. There are indications that the very fact that no sabotage has taken place to date is a disturbing and confirming indication that such action will be taken. (Emphasis added.)

By the way, that 112,000 potential enemies included infants and children.

FDR responded to reports like these by issuing Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942. It authorized the Secretary of War and “the Military Commanders whom he may from time to time designate” to create military areas:

from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion.

The day after FDR signed Executive Order 9066, the Secretary of War designated General DeWitt as the Military Commander for the western states for purposes of carrying out the provisions of that order. General DeWitt quickly drew a line down the middle of Washington, Oregon, and California and across the southern third of Arizona and declared that they were military areas from which all persons of Japanese descent would eventually be removed. He also imposed a curfew on Japanese Americans that required them (except with permission), to stay home from 8:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. And during the daylight hours, they were not allowed to travel more than five miles from their home except when traveling to and from work.

Although Executive Order 9066 did not specifically mention Japanese Americans, that is how it was applied in subsequent orders. And although some provisions of those later orders mentioned German and Italian aliens, none were applied to citizens of German or Italian descent. That “privilege” was reserved for those U.S. citizens with Japanese blood.

How would you have felt if you had been among them?

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The photograph at the top of this post was taken by Abbie Rowe and shows FDR signing the declaration of war against Japan on December 8, 1941. It is an official government photograph, which puts it in the public domain.

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