1. Write an essay on Franklin Roosevelt's decision to intern
Japanese-American citizens during World War II and what lessons (if
any) we learned from the experience..
One of the greatest breaches of civil
rights during wartime occurred during World War II when President
Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which ordered the
internment of Japanese-Americans in concentration camps. The
decision resulted from a combination of fear and racism. The
shock of the attack at Pearl Harbor left Americans fearful and wanting
revenge. The Japanese-Americans provided convenient scapegoats
because of the long tradition of official racism against Asians in the
U. S. In the long run, the internment of these innocent Americans
remains a dark stain on the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt and
provides an important qualification to the view that only the "enemy"
violated human rights during World War II.
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese Navy struck Pearl
Harbor, sinking eight battle ships and killing over 2,000
Americans. The following day, President Franklin Roosevelt asked
Congress for a declaration of war against Japan. With only one
dissenting vote, Congress agreed, and voted to go to war on December
11th. With this action, the United States finally joined the
global conflict between fascism and freedom.
Military success eluded America in the early months
of the war. Japanese forces quickly overwhelmed American forces
in the Philippines and Guam, as well as British and Dutch forces in
Malaya, Singapore, and the Dutch East Indies. Stories of the
ferocity and fanaticism of Japanese soldiers reinforced existing
stereotypes of Japanese (and Asians in general) as an inhuman and
These events did not bode well for the fate of
persons in America of Japanese descent. American military
intelligence feared that the success of the attacks on Pearl Harbor
owed much to "spies" among the Hawaiian Islands' large
Japanese-American population. The presence of large numbers of
Japanese-Americans in the militarily vulnerable areas of Hawaii and the
West Coast of the American mainland prompted the Army to ask President
Roosevelt to take drastic action against these "suspect" people in the
name of protecting national security. Reluctantly, in February
19, 1942, Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, ordering the forced
relocation of all Japanese-Americans in Hawaii and the West Coast to
"relocation camps" in the interior regions of the United States.
There was no real basis for the fears of disloyalty
among Americans of Japanese descent. The U. S. took no similar
action against Americans of German or Italian descent. Clearly,
racism was an important factor in this decision. The U. S.
already discriminated against Asians in its immigration policies.
In 1881, Congress voted to exclude Chinese from immigrating to the
United States, and in the "Gentleman's Agreement" of 1907, the United
States and Japan agreed to stop further Japanese immigration to this
Following the signing of E.O. 9066,
Japanese-Americans had to quickly sell all their possessions at fire
sale values. Many lost homes, farms, and businesses. They
were crowded onto trains and shipped to crowded, hastily erected camps
with drafty wooden barracks that allowed little privacy, surrounded by
guard towers and barbed wire. A few protested, but most accepted
the humiliation and made the best of a bad situation. Many young
men, for example, volunteered to join the Army and serve in segregated
units in Europe. (One of the most decorated units in World War II
was comprised of Japanese-Americans.) Still, some groups did the
the government over the violation of civil rights clearly evident in
the internment of U. S. citizens without due process, but in Korematsu
vs. U. S. (1944), the Supreme Court upheld the right of
the president to take such actions in the name of national security.
Toward the end of the war, many of the internees
were released and allowed to return "home." However, most had
lost everything and had to start over again. Nothing was said at
the time--no apologies, no compensation. Not until 1977 did the
United States Congress officially apologize to the internees and their
descendants and offer compensation for their suffering and loss.
Much has been said and written (not to mention
filmed) about Japanese atrocities against Allies prisoners during World
War II, as well as Nazi atrocities in the concentration camps, but
little public attention had been directed to what the American
government did to its own citizens during the same conflict until the
destruction of the World Trade Center by terrorists in 2001. In
the name of national security, the U. S. Congress passed, and President
George W. Bush signed, the PATRIOT Act, which gave the government the
power to abrogate the civil rights of U. S. citizens in the name of
national security. Simultaneously, the FBI interned and
interrogated Americans of Arab descent--many of them U. S.
citizens--without charge, without counsel, and without end. Many
were eventually released, having never been charged with a crime.
Are these two actions comparable? Not
entirely, given the advances in technology and the different nature of
the terrorist threat. Nevertheless, the same atmosphere of fear
and a desire for revenge after September 11th once again convinced many
Americans that the sacrifice of civil rights in time of war is
acceptable in the name of national security. Only time will tell
whether these decisions were necessary or not, or whether we as a
people are still as vulnerable to fear and racism as we were in 1942.
Lecture, "Social Changes,"
James Macgregor Burns, Roosevelt: Soldier of Freedom,
1941-1945 (New York, 1970), pp. 561-66. [hypothetical--I just
want to show you how to make a citation.]