Sample Essay

Note:  I do not expect a bibliography on an exam essay.  Exam essays, like all essays, should be a minimum of three-four full paragraphs long.  They should contain detailed, historically specific facts and be ogranized in a logical, coherent fashion.  Please avoid vague generalizations and use of passive verb construction.

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 "uncivilized" race.

     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 country.

    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.]