1942 Fifty Years Ago

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Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December many Americans feared the Pacific Coast might be a possible target for Japanese bombs, and officials in the California state government, the Army, and the White House devised plans for evacuating the area. Lt. Gen. John L. DeWitt and state Attorney General Earl Warren concerned themselves with Japanese-Americans who, while they made up only one percent of California’s population and had engaged in no identifiable sabotage, were fast becoming the focus of war hysteria. “Opinion among law enforcement officers in this state,” explained Warren, “is that there is more potential danger from the group of Japanese who were born in this country than from the alien Japanese.”

General DeWitt, who had ordered January’s Rose Bowl football game out of Pasadena for fear of an air raid, recommended evacuation of Japanese-Americans from the West Coast, as did Franklin Roosevelt’s Assistant Secretary of War, John J. McCloy. The War Department Aliens Division drafted a plan in early February, and the President signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19. Under it farms and towns designated “military areas” by General DeWitt could be cleared and property confiscated. The governors of Idaho, Nevada, Arkansas, and Kansas all blocked entry to Japanese-Americans fleeing the Coast, and the federal government established eleven “detention” or “relocation” centers on desolate federal land. By the end of March the majority of the one hundred thousand Japanese-Americans who would be incarcerated throughout the war had been relocated, many of them losing farms to land speculators who had embraced the emergency legislation.