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The general answer to the question of what reasons impelled the Army to carry out mass evacuation of Japanese residents from the west coast beginning in March 1942 is that President Roosevelt and Congress approved mass evacuation and the Secretary of War Stimson and his principal civilian assistant in this matter thought it a military necessity. On March 16, several days before the evacuation began, Stimson referred to the prospect as a "tragedy" that appeared "to be a military necessity" because large numbers of Japanese were "located in close proximity to installations of vital importance to the war effort." The following week, McCloy, after visiting the west coast, reported that there had been no cases of sabotage traceable to the Japanese population, but that "there was much evidence of espionage." Despite his assertion, however, no proven instances of espionage after Pearl Harbor among the Japanese have ever been disclosed. [58]

The most damaging tangible evidence against the Japanese was that produced by the intensive searches of their premises by the FBI from early February onward. By May, the bureau had seized 2,592 guns of various kinds, 199,000 rounds of ammunition (the major portion of the guns and ammunition were picked up in a raid on a sporting goods shop and another large supply of material was found in the warehouse of a general store owner), 1,652 sticks of dynamite, 1,458 radio receivers, 2,914 cameras, 37 motion picture cameras, and numerous other articles that the alien Japanese had been ordered to turn in at the beginning of January. Nonetheless, after assessing the evidence, Department of Justice officials concluded that the accumulated materials had negligible significance:

We have not, however, uncovered through these searches any dangerous persons that we could not otherwise know about. We have not found among all the sticks of dynamite and gun powder any evidence that any of it was to be used in bombs. We have not found a single machine gun nor have we found any gun m any circumstances indicating that it was to be used in a manner helpful to our enemies. We have not found a camera which we have reason to believe was for use in espionage. [59]

There were better if less tangible grounds for suspecting that some of the Japanese people — citizens as well as aliens — would become disloyal in the event of a Japanese invasion The Navy reported in early February 1942 that a small minority of less than 3 percent of alien and citizen Japanese were so fanatically loyal to Japan that they could be expected to act as saboteurs or enemy agents, and a somewhat larger minority might be passively disloyal, if given the opportunity. The War Relocation Authority similarly concluded that "a selective evacuation of people of Japanese descent from the west coast military area was justified and administratively feasible in the spring of 1942," although the mass evacuation that was carried out was never justified. No military estimate after December 1941 forecast even the possibility of an invasion of the west coast by the Japanese in strength, and all disloyalty among the Japanese remained passive until after their removal to relocation centers. [60]

Although little support for the argument that military necessity required a mass evacuation of the Japanese can be found in contemporary evidence, it might be contended that the co-operation of the white population of the Pacific states in the national defense effort could not have been otherwise assured. By March 1942, a large segment of that population along the coast was determined to be rid of the Japanese, at least for the duration of the war. Prewar racial antagonism and prejudice combined with wartime fears and anxieties to create formidable political and social pressure for removal. In June, McCloy explained that the nature of the sudden attack on Pearl Harbor and the apparent exposure of the west coast to enemy action left the American people "in a condition of great excitement and apprehension," which "tended greatly to inflame our people against all persons of Japanese ancestry." Several months after the evacuation had been completed, the assistant secretary commented further:

As you know, the Japanese were removed from the West Coast, first, because of the proximity of the West Coast to the Japanese theater of operations and second, because of the very large number of Japanese concentrated in that area, and thirdly, because of the fear that direct action might be taken against the Japanese as a result of the rather antagonistic attitude of the local population. [61]

The first and second points in this statement, however, are open to question since no similar removal occurred in Hawaii even though it had a considerably greater concentration of Japanese much closer to the arena of military operations despite similar evacuation planning after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The third point — that the exclusion served to protect the Nisei against vigilantism — deserves further scrutiny

Violence against ethnic Japanese on the West Coast cannot be dismissed lightly. Between Pearl Harbor and February 15, 5 murders and 25 other serious crimes — rapes, assaults, shootings, property damage, robbery, or extortion — were reported against ethnic Japanese. More violence against ethnic Japanese followed the signing of Executive Order 9066. One author has summarized the mounting violence against the Japanese in California:

During March an attempt was made to burn down a Japanese-owned hotel at Sultana. On April 13 at Del Ray five evacuees were involved in a brawl with the local constable — following which a crowd of white residents, some armed with shotguns, threatened violence to a nearby camp of Japanese Americans. On succeeding nights the windows of four Japanese stores were smashed, and similar incidents occurred in Fresno. In northern Tulare County, a group known as the "Bald Eagles" — described by one observer as a "guerrilla army of nearly 1,000 farmers" — armed themselves for the announced purpose of "guarding" the Japanese in case of emergency. A similar organization was formed in the southeast part of the county, where a large number of evacuees were concentrated. [62]

Protecting ethnic Japanese from vigilantes is a justification for the exclusion which has been repeatedly emphasized over the years. Stimson, McCloy, and Clark, for example, have each emphasized the protection against vigilantism as the reason they were willing to support the exclusion. Stimson's autobiography relied on it as a principal reason:

What critics ignored was the situation that led to the evacuation. Japanese raids on the west coast seemed not only possible but probable in the first months of the war, and it was quite impossible to be sure that the raiders would not receive important help from individuals of Japanese origin. More than that, anti-Japanese feeling on the west coast had reached a level which endangered the lives of all such individuals; incidents of extra-legal violence were increasingly frequent. [63]

This explanation, however, sounds lame in retrospect because it was not generally advanced at the time to justify the exclusion, and when it was mentioned at all, it was given as a subsidiary consideration. Had protection been on official minds at the time, a much different evacuation program would likely have been implemented. McCloy supplied the most telling rebuttal of the contention in a 1943 letter to General DeWitt:

That there is serious animosity on the West Coast against all evacuated Japanese I do not doubt, but that does not necessarily mean that we should trim our sails accordingly. . . . The Army, as I see it, is not responsible for the general public peace of the Western Defense Command. That responsibility still rests with the civil authorities. There may, as you suggest, be incidents, but these can be effectively discouraged by prompt action by law enforcement agencies, with the cooperation of the military if they even [sic] assume really threatening proportions. [64]

Thus, exclusion and evacuation of Japanese Americans from the west coast in early 1942 was the culmination of decades of anti-Asian agitation within the context of the wartime tensions engendered by the national emergency. The prejudicial propaganda of the anti-Japanese elements of society, virtually unopposed, had finally won the day. Race became synonymous with allegiance and patriotism, and the American citizen of Japanese ancestry was identified with the Japanese enemy. Under the guise of national defense, exclusion and evacuation of Japanese Americans became an end in itself, a fortuitous wartime opportunity to rid the Pacific states of their most unpopular minority group. As one Joint Immigration Committee official observed in early February, "This is our time to get things done that we have been trying to get done for a quarter of a century." The War Department and the president, through the press, western politicians, and various military leaders such as DeWitt, had been sold a bill of goods. In accepting the racist views of California's ugly past, these national leaders came to believe that the Issei and Nisei represented a threat to the military security of the west coast. They had come to the conclusion that exclusion and evacuation were justified on the grounds of military necessity, but in reality they were carrying out the long-sought program of the anti-Asian and anti-Japanese forces on the west coast. [65]

The Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians that was established by Congress in 1980 "to review the facts and circumstances surrounding" Executive Order 9066 arrived at similar conclusions. After conducting extensive hearings and research, the commission stated:

The promulgation of Executive Order 9066 was not justified by military necessity, and the decisions which followed from it — detention, ending detention and ending exclusion — were not driven by analysis of military conditions. The broad historical causes which shaped these decisions were race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership. Widespread ignorance of Japanese Americans contributed to a policy conceived in haste and executed in an atmosphere of fear and anger at Japan. A grave injustice was done to American citizens and resident aliens of Japanese ancestry who, without individual review or any probative evidence against them, were excluded, removed and detained by the United States during World War II. [66]

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Last Updated: 01-Jan-2002