Historic Resource Study/Special History Study
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With the signing of Executive Order 9066, the foundation for mass evacuation of Japanese Americans from the west coast was set. American citizens of Japanese ancestry would be required to move from the west coast on the basis of wartime military necessity and the way was open to move any other group the military thought necessary. For the War Department and the Western Defense Command, the problem now became primarily one of method and operation, not basic policy. General DeWitt first tried "voluntary" resettlement under which the Issei and Nisei were to move outside restricted military zones on the West coast, as well as outside the boundaries of his command, but were free to go wherever they chose. From a military standpoint, this policy was bizarre and impractical. If the Issei and Nisei were being excluded because they threatened sabotage and espionage, why would they be left at large in the interior where there were innumerable dams, power lines, bridges, and war industries vital to the nation's security to be spied upon or disrupted. Sabotage in the interior could also be synchronized with a Japanese military invasion for a powerful fifth column effect. Thus, "voluntary" evacuation raised substantial doubts about how gravely the War Department regarded the threat. The implications were not lost on the citizens and politicians of the interior western states; they believed that people who were a threat to wartime security on the west coast were equally dangerous in the interior.

For the Issei and Nisei, "voluntary" relocation was highly impractical. Quick sale of a business or a farm with crops in the ground could not be expected at a fair price. Most businesses that relied on the ethnic trade in the "Little Tokyos" of the west coast could not be sold for anything close to market value. The absence of fathers and husbands who had been incarcerated in government internment camps following Pearl Harbor and the lack of liquidity after funds were frozen made matters more difficult. It was not easy to leave familiar surroundings, and the prospect of a deeply hostile reception in some unknown location in the interior was a powerful deterrent to moving.

Inevitably, the government ordered mandatory mass evacuation controlled by the Army, the Japanese Americans first being ordered to assembly centers — temporary staging areas, typically at fairgrounds and racetracks — and from there to relocation centers — bleak, barbed-wire-enclosed camps in the interior. Mass evacuation proceeded in one locality after another along the west coast, on short notice, with military thoroughness and lack of sentimentality. As Executive Order 9066 required, government agencies attempted, only partially successful, to protect the property and economic interests of the people removed to the camps. The loss of liberty of the Japanese Americans, however, resulted in enormous economic losses.

During the months following Executive Order 9066, none of the political entities in American society came to the aid of the Nisei or their alien parents. Congress promptly passed, without debate on questions of civil rights and civil liberties, a criminal statute prohibiting violation of military orders issued under the executive order. The district courts rejected Nisei pleas and arguments, both on habeas corpus petitions and on the review of criminal convictions for violating General DeWitt's curfew and exclusion orders.

Public opinion on the west coast and in the country at large, enflamed by the continuing racial animosity and war hysteria fostered by the press, did nothing to temper its violently anti-Japanese rage. Only a handful of citizens and organizations — a few churchmen, a small part of organized labor, and a few isolated citizens — spoke out for the rights and interests of the Japanese Americans.

Thus, the Nisei and Issei had little alternative but to comply with the mass evacuation program. Few in numbers, bereft of friends, and fearful that the war hysteria would bring mob violence and vigilantism that law enforcement would do little to control, they were left only to choose a resistance which would have proven the very disloyalty that they denied. Each carried a personal burden of rage, resignation, or despair to the assembly centers and camps that the government hastily constructed to "protect" more than 130,000,000 Americans against 60,000 Nisei and their resident alien parents. [1]

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Last Updated: 01-Jan-2002