One of the great ironies of the Second World War was America’s forced confinement of more than 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry. These Japanese Americans were held in camps that often were isolated, uncomfortable, and overcrowded. Although their families were treated unjustly in this way, more than 33,000 Japanese Americans served in the military with distinction.
Why did this violation of civil rights occur? The United States of the 1940s was a nation that struggled to overcome its racial, cultural, and religious differences. The Japanese American community was isolated and small amidst a sea of neighbors who seethed with understandable anger over Japan’s attack against Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. While Americans examined the members of the German and Italian Americans populations individually, most saw their Japanese neighbors as alien and untrustworthy; hysterical and false reports by journalists fueled this suspicion. On February 12, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt caved in to the pressure and signed Executive Order 9066 that condemned over 120,000 of his fellow Americans to detention camps for the rest of the war.
With less than two weeks notice, and without trials, the U.S. Government forced these Americans of Japanese ancestry to abandon millions of dollars in property. These refugees then were sent to large confinement sites in the western, southwestern, and southern United States; others went to smaller facilities across the nation. While living in overcrowded conditions behind barbed wires, these Americans attempted to bring normalcy to their lives, they created newspapers, schools, markets, police forces, and fire fighting squads.
While their families were confined, more than 33,000 Japanese Americans played a major role in the war effort. Why did they serve the nation under these difficult circumstances? Many of them loved their country enough to risk their lives in combat. For others, it was the chance to prove their loyalty and the honor of their families; this they did as members of the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team fighting up the rugged Italian Peninsula and across Southern France. Others interrogated Japanese prisoners and translated Japanese documents in the Army’s Military Intelligence Section in the Pacific and China-Burma-India Theaters. Over eight hundred Japanese Americans were killed in action serving their country.
The Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism During World War II honors those Japanese Americans who endured humiliation and rose above adversity to serve their country during one of this nation's great trials. This National Park Service site stands at the intersection of Louisiana Avenue and D Street, NW in Washington, D.C.
Last updated: May 12, 2020