to Teacher Resources
Internment of the Japanese Americans, 1942: Re-Enacting the Policy
This teaching module was written by Dr. Kirk Jeffrey, Professor
of History at Carleton College, and is used with his permission.
2005, Kirk Jeffrey.
1942, a few months after the Japanese attack on US air and naval
facilities at Pearl Harbor, military officials on the West Coast,
acting under presidential authority, moved about 110,000 Japanese
nationals and Japanese Americans away from the West Coast and
interned them in ten hastily built “relocation camps”
located in Arizona, California, Idaho, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming,
and Arkansas. Often called the “worst wartime mistake”
of the US government, the relocation policy enjoyed widespread
popular and elite support at the time. Indeed, during the war,
complaints that the government was being "too soft"
on the Japanese Americans far outnumbered complaints about the
unfairness of the relocation policy.
try to make sense of historical events, ideas, and people by
examining them in the context of their own times rather than
simply passing judgments based on our standards today. Many
people participated, directly or indirectly, in the inception
of the internment plan in the months after the Japanese attack
on Pearl Harbor. This activity is an historical re-enactment
or game. Students will be assigned a role as a public or military
official or an outside observer. Every “role” is
an actual historical figure who was alive in the 1940s. This
group will meet twice to come up with a policy recommendation
for President Franklin Roosevelt, who will not attend the meetings.
Expected of Participants | Specific
Roles | Committee Deliberations &
Role of the Chairman
Getting into Your Historical Role
| Timeline of Events in 1941-42
Structure of Power & Responsibility in Wartime Washington
Expected of Participants
Develop a good background knowledge of the events of 1941-42
when the US, after months of tension and high-level diplomacy,
found itself in the war following a surprise air attack at Pearl
Harbor. Your reading of Robinson’s By Order of the
President, especially Chapters 1-3, will be vital.
Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans
by Greg Robinson
Harvard University Press (May 1, 2003)
In this game, everybody will adopt a historical persona. You
should learn about your character in depth so that you can credibly
enact his or her role.
the historical roles present challenges: in many cases we have
a great deal of information about the person’s views,
but in others the record is less complete. You will probably
find that you must do a serious job of research to gain an understanding
of your character. For each character, I have listed two or
three books that might prove helpful; but you should regard
these as starting-points and plan to go beyond them in your
search for information.
Submit a written profile of your character (2000 words, or about
eight pages, double-spaced). An “executive summary”
of this profile (500 words) is due the week before.
Participate actively and effectively in the two scheduled meetings
of President’s advisors. In the two sessions, you must
generally stay in character: put forward ideas and take positions
that are plausible for your character around the beginning of
the war. Thus you can’t present opinions that you yourself
hold in 2003. Henry L. Stimson, the Secretary of War, will chair
the meetings; he may call on anyone to present his or her views
on any issue under discussion.
don’t have to confine yourself exclusively to what your
character said and did in 1941-42, and the group of advisors
might end up recommending to President Roosevelt something different
from what his real advisors recommended in 1945. So you have
some freedom of action, as long as you generally behave in a
way consistent with what you know about your character. Most
important, you are free to alter your views based on what you
hear during the deliberations of the group. (Indeed, because
there was a strong pressure to defer to military judgement during
the war emergency, you had better be prepared to fall into line.)
For the first meeting of the advisory group, present a written
memorandum of no more than 1000 words (that’s about four
pages) explaining concisely what your character thinks.
If you can’t nail down exactly what your character thought,
build your interpretation on your broader knowledge of this
person’s career up to that time, but try to avoid unfounded
speculation: “He was head of the FBI so he must have believed
. . . “ The memo should be addressed to the “Japanese
American planning group” and should lay out your character’s
initial position in direct, forceful language, giving reasons
appropriate to the character’s training and experience—as
a California politician, an Army officer, the head of the ACLU,
or whatever. In preparing your memorandum, you may find it prudent
to discuss your ideas with others whose goals and outlook are
similar to your own, but you must try to be historically realistic
about this; for example, Culbert Olson and Earl Warren, political
adversaries in California, would not have discussed strategies.
(Warren defeated Olson in the election for governor later in
1942.) Others who will attend the meetings will subject your
memorandum to a very sharp reading. You need not believe what
you argue, but you must try to persuade others as if this were
Before class, familiarize yourself with the memoranda that others
Submit an essay in which you discuss the decision to remove
the Japanese Americans from the West Coast, focusing on how
your work in the course—background reading, research,
the re-enactment sessions, and other activities—have affected
your understanding of these events. This essay should be no
more than 1500 words in length.
Deliberations & Role of the Chairman
the two meetings held to discuss the fate of the Japanese Americans,
all “officials” and “guests” will have
the opportunity to present their knowledge and opinions. This
does not mean that all members are equal; obviously, the views
of figures close to the President, those with detailed knowledge
of the situation on the West Coast, and those who bear over-all
responsibility for managing the war effort will be accorded
the greatest attention and respect.
Stimson will chair both meetings by virtue of his age and the
respect accorded to him, and because the Japanese-American problem
is deemed to be, at bottom, a matter of military security. Stimson
will determine who can speak and when, though with due regard,
doubtless, of the need for a full airing of views. The chairman
(and anyone else) can put pointed questions to others on the
committee in order to explore some line of thinking or to expose
weaknesses in someone’s position. The chairman also has
the power to cut someone off when he feels that enough has been
heard from that person.
six key policy advisors will vote on the issues debated; the
chairman will frame the questions. These six voting advisors
are: Stimson, Biddle, Ickes, Marshall, Hopkins, and McCloy.
Each voting advisor will have a chance to explain his judgments
before voting. It is possible, however, that formal votes will
not be needed because the six may arrive at a consensus on every
matter. Then Col. Stimson will summarize the group’s findings
and draw up a set of recommendations for the President.
member of the class will play the role of Stimson. The other
roles will be assigned by random draw, except that only women
students may draw for the role of Eleanor Roosevelt.
into Your Historical Role
might begin with the timeline of important
events and add information about your character’s
thinking as it evolved day by day. Read carefully everything
you can find about his or her thoughts; keep careful notes.
The titles given above are just starting-points; you will be
expected to go beyond them and to read as widely as you can.
you read and learn about your character, try to figure out answers
to questions such as these (and add your own):
knowledge and opinions did this person have about the Japanese
on the West Coast before December 7, 1941?
did his or her thinking evolve week by week after Pearl Harbor?
sources of information did your character have?
inclined was he or she to defer to the military?
impressed was he or she with the arguments of civil libertarians?
you find any evidence that your character bore a particular
hatred or suspicion of the Japanese as a people?
your character particularly interested in matters of espionage
and sabotage? Did your character give any credence to rumors
that the Japanese might attempt some sort of attack on the
did your character think of public opinion and the pronouncements
of politicians and newspapers in the West?
all, what does your character want to accomplish as a member
of the informal group of advisors in touch with FDR? What
does he or she think the President should be told?
of Events, 1941-42 and Basic Facts
7: FDR is given the final version of the Munson Report with
a “summary” by John Franklin Carter. The report
and the summary diverge in significant ways.
7: Warplanes from six Japanese aircraft carriers carry out a
surprise raid on Pearl Harbor, the home base of the US Pacific
Fleet, on Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands. Numerous American ships,
planes, and lives are lost—the most lives on a single
day since the Battle of Antietam in September 1862, the most
until September 11, 2001.
7-8: The President authorizes the FBI to arrest enemy aliens
deemed “dangerous to public peace or safety.” Some
2,000 Issei (first-generation Japanese immigrants) on the West
Coast are arrested over the next four days.
8: President Roosevelt asks that Congress declare that “since
December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United
States and the Japanese Empire”; Congress complies.
29: Roosevelt's alien-enemy proclamations: all “alien
enemies” in the Western Defense Command area are ordered
to surrender radio transmitters, shortwave receivers, and certain
types of cameras to local police. On January 1, 1942, Attorney
General Francis Biddle authorizes the issuance of warrants to
search the premises of any enemy alien on an FBI claim that
there is "reasonable cause" to believe that banned
items might be found. These policies lead to major FBI search-and-seizure
raids along the West Coast in February. For example, four hundred
Japanese American fishermen in the Los Angeles area are held
for questioning while their boats were searched for radio transmitters
and secret codes.
14: The Canadian Government orders that all male Japanese nationals
aged 18-45 be removed from the Pacific province of British Columbia.
On the same day, FDR orders that a registration of alien enemies
begin early in February.
23: A commission headed by Supreme Court Justice Owen J. Roberts
(appointed by FDR in mid-December) issues its report on the
causes of the Japanese success at Pearl Harbor. Though the report
is rather mild, newspapers interpret it as highlighting the
role of “enemy spies” and “aliens.”
Anti-Japanese sentiment intensifies, especially in the West.
29: Attorney General Biddle announces that alien enemies will
be excluded from certain areas on the West Coast where military
installations, defense plants, or other vital facilities are
19: The President signs Executive Order 9066, the product of
a fierce battle between the War and Justice Departments. This
document has several interesting features:
makes no specific mention of the Japanese Americans.
does not distinguish between aliens and citizens.
explicitly authorizes military commanders to order the "exclusion"
of "any and all persons" from designated areas but
does not authorize long-term internment. The word evacuation
is not used.
is grounded in the President's Constitutional authority as
Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces.
21-March 12: The Tolan Committee takes public testimony on the
2: General DeWitt issues the first Public Proclamation that
will lead to evacuation. This proclamation designates the western
halves of California, Oregon, and Washington and the southern
half of Arizona as Military Area No. 1 and warns that certain
"classes of persons" to be designated later will be
excluded from this area.
18: Roosevelt's Executive Order 9102 creates the War Relocation
Authority (WRA) as an independent agency (it will later be placed
within the Department of the Interior) jointly responsible with
the War Department for the evacuation program.
21: To provide criminal penalties for noncompliance with DeWitt's
orders, Congress passes and FDR signs Public Law 503. This law
authorizes the Justice Department to enforce the orders through
DeWitt issues instructions for the establishing of two "Reception
Centers" through which Japanese Americans will be funneled
out of Military Area No. 1. These later become the Manzanar
and Parker internment camps. DeWitt also begins the process
of locating and acquiring other sites for camps and authorizes
the Engineer Corps of the Army to begin to construct fifteen
"Assembly Centers" within Military Area No. 1 to receive
24: DeWitt's Public Proclamation No. 3 makes the first direct
move toward evacuation by imposing a curfew. All alien enemies
and Japanese American citizens are to remain in their homes
between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. These people are also ordered to restrict
their movements to a five-mile radius from their homes.
the same day, DeWitt issues the first Civilian Exclusion Order.
This order requires the 54 Japanese American families living
on Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound (close to the Bremerton
Naval Base) to report to the Puyallup Assembly Center (on the
State Fairgrounds south of Seattle) by March 30. A series of
exclusion orders follow, the last one on June 7, 1942, six months
after Pearl Harbor.
27: DeWitt's Public Proclamation No. 4 forbids the Japanese
Americans living within the boundaries of Military Area No.
1 to leave the area without permission. This stops the unsupervised
flow of Japanese Americans into the interior of the country;
it freezes them in place to await the inevitable order to report
to an assembly center. All three of the directives of late March—curfew,
exclusion, and freeze—are backed by Public Law 503. Japanese
Americans who fail to abide by them face criminal prosecution.
7: Governors and other officials of the western states meet
with officials of the WRA in Salt Lake City to discuss the WRA
plan (announced a few days earlier) to resettle Japanese Americans
in rural areas and to find jobs for them as farm laborers and
in other kinds of work. The state officials declare that they
want the Japanese Americans to be held in concentration camps
for the duration of the war. Between April and June, the WRA
discards its original plan and begins creating a system of camps.
By November, all Japanese Americans held in assembly centers
in Military Area No. 1 have been moved to the ten camps.
June and November: Japanese Americans living in Military Area
No. 2 (those parts of the western states not included in Military
Area No. 1), including those who had moved there from Military
Area No. 1, are also forced by military order to join the earlier
evacuees in relocation camps.
Military Area No. 1, 97,000
Military Area No. 2, 15,000*
10,000 of those in Military Area No. 2 had recently moved there
from Military Area No. 1.
Structure of Power and Responsibility in Wartime Washington
some respects this re-enactment will not at all resemble the
real course of debate in 1942. In wartime, a much smaller group
of policymakers and advisors holds real power than in peacetime,
while most people are kept in the dark about many important
matters. Officials concerned with fighting the war, protecting
internal security, and managing the economy will get their way;
those who focus on other matters won’t. It is inconceivable
that officials like Henry Stimson, George C. Marshall, and J.
Edgar Hoover would ever have sat down for talks with outsiders
like Roger Baldwin, Mike Masaoka, and Eleanor Roosevelt. However,
the president and his advisor Harry Hopkins tried always to
remain aware of ideas and opinion outside Washington DC in order
to avoid becoming the captives of the top generals and officials.
Here is a
simple outline showing where some of our historical characters
(underlined) fit into wartime Washington:
advisors including Eleanor Roosevelt, Harry Hopkins, and many
shapers and leaders outside government including Walter Lippmann,
Roger Baldwin, etc., etc.
“WAR CABINET” (informal): Stimson, Knox, Morgenthau,
Biddle, others as required
of War Henry L. Stimson (the War Department administers the
Assistant Secretary John J. McCloy (and other assistant
Army Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall
officers administering departments, including Gen. Allen
officers managing geographic districts, including Gen.
John L. DeWitt
officers commanding the units of the army
of the Navy Frank Knox (not in the re-enactment)
of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau (not in the
General Francis Biddle
Attorney General Edward J. Ennis (and other assistant
director J. Edgar Hoover
of the Interior Harold L. Ickes
cabinet departments (state, agriculture, labor, commerce,
(not significantly involved in shaping policy on the Japanese
Americans in 1942)
FEDERAL COURTS (enter the picture after relocation and internment
have taken place)
(law, medicine, etc.); higher education; newspapers, radio;