The Japanese American Redress Movement
“History has repeatedly proven that our Constitution is not a document that automatically guarantees its promises. Our Constitution is a concept that requires constant vigilance against forces, intentionally or not, to abolish its intent.”
—From the Epilogue of Americans of Japanese Ancestry and the United States Constitution, 1787–1987 (San Francisco, CA: National Japanese American Historical Society, 1987).
Tom Kobayashi, south fields, Manzanar Relocation Center, 1943.
On February 19, 1942, about two months after the United States entered into World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, an order that ultimately led to the forced removal and incarceration of all Japanese immigrants and Japanese American citizens living on the West Coast—an episode then called the Japanese American internment.
This page provides a brief summary of what’s now known as the Japanese American incarceration and the grassroots movement that followed to obtain an official apology and restitution from the U.S. government.
While reading, reflect on the quote above and consider whether you agree or disagree with it.
a rule or order issued by the president to an executive branch of the government and having the force of law
Pearl Harbor attack and Executive Order 9066
On Sunday December 7, 1941, Japan’s naval and air forces attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The following day, the United States officially declared war on Japan.
For Japanese immigrants living in the United States and their American-born children, it was like a nightmare come true.
The media often made no distinction between Japanese American residents and Japanese imperial soldiers. How would Americans at large perceive them?
USS Shaw explodes during the Pearl Harbor attack, 1941.
Honolulu Star-Bulletin following the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Amid the hysteria of war, racial fear and prejudice combined with other forces—economic opportunism, political opportunism, hysteria generated by yellow journalism—and resulted in a complex political climate in the United States that led President Roosevelt to sign Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942.
Executive Order 9066 impelled the U.S. government to forcibly remove from the West Coast approximately 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry, nearly two-thirds of whom were U.S. citizens.
journalism that is based upon sensationalism and crude exaggeration
Exclusion Order posted in San Francisco, directing removal of people of Japanese ancestry, 1942.
Photo by Dorothea Lange. Identifier: 210-G-A39. Source: National Archives and Records Administration
"Evacuation" sale during the Japanese American "relocation."
They had to abandon homes, jobs, businesses, schools, pets, and most of their belongings to be sent to incarceration camps located in isolated regions of the United States.
These camps were initially referred to by the U.S. government as “concentration camps.”
A limited number of people of Japanese ancestry in Hawaii were also incarcerated in camps in Hawaii, and some were transported to camps on the U.S. mainland.
The response of the Japanese American community to mass removal and incarceration was one of shock and devastation.
Even so, some viewed mass removal and incarceration as an opportunity to demonstrate their loyalty to the United States.
Others objected to it as a violation of their civil liberties. Some expressed their objections by deliberately violating one or more of the orders. These violations were attempts to test the legality of the orders in the courts.
Response to Executive Order 9066
The "evacuation" of Japanese Americans from West Coast areas under U.S. Army war emergency order.
The fourth legal case was brought under the name of Mitsuye Endo, an employee at the California Department of Motor Vehicles in Sacramento.
Endo’s attorneys argued that it was illegal for the government to detain her without due process of law.
On December 18, 1944, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Endo should be given her liberty, but it failed to address the larger constitutional issues underlying the case.
Thus, although the Endo case resulted in a technical “victory” for Japanese Americans, the legality of the incarceration remained unresolved.
fair treatment through the normal judicial system
Japanese Americans serving in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II.
Source: 442nd Veterans Club
The closing of the incarceration camps
After the war ended in August 1945, the incarceration camps began to close.
Incarcerated Japanese Americans had not only lost their liberty but also sustained huge economic losses in terms of confiscated property, lost jobs, and disrupted education.
But that was not all they lost. As Congressman Robert Matsui noted in 1999,
Hard work could overcome the material losses of seized property or the four years lost to camp, but it could not replace the dignity and self-respect lost when someone is ostracized and imprisoned without cause. For more than a generation Americans of Japanese ancestry bore this burden in silence and without remedy.¹
to exclude (someone) from a society or group
A little "evacuee" of Japanese ancestry gets a ride on her father’s shoulders, Poston, AZ.
Seeking an apology and redress
After World War II, some Japanese Americans thought the U.S. government should officially recognize that it had unjustly incarcerated them.
Beginning with a few individuals, these efforts grew into a national movement to obtain an apology and redress from the U.S. government for its treatment of people of Japanese ancestry during World War II, and to help ensure that such injustices would never be allowed again.
Japanese Americans and their supporters sought redress for injustice through all three branches of government, all of which had contributed to the denial of their constitutional rights.
remedy or compensation for a wrong or grievance
How and why did Japanese Americans organize to demand redress from the U.S. government?
Share your thoughts on the quote at the beginning of this reading. Do you agree or disagree with it? Offer a few examples to support your opinion.
Share your thoughts on the concepts of justice and reconciliation in the context of the mass removal and incarceration of people of Japanese ancestry in the United States during World War II and the Japanese American redress movement. Have your thoughts on these concepts changed since reading the article above? If so, how?
What do you think your reaction would have been to Executive Order 9066 if you and your family were affected by it? Would you have cooperated or objected?
If you and your family had been incarcerated, would you have been willing to serve in the U.S. military? Why or why not?
Earlier you examined a few dozen quotes about justice. Choose your favorite quote and elaborate your thoughts on it in a written reflection. Why did you choose this quote? What do you like about it? What light do you think it sheds on justice?
Choose three of your favorite quotes about justice and apply them to the Japanese American redress movement. To what extent do these quotes ring true? To what extent do they not? Support your analysis with evidence from the reading.
What responsibilities do governments have for righting past wrongs? What strategies can/should governments employ to do so?
Upon signing the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, President Reagan stated, “here we admit a wrong; here we reaffirm our commitment as a nation to equal justice under the law.” Do you think similar redress movements could have succeeded in other countries? Why or why not? How does this example weigh into your thoughts on “What does it mean to be an American?”
executive order—a rule or order issued by the president to an executive branch of the government and having the force of law
yellow journalism—journalism that is based upon sensationalism and crude exaggeration
due process—fair treatment through the normal judicial system
ostracize—to exclude (someone) from a society or group
redress—remedy or compensation for a wrong or grievance
writ of coram nobis—a legal order allowing a court to correct its original judgment upon discovery of a fundamental error that did not appear in the records of the original judgment’s proceedings and would have prevented the judgment from being pronounced
Case Study: The Japanese American Redress Movement
Students learn about the Japanese American redress movement, a social movement that sought res