Was Executive Order 9066 Justifiable?

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, generalized fear swept the nation, but particularly on the West Coast, there was a paralytic fear. Naturally, extreme measures were taken to ensure safety, but at the expense of long-held values, an Executive Order was enacted which is today the subject of great scrutiny.  Executive Order 9066 played out right here in the Bay Area, and as the photographs from Tanforan portray, a humiliating and monumental injustice was perpetrated.  At the time, justification was achieved with perfectly understandable political tact. Some of the features in this Executive Order aimed at Japanese rise in stark contrast to the absence of an order aimed at Germans despite repeated instances of sabotage traced back to German agents. On May 20, 2011, Acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Kaytel issued an unprecedented statement saying that "The United States Department of Justice made "mistakes" in the Japanese American incarceration cases:

"...the Ringle Report, from the Office of Naval Intelligence, found that only a small percentage of Japanese Americans posed a potential security threat, and that the most dangerous were already known or in custody.  But the Solicitor General did not inform the (Supreme) Court of the report, despite warnings from Department of Justice attorneys that failing to alert the Court "might approximate the  suppression of evidence."  Instead, (the Solicitor) argued that it was impossible to segregate loyal Japanese Americans from disloyal ones."


Click Here For a May 30, 2011 Justice Department Admission of Error in the Incarceration of Americans of Japanese descent during WWII

Meeting Fred Korematsu on March 5th, 1994 at the dedication of the Japanese-American Internment Memorial in San Jose was a deeply moving and memorable experience. I was there as a guest of the artist Ruth Asawa Lanier, whose design and fabrication of this unbelievably brilliant and personally descriptive work remains one of her most important pieces. At the dedication it was noted that it took the urging of the San Jose Commission on the Internment of Japanese-Americans to fight and petition the California Department of Education for school textbooks to contain information and stories relating to the internment and personal internment experiences. This was 1994, some 50 years after Executive Order 9066 was put into effect.  
When I shook Fred Korematsu's hand, I instincively apologized, asking him to accept my apology to him for our government using political justification to break a sacred constitutional protection.  I remember him smiling at me, giving me a firm handshake and saying that we have come a long way. He remarked that what was done to him was on account of race, absent political justification, and should not happen again. 


Click Here to download a photomontage made by Dorothea Lange of the Tanforan Assembly Center.

Re-Locating American Citizens--Forced to Leave Home 

  • How did Roosevelt justify Executive Order 9066?  Is it understandable given the nature of the Pearl Harbor attack and the propaganda campaign in support of the war?
  • How did the Order differentiate between patriotic Japanese and those that may have been disloyal?
  • is it the case that the Constitutional rights of Japanese were denied solely because of their ancestry? How did the Supreme Court rule in the Korematsu case?  
  • What did Justice Owen Roberts say in the case?  What were Justice Jackson's comments?  What is the important point in Jackson's comments about the role of a Supreme Court decision?