Throughout the Nineteenth Century, Japan dealt with a population that it could not sustain with its national food production by encouraging immigration. Thousands of Japanese traveled abroad. Many settled in the Hawaiian Islands, and on the American Pacific Rim.
When war came in December 1941, this population was seen as potential fifth columnists and saboteurs. The public cried out for the arrest of Japanese American citizens. LIFE Magazine published a guide on how to tell the difference between Chinese and Japanese, and the FBI began investigating the large number of Japanese Americans whose actions were being monitored.
Japanese Americans already in the United States Armed Forces were held away from service without any reason. Japanese Americans were prevented from signing up in the mad rush to enlist, and unofficial boycotts on Japanese stores and businesses began.
While many Italian and German Americans would be arrested and interred, these were mostly foreign nationals who had not received citizenship. The discrimination against the Japanese Americans was prejudicial, focusing on Japanese Americans who had lived in the United States for generations.
On February 18, 1942, United States President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, providing for the relocation of enemy aliens — and Japanese Americans — away from military installations. Milton Eisenhower, brother of United States Army General Dwight D. Eisenhower, was appointed the head of the War Relocation Authority (WRA) and in March 1942 he began to plan camps that would hold Japanese Americans for the duration of the war.
Eventually 110,000 Japanese Americans were interred, many selling their possessions at below cost and at a moment’s notice. Two-thirds were citizens and 25% were children under fifteen.
United States Army units made up of Japanese Americans were sent to fight in Italy. All of the Japanese Americans in the Army at the time of Pearl Harbor were incorporated into this new unit, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT). Many veterans of the 442nd RCT swore their overall commander was racist, sending them on suicide missions against positions that couldn’t be taken with larger units. The 442nd received more medals than any other similarly sized unit in United States military history. Some survivors swear it’s because they were kept in combat longer than white units.
In 1990, 60,000 survivors were paid $20,000 each after a protracted legal battle as compensation for their internment.