Japanese Internment

The internment of Japanese-Americans by the United States government during World War Two remains, to this day, one of the worst cases of human rights violation by the United States. With about 120,000 Japanese-Americans transported to live in internment camps and many more left to become victims of discrimination, there was a strong anti-Japanese sentiment among the American public. Here are all the important things you need to know about the Japenese Internment. Let's go!

Japanese Internment Japanese Internment

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Table of contents

    Japanese Internment Definition

    The Japanese Internment was a clear case of this definition, as it was during the Second World War that the Japanese-American population was targeted by the U.S. government, which makes the phenomenon of Japanese Internment a politically motivated action.


    Internment is the act of putting someone in prison for political or military reasons, especially during a war.

    Japanese Internment Date

    The internment of Japanese-Americans officially began on 19 February 1942 with the signing of Executive Order 9066. The type of discrimination against Japanese-Americans would continue for four more years. The official date for the end of Japanese Internment is 20 March 1946, marking the day when the last internment camp where the Japanese-Americans were held, was closed.

    Effects and Cause of the Japanese Internment

    On 7 December 1941, a surprise attack was precipitated by the Japanese Imperial 1st Air Fleet, attacking the U.S. fleet stationed in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The attack on Pearl Harbor shocked the U.S., then a neutral country, into entering the Second World War.

    Japanese internment, Attack on Pearl Harbor. StudySmarterFig. 1: Attack on Pearl Harbor

    As a minority in pre-civil rights-movement America, the Japanese, like other minorities in the country, were treated as second-class citizens by the general public. The attack on Pearl Harbor exacerbated negative views of Japanese-Americans. This was aided by the U.S. War Department, which painted Japanese-Americans as potential saboteurs and agents of the Japanese Empire.

    The more you know...

    Despite tainting Japanese-Americans as spies of the Japanese Empire, no evidence was presented by the U.S. War Department to support this claim. But in the 1940s no evidence was needed to taint the reputation of an entire people. This only goes to show how deeply divided American society was along racial lines.

    One of the main advocates of the Japanese Internment was General John L. DeWitt. General DeWitt headed the Western Defense Command and believed that the internment of Japanese-Americans would prevent the repetition of Pearl Harbor. Just as DeWitt believed, the War Department believed it was more favourable to relocate and keep thousands of Japanese in internment. An opposing view was presented by the U.S. Department of Justice which opposed the War Department's treatment of innocent Japanese-Americans from which the majority were either American-born or naturalised American citizens.

    Japanese internment, General John DeWitt. StudySmarterFig. 2: General John DeWitt

    The FBI Detaining Japanese Community Leaders

    The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested anywhere from 1,200 to 5,500 Japanese-American community leaders on the day of the Pearl Harbor attack, 7 December 1941, and placed them in various prison camps throughout the American Midwest and Southwest, freezing their assets and never contacting their families until the end of the war.


    To be naturalised means to become a citizen of a certain country.

    On 19 February 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. The order, officially, sought to "prevent espionage on American shores". This would be done by relocating some 120,000 Japanese-Americans away from the Pacific states of California, Oregon and Washington, states with noticeable Japanese-American minority populations, to internment camps deeper into the U.S. territory.

    Japanese internment, President Franklin D. Roosevelt. StudySmarterFig. 3: President Franklin D. Roosevelt

    Japanese Internment in Canada, Central and South America

    The phenomenon of Japanese Internment today is exclusively used in the context of the history of the United States. However, despite this, you should know that the U.S. was not the only country to take part in the Japanese Internment.

    Canada forcibly relocated (mainly from British Columbia, as most Japanese Canadians lived there) and incarcerated over 21,000 Canadian citizens of Japanese descent. This number made up over 90% of all Japanese Canadians, out of which the majority were Canadian citizens by birth.

    Believe it or not, thirteen Latin American countries cooperated with the U.S., apprehending and deporting 2,264 Japanese Latin Americans to the U.S. where they would be kept in internment camps. The list of the thirteen included: Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, Colombia, Brazil and more.

    The more you know...

    Despite Brazil being one of the thirteen countries that cooperated with the U.S. in pursuing the politics of Japanese Internment and deportation, to this day, Japan is home to the largest Japanese population outside Japan. The history of Japanese Brazilians dates back to the late 19th century and today there are over two million Brazilians of Japanese descent.

    Japanese Internment Camps

    President Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066 also established the War Relocation Authority which established camps where the Japanese-Americans were transported to live. The Japanese-Americans were "officially" "evacuated" but in reality, they were forcibly removed from their homes. What made their removal forcible were the six days that they were given to gather their belongings and prepare to be sent to the internment camps. Many even sold their homes albeit for very small amounts.

    Japanese internment, Japanese internment camp in California. StudySmarterFig. 4: Japanese internment camp in California

    The camps were often isolated from populated areas, mostly in deserts. The camps were surrounded by barbed wires and watchtowers with armed guards, which is why the internment camps are also referred to as concentration camps.

    Due to their isolation, the camps were prone to fall victim to harsh weather. This became a problem in the winter as no proper heating system was in place and hundreds of Japanese-Americans had to share singular heating stoves to keep themselves warm. The living conditions, in general, were also sub-par. Entire families had to share small rooms with limited ventilation, army-grade bedding and constant surveillance made the internment camp feel more like a prison than it was.

    Japanese internment, Japanese-American farmers at internment camp. StudySmarterFig. 5: Japanese-American farmers at an internment camp

    Yet, despite all the hardships, the Japanese-Americans made turned the camps into homes. They began establishing schools, newspapers and even farms on camp territories. What is most interesting is that despite the treatment of Japanese-Americans around the U.S. an estimated 33,000 young Japanese-American men enlisted in the army.

    Japanese internment, Japanese-American regiment in WWII. StudySmarterFig. 6: Japanese-American regiment in WWII

    In the end, despite the hardships that were endured by some 120,000 Japanese-Americans in these camps, they were let go by 1946. The last internment camp was closed on 20 March 1946 which ended the period that is known as the Japanese Internment. Yet, though they returned, many Japanese-Americans found their homes repossessed or sold. Although many were no longer kept in camps, they now had to rebuild their lives from the bottom all over again.

    Japanese Internment Facts

    • The Japanese weren't the only victims of internment so were several thousand Italian and German immigrants.
    • In California, laws on Japanese-Americans were so strict that even someone who was even 1/16th Japanese could be incarcerated.
    • The Japanese-Americans finally got justice in 1976 and 1988. With the former, President Gerald Ford officially repealed Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066. And in the latter, President Ronald Reagan and Congress issued formal apologies and awarded over 80,000 Japanese-Americans 20,000 US Dollars as reparations for the ill-treatment of Japanese-Americans during the internment years.

    Japanese Internment - Key takeaways

    • The Subjugation of Japanese-Americans began on the same day as Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941.
    • The Japanese internment began following the signing of Executive Order 9066 by President Roosevelt.
    • To relocate thousands of Japanese-Americans, the War Relocation Authority was formed.
    • Some 120,000 Japanese-Americans were kept at internment camps, out of which the majority were U.S. citizens.
    • Despite hardships in the camps, the Japanese-Americans managed to turn the camps into their homes.
    • The last camp was closed on 20 March 1946, which marked the end of the Japanese internment.


    1. Richard Reeves, Infamy: The Shocking Story of the Japanese American Internment in World War II (2015)
    2. Rachel A. Bailey, The Japanese Internment Camps (2014)
    3. Fig. 1: USS SHAW exploding Pearl Harbor Nara 80-G-16871 2 (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:USS_SHAW_exploding_Pearl_Harbor_Nara_80-G-16871_2.jpg). Author unknown, licenced as public domain
    4. Fig. 2: John Lesene Dewitt copy (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:John_Lesene_Dewitt_copy.PNG). Author unknown, licenced as public domain
    5. Fig. 3: FDR 1944 Color Portrait (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:FDR_1944_Color_Portrait.tif) by FDR Presidential Library & Museum, licenced as CC BY 2.0
    6. Fig. 4: Manzanar Relocation Center, Manzanar, California. View of barracks at this War Relocation Authority . . . - NARA - 538129 (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Manzanar_Relocation_Center,_Manzanar,_California._View_of_barracks_at_this_War_Relocation_Authority_._._._-_NARA_-_538129.jpg) by U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, licenced as public domain
    7. Fig. 5: Japanese-American farm workers ready to leave for the fields. The farmers send trucks to the camp to pick them up (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Japanese-American_farm_workers_ready_to_leave_for_the_fields._The_farmers_send_trucks_to_the_camp_to_pick_them_up.jpg) by Russell Lee, licenced as public domain
    8. Fig. 6: 442 regimental combat team (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:442_regimental_combat_team.jpg) by US Army, licenced as public domain
    Frequently Asked Questions about Japanese Internment

    Why did Japanese internment happen? 

    Many Americans became suspicious that Japanese Americans acted as spies for Japan. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, these fears alongside others concluded with the internment of over 120,000 Japanese Americans around the United States. 

    What were Japanese internment camps? 

    Japanese internment camps were encampments especially built to house Japanese Americans for the duration of the Second World War. These camps eventually became home to a vast majority of the Japanese Americans in internment, building schools, churches and even farms within the enclosed camps. 

    How did the internment camps affect the Japanese? 

    For the duration of the Second World War over 120,000 Japanese Americans were kept in closed encampments and forced to leave their homes and businesses. Since the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans, both in internment and not, became victims of discrimination all around the United States. Of the 120,000 Japanese Americans kept in internment, the vast majority lost their homes either to repossession or settling for selling at an extremely low rate.

    How many people died in Japanese internment camps? 

    The Japanese internment affected the lives of 120,000 Japanese Americans, of which over 1800 died in the process from 1942 to 1945. 

    When did Japanese internment end? 

    The Japanese internment took place over a period of three years, from 1942 to 1945. 

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