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Japanese American Internment
"Persons of Japanese ancestry arrive at the Santa Anita Assembly Center from San Pedro. Evacuees lived at this center at - NARA - 539960.jpg
Manzanar internment camp for Japanese Americans
Period February 1942 – June 30, 1946
Location United States
Cause Attack on Pearl Harbor; racism; war hysteria
Total Over 110,000 Japanese Americans, including over 66,000 U.S. citizens, forced into internment camps
Deaths 1,862 from disease in camps

Japanese American internment happened during World War II, when the United States government forced about 110,000 Japanese Americans to leave their homes and live in internment camps. These were like prisons. Many of the people who were sent to internment camps had been born in the United States.


On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and declared war on the United States. Many Americans were angry, and some blamed all Japanese people for what had happened at Pearl Harbor. They spread rumors that some Japanese people knew about the attack ahead of time and had helped the Japanese military. The FBI and other parts of the United States government knew that these rumors were not true, but did not say anything.

Japanese Americans began to feel that other Americans were becoming upset with them. For example, John Hughes, a man who read the news on the radio in Los Angeles, California, spent about a month saying bad things about Japanese Americans. There were reports of businesses that had anti-Japanese signs. For example, a barber shop put up a sign saying "Free shaves for Japs" and "not responsible for accidents." A funeral home hung a sign saying "I'd rather do business with a Jap than an American."

Internment begins

San Francisco, California. Flag of allegiance pledge at Raphael Weill Public School, Geary and Buch . . . - NARA - 536053
Children say the Pledge of Allegiance while at school in an internment camp

In February 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. This order said that people who lived in some parts of the country could be taken out of those areas for any reason. While the order did not use the exact words "Japanese Americans", people knew that those were the people who would be taken out of those areas. The areas included all of California and the western parts of Oregon, Washington, and Arizona. (See the area marked "exclusion zone" on the map on this page.) This was where most Japanese Americans lived at that time.

To keep Japanese Americans from leaving these areas on their own, the government stopped many of them from taking money out of their bank accounts. This made it harder for them to move.

Japanese Americans were given only 48 hours to leave for internment camps in other states. They were only allowed to carry one bag with them, and could not bring radios or cameras.

My family were Americans. We were citizens of this country. We had nothing to do with the war We simply happened to look like the people that bombed Pearl Harbor. But without charges, without trial, without due process—the [most important part] of our justice system—we were summarily rounded up, all Japanese Americans on the West Coast, where most of us lived, and sent off to 10 barb wire internment camps—prison camps, really, with [guard] towers, machine guns pointed at us.I was a five-year old, we lost everything. - George Takei

Who was interned

Photograph of Members of the Mochida Family Awaiting Evacuation - NARA - 537505
"Members of the Mochida family awaiting evacuation bus Identification tags are used to aid in keeping the family unit intact during all phases of evacuation

In total, the United States forced over 110,000 Japanese Americans into internment camps.

About 80% of the Japanese-American people who lived in the continental United States were forced to leave their homes and live in internment camps. More than three out of every five of these people were born in the United States, and were United States citizens.

Most of the Japanese Americans who were interned lived in the continental United States. About 160,000 Japanese Americans lived in the state of Hawaii, but only a little over 1,000 of them were interned. Because there were so many Japanese American people living in such a small state, interning them would be almost impossible.

In the camps

Map of World War II Japanese American internment camps
Map showing where the Japanese American internment camps were

There were three government agencies that ran camps. Ninety percent of the Japanese Americans were in camps run by the War Relocation Authority (WRA). Only Japanese Americans lived in the WRA camps.

Ten percent of the Japanese Americans were in mixed-race camps. These were either run by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) or the United States Army. Many different people were interned in INS and Army camps. These people included:

Manzanar shrine
A monument at Manzanar, "to console the souls of the dead" (2002)

WRA camps were surrounded by barbed wire. They were also guarded by soldiers who waited in watchtowers holding guns. Some people were shot. For example, James Wakasa, who stepped outside the barbed wire fence, was shot and killed. The guard who shot him said that Wakasa was trying to escape, but the Japanese Americans in the camp did not believe the guard. Most of the camps were many miles away from the coast, and often in rural areas. Many of the camps were in the desert, which was uncomfortable for many of the Japanese Americans who were not used to that type of climate. This also meant that even if somebody escaped, there would be nowhere for them to go.

In the camps, people had to stand in line to eat or to go to the bathroom.

One famous camp was Manzanar, which was in California. Many Japanese from Los Angeles and San Francisco were sent there. Other camps included Poston in Arizona and Minidoka in Idaho. There were a few camps outside of the western U.S., such as Jerome in Arkansas. Japanese Americans were often crowded into small spaces, such as race tracks, before being sent to the camps.

Manzanar Relocation Center, Manzanar, California. Grandfather and grandson of Japanese ancestry at . . . - NARA - 537992
A grandfather and grandson at Manzanar. The elderly and very young children may have been more likely to get sick from the very hot and cold weather at the camps

The camps tried to provide medical care. Many of the people who worked in the camp hospitals were Japanese American doctors and nurses who lived in the internment camps. However, there were not enough doctors and nurses, and not enough medical supplies. Also, conditions at the camps helped cause some diseases. For example:

A total of 1,862 people died from medical problems while in the internment camps. About one out of every 10 of these people died from tuberculosis.

The End of Internment

Ronald Reagan signing Japanese reparations bill
U.S. President Reagan signs a law apologizing for internment and promising money to survivors (1988)

By 1943, the government allowed some Japanese Americans to leave the camps to work or go to school. However, the government would not let them return to the West Coast. Some Japanese Americans were even allowed to serve as soldiers in the U.S. Army, and many served with honor in Europe.

In 1944, the United States government said that it would stop putting Japanese Americans in internment camps. The people who were placed in the camps were given $25 and a bus ticket home. However, it would take more than 40 years for the government to apologize to Japanese Americans for what had happened. In 1988, the government said it was sorry and paid $20,000 to people who had been sent to internment camps. Canada paid $21,000.

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See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Campos de concentración para japoneses en los Estados Unidos para niños

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