The port of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was attacked by the Japanese in
December 1941. After this, the American government was worried that the
West Coast of the United States would also be attacked. Many Americans
were angered by the bombing of Pearl Harbor and blamed Japanese
Americans who were living in the United States. Some people thought
that the many Japanese and Japanese Americans who lived there would help
the Japanese military. But at the time, there was no known case of espionage from any person of Japanese descent.
In February, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. This order allowed the military to use curfews
and to move Japanese and Japanese Americans to special camps. Japanese
Americans were only allowed to bring very basic items with them. Moving people to camps is called internment.
Fred Korematsu was an American citizen. He was born in America and
had Japanese parents. He wanted to be in the United States military,
but he was not healthy enough. Korematsu did not want to go to the
internment camps. He moved away and changed the way he looked to avoid
the order. But he was arrested later and sent to a camp.
Korematsu took his case to the courts. He said that Congress, the
President, and the military authorities did not have the power to send
people to internment camps. He also said that the government was
discriminating against him because of his race.
The government argued that the evacuation of all Japanese Americans
was necessary because there was evidence that some were working for the
Japanese government. The government said that because there was no way
to tell the loyal from the disloyal, all Japanese Americans had to be
treated as though they were disloyal.
The federal appeals court agreed with the government. Korematsu
appealed this decision and the case came before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Questions to Consider
Why was Korematsu (and other people of Japanese descent) forced to go to an internment camp?
Look at a copy of the Constitution. Which part (Article and
Section) describes the war power of the President? Which Article and
Section describes the war powers of the Congress?
The United States was also at war with Germany and Italy. People of
German and Italian descent were also interned in the United States, but
there were fewer people interned from these groups than who had Japanese
ancestors. Why do you think people whose ancestors were from Japan
were treated differently?
In times of war, governments have to balance national security with
citizens’ rights. In your opinion, did internment of Japanese
descendants strike a good balance?