The stain on American honor
February 19, 1942.
Seventy-five years ago yesterday.
That’s when it began.
It was 75 years ago yesterday that the United States embarked on an episode that can only be described as shameful.
Rounding up and locking up more than 100,000 men, women and children who had committed no crime except to arouse the fears of their neighbors.
Men, women and children who, in the majority of cases, were citizens of the United States.
Men, women and children of Japanese descent.
It was Executive Order 9066, signed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt 75 years ago yesterday, that began that shameful episode, later described by President Reagan as a stain on American honor:
Whereas the successful prosecution of the war requires every possible protection against espionage and against sabotage …;
Now, therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me as President of the United States, and Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, I hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of War, … to prescribe military areas …, from which any or all persons may be excluded…. The Secretary of War is hereby authorized to provide for residents of any such area who are excluded therefrom, such transportation, food, shelter, and other accommodations as may be necessary, ….1
With those words began the internment — the rounding up and locking up — of innocents.
Not because there was evidence that they posed any kind of a threat.
But because of fear that they might.
You can read Executive Order 9066 on the National Archives website here.
And you can witness the aftermath in some of the most powerful photographs ever taken.
Dorothea Lange was a photographer employed by the federal government in the 1930s and 1940s. “(W)hile working on assignment for the War Relocation Authority (WRA) during World War II, Lange photographed the evacuation and internment of Japanese Americans in camps. Her photos captured life in the internment camps and the often raw emotions displayed by the people who were uprooted from their homes and forced to live in the camps.”2
The fastest way to find Lange’s photos online is to head to the National Archives Catalog and the advanced search page there. Enter Dorothea Lange as the search term and 210 for the Record Group Number.
That will produce the more than 800 images digitized and available online at the National Archives. Here’s just a sampler:
“Mountain View, California. Four sisters in the Mitarai family. Their father operated an industrialized farm in Santa Clara County, prior to evacuation. Farmers and other evacuees of Japanese ancestry will be given opportunities to follow their callings in War Relocation Authority centers where they will spend the duration.”
“Hayward, California. 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. Mochida operated a nursery and five greenhouses on a two-acre site in Eden Township. He raised snapdragons and sweet peas. Evacuees of Japanese ancestry will be housed in War Relocation Authority centers for the duration.”
“Niles, California. Young farmer, graduate of College of Agriculture, University of California, class of 1941. After graduation, he leased 200 acres for truck gardening. He will soon be on his way to an assembly center with other residents of Japanese ancestry. Later they will be transferred to War Relocation Authority centers for the duration.”
“San Francisco, California. Flag of allegiance pledge at Raphael Weill Public School, Geary and Buchanan Streets. Children in families of Japanese ancestry were evacuated with their parents and will be housed for the duration in War Relocation Authority centers where facilities will be provided for them to continue their education.”
“Florin, Sacramento County, California. A soldier and his mother in a strawberry field. The soldier, age 23, volunteered July 10, 1941, and is stationed at Camp Leonard Wood, Missouri. He was furloughed to help his mother and family prepare for their evacuation. He is the youngest of six years children, two of them volunteers in United States Army. The mother, age 53, came from Japan 37 years ago. Her husband died 21 years ago, leaving her to raise six children. She worked in a strawbery basket factory until last year when her her children leased three acres of strawberries “so she wouldn’t have to work for somebody else”. The family is Buddhist. This is her youngest son. Her second son is in the army stationed at Fort Bliss. 453 families are to be evacuated from this area.”
Seventy-five years ago yesterday.
- “Executive Order 9066: Resulting in the Relocation of Japanese (1942),” Our Documents, U.S. National Archives (https://ourdocuments.gov/ : accessed 19 Feb 2017). ↩
- Kerri Lawrence, “Correcting the Record on Dorothea Lange’s Japanese Internment Photos,” National Archives News (https://www.archives.gov/news : accessed 19 Feb 2017). ↩