A Good List Of Great Americans Who Were Held In Japanese Internment Camps

By | February 17, 2020

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Manzanar National Historic Site. (Getty Images North America)

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 90066, A.K.A. the deeply unconstitutional order to the military to round up anyone of Japanese descent and lock them in internment camps.

Why would the United States government do such a thing? Short answer: Racism. Long answer: On December 7, 1941, Japanese air forces struck a navy base in Hawaii without warning, killing and injuring over 3,000 American service members and civilians. The attack on Pearl Harbor was especially surprising and traumatizing because the United States wasn't officially part of World War II yet, and the Japanese hadn't made any declarations against the U.S. Of course, America joined the war soon after (and eventually won, along with the other Allied Nations). Their hand was kind of forced.

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Exclusion Order. (Wikipedia Commons)

In the meantime, however, suspicions were brewing in the States. Those of Japanese descent fell under immense scrutiny, while those of German and Italian descent (the other Axis countries) were more or less free to go about their business. The wartime paranoia and racial tension eventually culminated in F.D.R. green-lighting American concentration camps, resulting in the internment of over 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry. Two-thirds of them were American-born.

The government seized property, froze bank accounts, and forcibly relocated families who lived too close to military zones for the government's comfort. They were placed in "relocation centers" and not allowed to leave, although within the barbed wire of the camps, the military left the Japanese and Japanese-Americans to their own devices. They created some semblance of community and home life, with schools, churches, and community events. Many of the residents of these camps went on to be prominent figures in American culture.