On December 7, 1941, the Japanese launched an unprovoked attack on Pearl Harbor. The United States was appalled and its citizens displaced their disgust for the citizens of Japan on Japanese Americans who had nothing to do with the attack. Harassment of Japanese Americans rose sharply and, in some cases, hate crimes were committed.
Despite intelligence that indicated otherwise, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt perceived Japanese Americans as a threat to the United States and believed that they might launch attacks or spy for their homeland. On February 19, 1942, Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which declared that all Japanese Americans would be removed from their homes and placed in internment camps. This order covered all of the nearly 110,000 Japanese Americans living in the United States, two-thirds of which were citizens.
The Japanese Americans had already undergone much discrimination by the United States government, including acts that prevented them from owning land, marrying outside of their race, and forced them to attend segregated schools. An act passed in 1924 had put an end to Japanese immigration to the United States, but Order 9066 was the culmination of all past discrimination and had far reaching effects.
Throughout the nation, Japanese Americans were rounded up by the police, army, and FBI and placed in internment camps, mostly in California. These internment camps were essentially concentration camps with barbed wire and small cabins for the prisoners to live in. The people placed in the camps lost their jobs and were forced to take everything that they owned into the camps.
The process of relocating the Japanese took place over an eight month period from March 24, 1942 to November 3, 1942. No charges were brought against the Japanese and they weren't even given a hearing. All families were registered and given identification tags that designated their members and possessions. Since the families were forced to move very quickly, they were forced to sell what they couldn't take at low prices, generating losses estimated at billions of dollars.
The living conditions in the concentration camps were often unsanitary, with families living in hastily constructed barracks near open sewers. Toilets were shared by everyone in the camp and had little or no privacy. Meals provided to the Japanese were meager and caused a great deal of malnourishment. Despite these poor conditions, programs were eventually put into place that improved the condition of the camps and allowed the prisoners to work for small wages.
On some occasions, riots broke out in the internment camps, resulting in death and injury. In January 1944, a military draft was produced by the government, forcing Japanese Americans in the camps to join the military and fight in World War 2. Many of the draftees refused to join the military until they were given civil rights and the government, refusing, placed the resisters in federal prison.
Many prominent Japanese Americans formed lawsuits against the United States government during the internment. Among these were Hirabayashi vs. United States, Yasui vs. United States, and Korematsu vs. United States. These lawsuits placed a lot of pressure on the United States government and made many people question the constitutionality of the internment. On December 17, 1944, the United States declared an end to the internment and the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional on December 18, 1944.
After these events, Japanese Americans were allowed to leave the camps and return to their homes and live normally. By March 20, 1946, all of the internment camps had been closed, although most of the Japanese had become greatly disillusioned with the United States and continued to endure discrimination. On November 21, 1989, George Bush authorized financial reparations to the Japanese Americans to help compensate for the damage done to their lives.