The Origins of Evacuation

“A Jap’s a Jap. It makes no difference whether the Jap is a citizen or not.” —John L. Dewitt, General of the Western Defense Command.[1]

Bombing of Pearl Harbor
USS West Virginia and USS Arizona smoking after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
(Photograph courtesy of Densho)

Anti-Asian sentiment existed in the United States long before Japanese forces bombed Pearl Harbor. In 1882 the United States passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which prohibited Chinese immigration. Later in 1922, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Takao Ozawa that Japanese immigrants were ineligible for citizenship.[2] U.S. immigration laws prohibited Japanese immigration after 1924 by denying entry to all races or nationalities that were ineligible for citizenship.[3]

“Your Enemy is the Jap”
This is a World War II Official Navy Poster, created by Hotchkiss-USNR in 1944. The poster describes Japanese labor capabilities, and by doing so, attempts to encourage American workers to increase their own efforts on the home front. 
[click the image to enlarge]
(Utah State University, Merrill-Cazier Library, Special Collections & Archives, Broadside F0006)
Racist sign
Sign in Barstow, California, in 1942. Sign reads: “Japs keep out you rats.
(Photograph courtesy of the Utah State Historical Society)

Anti-Japanese sentiment peaked in 1941 when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and invaded the Philippines, which at the time were both U.S. territories. In response, the FBI arrested over a thousand Japanese, Italian, and German Americans, and it concluded that there was no evidence of espionage or sabotage.[4] Despite this, military leaders such as Lieutenant General John L. Dewitt argued that Japanese Americans posed a threat to U.S. security, as many believed they would side with Japan over the United States.[5] Anti-Japanese propaganda fueled this fear throughout the war years.

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which created the Western Relocation Authority (WRA) and forced the removal of Japanese Americans from the West Coast. Although the FBI continued to monitor German and Italian Americans, only Japanese Americans were forced to relocate, indicating that internment was racially motivated.[6]

[1] Linda L. Ivey and Kevin W. Kaatz, Citizen Internees: A Second Look at Race and Citizenship in Japanese American Internment Camps (Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2017), 7.
[2] Sandra C. Taylor, Jewel of the Desert: Japanese American Internment at Topaz (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1993), 29.
[3] “The Immigration Act of 1924,” in “Milestones in the History of U.S. Foreign Relations,” U.S. Office of the Historian, accessed January 26, 2020, https://history.state.gov/milestones/1921-1936/immigration-act.
[4]Taylor, 45.
Impounded People: Japanese-Americans in the Relocation Centers, ed. Edward H. Spicer (Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 2016), 11.
[5] Taylor,  46.
[6] Still, not all Japanese Americans were forced to relocate, only Japanese Americans living on the West Coast. The government allowed Japanese Americans who lived in Utah and the Midwest to remain in their communities. Before the government made relocation mandatory, they encouraged voluntary evacuation. Some Japanese American families relocated early to places such as Utah and retained their freedom while their relatives lived in the relocation centers.