On this day in 1942 Democrat President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the relocation and internment of American residents of Japanese ancestry [including American citizens]. Ultimately approximately 120,000 people were locked away in the internment camps and persons of Japanese descent were completely excluded from west coast States. Sixty two percent of the internees were American citizens. For purposes of classification, persons with one sixteenth Japanese ancestry were considered to be Japanese.
General John L. Dewitt, head of the Western Command, was placed in charge of the program. He was an apologetic racist. He famously stated:
I don't want any of them [persons of Japanese ancestry] here. They are a dangerous element. There is no way to determine their loyalty... It makes no difference whether he is an American citizen, he is still a Japanese. American citizenship does not necessarily determine loyalty... But we must worry about the Japanese all the time until he is wiped off the map.Many moralists have attempted to portray the American internment policy as equivalent to Nazi race policies, but that would be wrong. Internment, however morally problematic, is not equivalent to the genocidal policies instituted by Germany's National Socialists. It's not even close. Life in the camps was difficult, but not life-threatening. Eventually many of the internees were allowed to leave the camps and relocate outside the West Coast exclusion zone. Some were even allowed to return to their homes under strict supervision. Some of those who voluntarily renounced their American citizenship were even repatriated to Japan. Still, many of the internees suffered financially from internment and the psychological and social costs they incurred were severe and Japanese internment. It is not something that can be ignored.
Finally, we should note that the program was extremely popular with the American public, especially on the West Coast. American culture in the mid-twentieth century was profoundly and unapologetically racist. That is a truth that needs to be told, but it is not the same as the virulent homicidal policies that characterized contemporary European and Asian societies.