The December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan set into course a cascading release of executive orders and exclusion orders that effectively functioned to segregate and intern Japanese Americans, citizen or noncitizen, in internment camps. Such actions were propelled, in part, by fears of allegiance to Japan, posing threat to the United States, despite lack of concrete foundation to such assertions. Italians and Germans were also selectively targeted for internment or deportation.
One of the first dominoes in the chain was Executive Order 9066 issued by President Franklin Roosevelt on February 19, 1942 (Nakamoto, 2015). The executive order did not operate as an official exclusion order, but instead gave power to the Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, to enact exclusion orders. An excerpt from Executive Order 9066, President Franklin Roosevelt declares,
“I hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of War, and the Military Commanders whom he may from time to time designate, whenever he or any designated Commander deems such action necessary or desirable, to prescribe military areas in such places and of such extent as he or the appropriate Military Commander may determine, from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion.” (Nakamoto, 2015)
Following Executive Order 9066, General John DeWitt of the Western Defense Command released Public Proclamation No. 1 that designated the first “military areas” from where Japanese Americans were to be excluded. While the government deemed the behest of the orders a “voluntary evacuation,” the reality was starkly antithetical to such a claim, and the orders undeniably transgressed the legal rights of Japanese Americans (Nilya, n.d.).
Though Public Proclamation No. 1 is the one of the earliest in a broad series of civilian exclusion orders following Executive Order 9066, General DeWitt was calculating in his intentions with Japanese Americans, before any executive orders were officially released by President Franklin Roosevelt. General DeWitt proposed the removal of Japanese Americans as early as December 19, 1941, and by the time of January 7, 1942, General DeWitt had defined and designated 86 military areas from where he proposed Japanese Americans be removed. By February, General DeWitt’s military adjutant, Allen Gullion, persuaded Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy of the deleterious presence of Japanese Americans and plans for mass exclusion. Secretary of War Henry Stimson, convinced by these baseless claims, perpetrated the objectives of General DeWitt and was the final persuading influence of President Franklin Roosevelt in the fateful days of February 1942 leading up to the release of Executive Order 9066 (Nilya, n.d.).
The cascading civilian exclusion orders demanded evacuation of Japanese Americans from defined military areas, offering only a few days to a week for Japanese American families to prepare. Japanese Americans were to renounce nearly all belongings, allowed to bring only what could be carried. The Federal Reserve Bank was authorized to liquidate their assets often for much less than its market value. Public postings of civilian exclusion posters purposely humiliated and degraded Japanese Americans.
University of Oregon Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) has acquired several civilian exclusion posters delineating orders for Japanese Americans, one of which Civilian Exclusion Order No. 41, and the other, Instructions to all Persons of Japanese Ancestry. Civilian Exclusion Order No. 41 reads,
1. Pursuant to the provisions of Public Proclamations Nos. 1 and 2, this Headquarters, dated March 2, 1942, and March 16, 1942, respectively, it is hereby ordered that from and after 12 o’clock noon, P.W.T., of Monday, May 11, 1942, all persons of Japanese ancestry, both alien and non-alien, be excluded from that portion of Military Area No. 1 described as follows…
Fear of espionage and outright discrimination are reflected in the civilian exclusion orders that removed the majority of Japanese Americans from the West Coast. Civilian exclusion posters serve as stark artifacts of this period and reminders of the lengths to which people may go to oppress and subjugate one another based on fear and prejudice.
A related post published in the SCUA blog, World War II and the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council discusses the effects of Japanese exclusionary laws on Japanese American university students on the west coast.
Nakamoto, A. (2015, June 17). Executive Order 9066 vs. Civilian Exclusion Order. Japanese American National Museum. https://blog.janm.org/2015/06/17/executive-order-9066-vs-civilian-exclusion-order/
Nilya, B. (n.d.). Civilian exclusion orders. Densho Encyclopedia. http://encyclopedia.densho.org/Civilian_exclusion_orders/
Nilya, B. (n.d.). John DeWitt. Densho Encyclopedia. http://encyclopedia.densho.org/John_DeWitt/
Written by Alexandra Mueller, Special Projects Archivist