Executive Order 9066 was signed by President Roosevelt on February 19, 1942. It granted the secretary of war and his commanders the power “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.” This meant that any person deemed dangerous or suspicious by the government could be excluded and relocated to a different place where their threat could be diminished or abolished. This order was signed in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor, prior to which, according to the Roberts Commission, “Japanese spies on the island of Oahu. . . . collected and . . . transmitted information to the Japanese Empire respecting the military and naval establishments and dispositions on the island.” Given this limited information, President Roosevelt signed the order in an action he deemed appropriate. He was not, however, justified in this action because there was little actual evidence that the Japanese Americans were a threat to the United States and because the withdrawal of Japanese American citizens to internment camps caused economic distress for them both immediately and as much as 25 years later.
Executive Order 9066 allowed for the internment not only of Japanese Americans but of German Americans, Italian Americans, and any other group of people deemed suspicious or threatening as well. However, the only group to be evacuated and interned wholesale was Japanese Americans, and specifically Japanese Americans living on the West Coast. In fact, less than 1% of Japanese Americans living outside the West Coast were interned. Given the fact that Executive Order 9066 was signed in order to increase military security, it is odd that the majority of Japanese Americans living in Hawaii, which was not only the site of the Pearl Harbor attacks but is closer to Japan than California and Washington, were not detained. The FBI only evacuated the leaders of the Japanese, German, and Italian-American communities in Hawaii and left the rest, supposedly because of their economic importance to the area.
The economic impact of the internment on the Japanese Americans in the West Coast was severe. Many had to sell their homes and businesses, and those who could not sell had to leave them unoccupied, often to be destroyed or vandalized. Property could be stored in storage facilities but was often stolen due to poor security. Jobs available in camps were often not very desirable as the average pay was substantially below the market wage at $12 a month for unskilled labor, $16 for skilled labor, and $19 for professional employees, such as dentists or teachers. Because of the inequality between jobs available and workers present, many of the jobs created were nonessential and frivolous, such as additional kitchen staff. The non-necessity of hard work in these positions encouraged slack work habits in the internees which lasted after they were released. Also, many were not very motivated to work for a government that was so distrustful of them. These factors combined to produce internees who were not prepared for the citizen labor market and would have difficulty retaining a job after their release.
The average wages of Japanese Americans who had been interned fell about 20% from 1941 to 1946. While racial prejudice did decrease at the end of the war, it was still rampant and Japanese Americans were paid noticeably less than their white counterparts. During internment, many workers had lost valuable skills through lack of incentive or opportunity to practice them. They also had lost years of valuable civilian labor market experience. Compared to the 20% drop immediately following the release of the internees, 25 years later the average wage decrease ranged from 9-13%, which came out to a loss of about $1,000 to $1,400 annually in 1969, which is about $6,800 to $9,500 in today’s money. In addition, many former internees received lower-paying jobs upon their release than they had held previously. The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 gave $20,000 to each person affected, but given the average years of working and the decrease in annual pay, the amount of money lost by former internees by 1988 was about $100,000 to $150,000.
President Roosevelt was not justified in signing Executive Order 9066 because of the lack of evidence that those interned were a threat and the significant economic distress it caused internees for years afterwards. The Japanese Americans interned were not dangerous, nor were they even the most dangerous people available. Japanese Americans living in Hawaii were not interned, nor were the majority of German and Italian Americans. The years spent in internment caused the internees to lose a considerable amount of property and physical capital. It also decreased their ability to find well-paying jobs and caused them to lose much more than was given to them in reparations. The impact of the Japanese American internment was severe and has impacted the lives of these people significantly. The damage it has caused outweighs the possible security benefits of relocating 87% of the Japanese population of the United States. Harold L. Ickes, former U.S. Secretary of the Interior, said, “It is my prayer that other Americans will fully realize that to condone the whittling away of the rights of any one minority group is to pave the way for us all to lose the guarantees of the Constitution.”
Aimee Chin, author. “Long‐Run Labor Market Effects of Japanese American Internment during World War II on Working‐Age Male Internees.” Journal of Labor Economics, no. 3, 2005, p. 491. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1086/430285.
“The Untold Story: Japanese-Americans’ WWII Internment in Hawaii.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 2 Aug. 2014, www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/untold-story-japanese-americans-wwii-internment-hawaii-n170746.
The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Executive Order 9066.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 9 Aug. 2016, www.britannica.com/topic/Executive-Order-9066.
Mintz, S., and S. McNeil, eds. “Attack on Pearl Harbor.” Digital History. University of Houston, 2014. Web. 1 May 2014. <http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/active_learning/explorations/japanese_internment/pearl_harbor_commission.cfm>
Ickes, Harold L. Foreword. Born Free and Equal: The Story of Loyal Japanese-Americans. By Ansel Adams. New York: U. S. Camera, 1944. 7. Library of Congress Digital Collections. Web. 1 May 2014. <http://www.learner.org/courses/amerhistory/interactives/sources/E7/e1/sources/5498.php>.