Two months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 giving the army the unrestricted power to arrest-without warrants, indictments, or hearings-every Japanese-American on a 150-mile strip along the West Coast and transport them to internment camps in Colorado, Utah, Arkansas, and other interior states to be kept under prison conditions. This order was upheld by the Supreme Court and the prisoners remained in custody for over three years.
Thanks to an unending wave of anti-Japan propaganda, there was little public outcry. A Los Angeles Times writer defended the forced relocations by explaining "a viper is nonetheless a viper wherever the egg is hatched-so a Japanese-American, born of Japanese parents, grows up to be a Japanese, not an American." It was no better in neighboring countries.
Life in the internment camps entailed cramped living spaces with communal meals and bathrooms. The one-room apartments measured twenty by twenty feet and none had running water. The internees were allowed to take along "essential personal effects" from home but were prohibited from bringing razors, scissors, or radios. Outside the shared wards were barbed wire, guard towers with machine guns, and searchlights. The atmosphere was often charged with a hostile discomfort.
While 110,000 Japanese-American men, women, and children suffered in prison camps, the U.S. media whipped up a post-Pearl Harbor frenzy of fear on the West Coast. If one were to believe the news reports of the day, it was always just a matter of hours until Japanese Zeros were spotted over the Left Coast. In January 1942, Edward R. Murrow stirred up fifth column worries by telling an audience in Seattle should their city be attacked, they'd "be able to look up and see some University of Washington sweaters on the boys doing the bombing."
Despite such xenophobic paranoia, the FBI admitted: "We have not found a single machine gun, nor have we found any gun in any circumstances indicating that it was to be used in a manner helpful to our enemies. We have not found a single camera which we have reason to believe was for use in espionage."
This did little to ease the minds of men like California attorney general Earl Warren (later chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court). "I believe that we are just being lulled into a false sense of security," Warren declared, "and that the only reason we haven't had disaster in California is because it has been timed for a different date."
Mickey Z. is the author of several books, most recently 50 American Revolutions You're Not Supposed to Know (Disinformation Books). He can be found on the Web at http://www.mickeyz.net.