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Propaganda and Prejudice: The Japanese American Relocation

Created by:
David Evans
Galloway Township Middle School

Kevin Krumaker
Galloway Township Middle School

Japanese American Internment

Grade Level:
6 to 8


On February 19, 1942, the lives of thousands of Japanese Americans changed dramatically when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. The order designated the West Coast as a military zone from which any or all persons may be excluded. Nearly 122,000 men, women, and children of Japanese ancestry, without evidence of covert activity by any reputable or authoritative source, were evacuated and relocated on the west coast of the United States. Many remained there until World War II ended.

This lesson allows middle school students to explore how governmental policy and racist beliefs led to psychological, economic, and physical turmoil for so many Japanese Americans.

Historical Context

The most profound case of anti-Japanese sentiment outside of Asia began with the attack on Pearl Harbor, an event which propelled the United States into World War II and unified Americans to fight against the Empire of Japan and its allies, Nazi Germany and fascist Italy. Federal authorities portrayed the event, which came prior to a U.S. declaration of war, as an act of treachery and cowardice, despite established historical precedent of such military operations by the Japanese Imperial government.

Reactions to Pearl Harbor were not, however, confined to the military and federal authorities. Following the attack, many "Jap hunting" licenses circulated around the country. LIFE Magazine even published an article about how to distinguish between people of Japanese and Chinese descent by facial features and body stature.

Japanese military conduct during the war did little to quell anti-Japanese sentiment; some POWs were executed and others used as slave labor for Japanese industries. The American media widely publicized such events as the Bataan Death March, Kamikaze attacks on Allied ships, and atrocities committed on Wake Island and elsewhere.

Some Americans even believed that the Japanese were subhuman and that, together with Japanese reluctance to surrender to allied forces, meant that a mere 604 Japanese captives were taken alive and placed in Allied POW camps by October 1944.

Over 100,000 Japanese migrants and Japanese Americans from the West Coast, however, were interned regardless of their attitude to the U.S. or Japan. A 1944 opinion poll found that 13% of the U.S. public were in favor of exterminating all Japanese.

Not until 1990 did the U.S. Government recognize its complicity in this act of racial intolerance by awarding reparations to the victims.


stereotype, prejudice, discrimination, racism, ethnocentrism, elitism, sexism, sizism, executive order, due process, 14th Amendment

Goals and Objectives:

Following this activity, students will be able to:

1. Recognize how propaganda and fear can result in discrimination against a particular group of people, even in a nation where civil rights are prized.

2. Identify and define the key components which lead to the "isms" of intolerance.


Standard 6.1 U.S. History: America in the World. All students will acquire the knowledge and skills to think analytically about how past and present interactions of people, cultures, and the environment shape the American heritage. Such knowledge and skills enable students to make informed decisions that reflect fundamental rights and core democratic values as productive citizens in local, national, and global communities.

Standard 6.2 World History/Global Studies. All students will acquire the knowledge and skills to think analytically and systematically about how past interactions of people, cultures, and the environment affect issues across time and cultures. Such knowledge and skills enable students to make informed decisions as socially and ethically responsible world citizens in the 21st century.

Standard 6.3 Active Citizenship in the 21st Century. All students will acquire the skills needed to be active, informed citizens who value diversity and promote cultural understanding by working collaboratively to address challenges that are inherent in living in an interconnected world.

Equipment, materials and other technology needed:

World Wide Web - with access to You Tube

Overhead Projector

U.S. Constitution

Miné Okubo, Citizen 13,660 (University of Washington Press, 1946, republished 1983).

Bill Cosby, "On Prejudice," (produced by KCET, 24 minutes).

Gretchen Jahn Bertram, "Japanese Internment: This is the Enemy," (video available for free at the Ohio State University EHistory Multimedia Project, located online at http://ehistory.osu.edu/osu/mmh/internment/, 6 minutes).

Details of Activity

DAY 1: Defining Prejudice

Begin the class with a quote from George Orwell's famous book Animal Farm: "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." Explain that in this classic American publication, animals take over their farm, convinced that without humans they can lead a better life where all animals are equal and all property is shared. But soon the pigs take control and one of them, Napoleon, becomes the leader of all the animals. One by one the principles of the revolution are abandoned, until the animals have even less freedom than before.

As a class, create a Bias Glossary. The following list can begin the list, but students might suggest other additions:









Review these terms as a class to ensure that students understand what they mean. Ask them to brainstorm one or two (such as stereotype and prejudice) as examples and write their responses on the board.

Assign the balance of the terms to students as homework. Each student should select one term to explore, and write a paragraph that evening to bring on Day 3 of this lesson and share with the rest of the class (for best results, ensure that there are at least a few responses for each keyword--the activity is more engaging when students can compare and contrast their answers).

DAY 2: Exploring Bigotry

Begin today's discussion with the following quote by W.C. Fields to stimulate discussion on the definition of bigotry: "I am free of all prejudice. I hate everyone equally."

Prepare students to watch the video "On Prejudice" by Bill Cosby. The full video is approximately 24 minutes and is available for purchase by Pyramid Media online at http://www.pyramidmedia.com/item.php3?title_id=1025. If you cannot purchase the video, or prefer to use smaller segments, three 7-minute segments are available on You Tube, the first at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fgUNixkTV8c (for the others, just search for "Cosby on prejudice").

It is important to prepare students for this piece which is presented as one long, jolting monologue with Bill Cosby portraying America's composite bigot. He disparages the elderly, children, Jews, African Americans, and other ethnicities. A catalyst for serious thought and discussion regarding one's own attitudes, this video is a classic title still in widespread use in American schools and businesses.

DAY 3: American Obligations

Ask students to express their opinions to the following statement defining the "Due Process of Law Clause" in the U.S. Constitution: "The Fourteenth Amendment prohibits the deprivation of liberty or property without due process of law. A due process claim is cognizable only if there is a recognized liberty or property interest at stake. Board of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 69 (1972)."

Students should then view the 6-minute video entitled "Japanese Internment: This is the Enemy," available for free from the Ohio State University Multimedia Project E-History (see materials for link above) to learn a brief history of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and how propaganda assisted in promoting the Presidential Executive Order to relocate all Japanese Americans, ostensibly for security reasons, during World War II.

Once the video is complete, return to the paragraph definitions students completed at the conclusion of Day 1 and compare and contrast how students defined their chosen terms. In what ways do students agree? On what points to they disagree?

Practice and Reinforcement

Students will be introduced to Miné Okubo's novel Citizen 13,660 (University of Washington Press, 1946, republished 1983) and offered the opportunity to earn extra credit by reading the novel and writing a short summary of the author's experiences as a victim of the Japanese-American Internment.

See web resources below.

Web Links:
Bill Cosby on Prejudice

Japanese Internment-This is the Enemy

Ansel Adams, Japanese-American Interment Photos

Manzanar National Historic Park

The Truman Library

Overview of the Japanese-American Internment

Teaching With Documents:Documents and Photographs

For more information about the Teaching American History Program click here