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Japanese American Internment

Created by:
Doug Cervi
Oakcrest High School, and Greg Goodwin and Bill Amend, Absegami High School

Japanese American Internment

Grade Level:
9 to 12


The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan in 1941 set into motion far-reaching measures to prevent the recurrence of such destruction. Under the guise of military necessity and security of the Pacific West Coast, people of Japanese descent in the tens of thousands were forcibly relocated from the region.

The purpose of this lesson is to enable students to identify the violations of Japanese Americans' Civil Rights during World War II by Executive Order 9066.

Historical Context

When the United States entered World War II, there were approximately 5,000 Japanese Americans in the U.S. armed forces. They were immediately classified as 4-C, or enemy aliens--despite their U.S. citizenship. Based on secret army intelligence reports indicating an "espionage network containing Japanese aliens, first- and second- generation Japanese working together underground...," the military decided to summarily discharge many of those 5,000 servicemen. Those who remained played a vital role in the war as the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team, winning numerous citations for conspicuous bravery.

The impact of Pearl Harbor was not limited to Japanese Americans in the military, however, civilians lives changed dramatically as well. Considering it to be of utmost importance to national security, the government began the registration of what they termed "enemy aliens" on February 2, 1942. At the same time, the FBI began secret, random search-and-seizure raids at the homes and businesses of Japanese residents, rounding up members of the Japanese Black Dragon Society, a conservative, militarily-oriented organization with roots that went back to 1901 in Japan. The Secretary of War met with President Franklin D. Roosevelt to ask for authorization to remove both alien and citizen Japanese to detention camps. General John L. DeWitt, commander of the Fourth Army headquarters at the Presidio of San Francisco, expressed his concern about an "expected violent outburst of coordinated and controlled sabotage" among the Japanese population.

A Civil Control Station was set up, to which a responsible member from each Japanese family was to report for registration and further instructions. But registration was not enough. Fearing more Japanese attacks on their cities, homes, and businesses, government leaders in California, Oregon, and Washington, insisted that Japanese residents be removed and placed in isolation further inland. Facing the uncertainty of war and mounting pressure from the people, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, which resulted in the forcible internment of people of Japanese ancestry. With time of the essence, the Justice Department announced that strategic locations must be cleared of any such aliens by February 24th.

One of the largest migrations in American history took place in early spring of 1942 without incident. Under military supervision, the U.S. Government evacuated more than 110,000 people of Japanese descent and placed them into 10 wartime enclaves. More than two-thirds of those interned under the executive order were U.S. citizens, and none had ever demonstrated any disloyalty.

Forced to carry on their lives under harsh weather conditions and unfamiliar surroundings, these exiles took up residence in internment camps. Leaving behind their homes and businesses, they were scattered all over the interior West in isolated desert areas.


constitution, Civil Rights, internment camp conditions, prejudice, racism, bigotry, assimilation and pluralism

Goals and Objectives:

After completing this lesson, students will be able to:

1. Identify the major reasons for internment.

2. Identify constitutional issues involved with Executive Order 9066.

3. Examine primary documents dealing with the legality of Executive Order 9066.

4. Examine the 14th Amendment and its application to Executive Order 9066.

5. Understand the basics of the internment process.


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 6.3 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:

Computer with internet access

LCD projector

student computers

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).

PBS website, "Children of the Camps."

U.S. Government Pocket Guide to China, "How to Spot a Jap."

Details of Activity

PART I: Warm up/Engagement (20 minutes)

Have students watch the 6-minute video by Gretchen Jahn Bertram, "Japanese Internment: This is the Enemy,(available for free at the Ohio State University EHistory Multimedia Project, located online at http://ehistory.osu.edu/osu/mmh/internment/; a hotlink to this video appears as the first web resource below).

The video combines pictures and war-time posters depicting the Pearl Harbor bombing, World War II, and the experiences of everyday Japanese Americans. Ask students to consider the following questions while watching the film:

1. How is Japan depicted in the some of the video's war-time posters? Specifically, what images and colors are used and what emotions are they intended to invoke?

2. How are Japanese Americans depicted? What backgrounds are they shown against? What kinds of clothing, objects, and everyday activities are they associated with? What emotions do these objects convey?

3. How are internment camps depicted? What signs of everyday life are visible, and what signs of an unusual life can you see?

Teacher should facilitate discussion of the video, writing answers on the board.

PART II: Comparing Laws (25-30 minutes)

Have students read Executive Order 9066 and discuss the contents and implication of this legislation. It might help to offer the following guiding questions: Who was affected by Executive Order 9066 (be specific--are particular ethnicities targeted)? Who was empowered? What was the order supposed to provide? What did it take away?

Next have students examine and compare the 14th Amendment of the Constitution with Executive Order 9066. Ask them to consider the following ideas: What rights does the 14th Amendment ensure? Are there any times when such rights can or should be taken away? If so, under what circumstances, and who should make such decisions?

PART III: Making Amends (15 minutes)

Discuss the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 and Presidential apology in 1993. The Civil Liberties Act of 1988, also known as H.R. 442, provided an official apology and individual payments of $20,000 from the U.S. government to about 60,000 Japanese Americans who were interned during World War II. The legislation stated that government actions were based on race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership. It might be helpful to show a short television news broadcast which aired on August 10, 1988 and runs approximately 3 minutes. It includes historic footage of internment camps from the 1940s, interviews with internment camp survivors, a congressional speech by Rep. Robert Matsui of California prior to passage of the Civil Liberties Act, and of President Reagan signing the bill into law. It can be found online at http://digital.lib.csus.edu/mats/timeline.php?item=vid7), as well as web resource 3 below.

Practice and Reinforcement

If time permits, have students compare the images in Gretchen Bertram's video "Japanese Internment: This is the Enemy" used above with those in the PBS website for the documentary "Children of the Camp" (listed as web resource 4) and the U.S. Government Pocket Guide to China, "How to Spot a Jap" (listed as web resource 5). Students could also write an interpretive three-paragraph essay on the government's actions in response to Executive Order 9066, either in a following class or as a homework assignment.

See web resources below.

Web Links:
"Japanese Internment: This is the Enemy," video

Executive Order 9066

National Archives, Constitutional Amendments

Televised broadcast of the Civil Liberties Act

PBS Documentary, "Children of the Camps"

How to Spot a Jap Pocketbook

Seabrook Educational and Cultural Center

Seabrook Educational and Cultural Center - Voices

National Archives Constitution Homepage

National Archives Official Site

Supplementary Materials



For more information about the Teaching American History Program click here