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Japanese Relocation

The Decision To Evacuate the
Japanese From the Pacific Coast

By Stetson Conn

One of the Army’s largest undertakings in the name of defense during World War II was the mass evacuation of persons of Japanese ancestry from the Pacific coast states—from all of California and from the western halves of Oregon and Washington. The decision to evacuate the Japanese was one made at the highest level—by the President of the United States acting as Commander in Chief. What Army plans and recommendations lay behind this decision? With what alternatives was the President presented? To what extent was his decision based on military considerations? [1]

Initial plans for evacuation of suspected persons from strategic areas along the Pacific coast concerned enemy aliens of all three Axis nations—Germany, Italy, and Japan—rather than persons of Japanese ancestry alone. Of the latter, the census of 1940 showed that, out of a total of 126,947 in the continental United States, 112,353 were living in the three Pacific states. California had 93,717 Japanese, or nearly three fourths of the national total. Of the west coast Japanese, 40,869 were aliens (called Issei) ineligible for citizenship through naturalization proceedings, and 71,484 were American-born (called Nisei) and therefore United States citizens. In early 1942 there were about 58,000 Italian and 22,000 German aliens in the Pacific states. A good many of the German aliens were recent refugees from Nazi Germany. Most of the Germans, and a large proportion of the Japanese and Italians, lived in or near the principal cities and adjacent strategic areas. For several decades the Japanese population had been the target of hostility and restrictive action, a situation that unquestionably colored the measures taken against these people after Pearl Harbor.

An agreement of 18 July 1941 between the War and Justice Departments gave Justice responsibility for controlling enemy aliens in the continental United States in the event of war. Before Pearl Harbor both Justice (primarily, through its Federal Bureau of Investigation) and the armed services had closely scrutinized the records of prospective enemy aliens and compiled lists of those against whom there were grounds for suspicion of disloyalty. Presidential proclamations of 7 and 8 December 1941, dealing with the control of Japanese and of German and Italian aliens, respectively, provided the basis for immediate and subsequent action against enemy aliens suspected of hostile intent or of action against the national security. On 7 December President Roosevelt authorized the Army to co-operate with the FBI in rounding up individual enemy aliens considered actually or potentially dangerous. By 13 December the Department of Justice had interned a total of 831 alien residents of the Pacific states, including 595 Japanese and 187 Germans; by 16 February 1942 the number of alien Japanese apprehended had increased to 1,266. By specifically authorizing the exclusion of enemy aliens “from any locality in which residence by an alien enemy shall be found to constitute a danger to the public peace and safety of the United States,” the Presidential proclamations also provided a basis for evacuation on a larger scale. [2]

During the first few days after the Pearl Harbor attack the west coast was alarmed by a number of reports—all false—of enemy ships offshore. It was in the midst of this atmosphere that the first proposal for a mass evacuation of the Japanese developed. On 10 December a Treasury agent reported to Army authorities that “an estimated 20,000 Japanese in the San Francisco metropolitan area were ready for organized action.” Without checking the authenticity of the report, the Ninth Corps Area staff worked until late that night on a plan for evacuation, which was then approved by the corps area commander. The next morning the Army called the local FBI chief, who “scoffed at the whole affair as the wild imaginings of a discharged former F.B.I. man.” This stopped any local action for the moment, but the corps area commander duly reported the incident to Washington and expressed the hope that “it may have the effect of arousing the War Department to some action looking to the establishment of an area or areas for the detention of aliens.” [3] His recommendation that “plans be made for large-scale internment” was forwarded by the Chief of Staff’s office to G-2 and to the Provost Marshal General. [4]

On 19 December, and apparently as one consequence of this initial flurry, the Western Defense Command sent the following recommendation to its Washington command post, at that time General Headquarters:

1. In view of the fact that the West Coast of the United States has now been designated and is functioning as an active Theater of Operations, it is recommended that action be initiated at the earliest practicable date to collect all alien subjects fourteen years of age and over, of enemy nations and remove them to the Zone of the Interior.

2. It is also recommended that these individuals be held under restraint after removal from the Theater of Operations in order to preclude their surreptitious return.

3. Records indicate that there are approximately 40,000 of such enemy aliens and it is believed that they constitute an immediate and potential menace to vital measures of defense. [5]

In making this recommendation the Army commander on the Pacific coast, Lt. Gen. John L. DeWitt, was acting not only as commanding general of the Fourth Army and Western Defense Command but also as commander of the Western Theater of Operations, established on 11 December with the same territorial limits as those of the defense command. However General DeWitt may have felt during December about the treatment of enemy aliens, he was then firmly opposed to an evacuation of citizens. During a telephone conversation between Maj. Gen. Allen W. Gullion, the War Department’s Provost Marshal General, and General DeWitt on 26 December 1941, General Gullion remarked that he had just been visited by a representative of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, who had asked for a roundup of all Japanese in the Los Angeles area. In response, General DeWitt said (and General Gullion expressed agreement with what he said):

I thought that thing out to my satisfaction.... If we go ahead and arrest the 93,000 Japanese, native born and foreign born, we are going to have an awful job on our hands and are very liable to alienate the loyal Japanese from disloyal.... I’m very doubtful that it would be common sense procedure to try and intern or to intern 117,000 Japanese in this theater.... I told the governors of all the states that those people should be watched better if they were watched by the police and people of the community in which they live and have been living for years.... and then inform the F.B.I. or the military authorities of any suspicious action so we could take necessary steps to handle it ... rather than try to intern all those people, men, women and children, and hold them under military control and under guard. I don’t think it’s a sensible thing to do.... I’d rather go along the way we are now ... rather than attempt any such wholesale internment.... An American citizen, after all, is an American citizen. And while they all may not be loyal, I think we can weed the disloyal out of the loyal and lock them up if necessary. [6]
In any event, all planning for mass evacuation of either aliens or citizens from strategic areas was deferred pending new arrangements that were in the making with the Department of Justice for more effective control of enemy aliens.

While these arrangements were being worked out, the Provost Marshal General proposed that responsibility for the alien program be transferred from Justice to the War Department in all theaters of operations. After the decision to activate an Eastern Theater of Operations, he amended his proposal so that, in the continental United States, it would apply only in the Western Defense Command. General DeWitt opposed the transfer, at least until it became evident that the Department of Justice through the FBI could not control the situation on the west coast. He thought the FBI organization on the coast could handle matters effectively if Attorney General Francis Biddle would provide the FBI with adequate authority. General DeWitt also thought civil control of the alien program better than military control of it. General Gullion therefore decided to hold up his proposal until there was better evidence of its necessity. [8]

What General DeWitt wanted at this time was the issuance of clear instructions to FBI agents on the west coast that would enable them to take more positive steps to prevent sabotage and espionage. At his urging Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson had conferred with Mr. Biddle, and thereafter the Attorney General speeded up the implementation of the Presidential proclamations of 7 and 8 December. In late December the Department of Justice announced regulations requiring enemy aliens in the Western Defense Command to surrender radio transmitters, short-wave radio receivers, and certain types of cameras by 5 January 1942. On 30 December General DeWitt was informed that the Attorney General had also authorized the issuance of warrants for search and arrest in any house where an enemy alien lived upon representation by an FBI agent that there was reasonable cause to believe that there was contraband on the premises. In addition, the Department of Justice and the Provost Marshal General had arranged to send representatives to San Francisco to confer with General DeWitt in order to work out more specific arrangements for controlling enemy aliens. To centralize and expedite Army action in Washington, Gullion also arranged for DeWitt to deal directly with the Provost Marshal General’s office on west coast alien problems, and for the latter to keep General Headquarters (GHQ) informed of developments. As a result of this arrangement, the responsible Army command headquarters in Washington had little to do during January and February 1942 with the plans and decision for Japanese evacuation. [9]

The San Francisco conference took place on 4 and 5 January 1942. Before the meetings the War Department’s representative, Maj. Karl R. Bendetsen, chief of the Aliens Division, Provost Marshal General’s office, recommended that General DeWitt insist on several measures beyond those already ordered by the Attorney General. In particular he urged the definition of strategic areas from which all enemy aliens were to be excluded and that authority to prescribe such areas be vested in the Army. He also insisted that there must be a new and complete registration of enemy aliens and a “pass and permit” system similar to the one prevalent in prewar Europe. The Justice representative, Assistant Attorney General James Rowe, Jr., also presented broader plans for action than any the Attorney General had hitherto approved. In opening the conference, General DeWitt emphatically declared his serious concern over the alien situation and his distrust in particular of the Japanese population—both aliens and citizens. But, according to the later recollections of Mr. Rowe, the general during the meetings expressed strong opposition to a mass evacuation of the Japanese. What he wanted was a full implementation of the President’s proclamations. He particularly wanted the FBI to have blanket authority to “search, enter, and arrest” at the homes and business premises of all suspected individuals. In a formal commentary on Mr. Rowe’s proposals, General DeWitt expressed some apprehensions that they would prove inadequate, but further discussion on 5 January led to an exchange of identical memorandums on the following day representing a plan of action mutually agreeable to General DeWitt, to Mr. Rowe, and to Mr. N. J. L. Pieper, the chief FBI agent on the Pacific coast who had also attended these meetings. These memorandums provided for an alien registration with the least delay, for FBI searches of suspected premises under regulations that subsequently proved entirely satisfactory to General DeWitt, and for the designation of restricted areas from which enemy aliens would be barred by the Attorney General, who would “entertain” Army recommendations on this score if they were accompanied by an exact description of each area. [10]

The arrangements agreed upon at the San Francisco meetings took much longer to put into effect than either General DeWitt or the Justice Department representatives had anticipated. The registration of enemy aliens was finally undertaken between 2 and 9 February, and the large-scale “spot” raids that General DeWitt was especially anxious to have launched did not get under way until the same week; thus both operations took place in the period when agitation against the Japanese was rapidly mounting. General DeWitt had anticipated that he could fix the boundaries of the restricted areas by 9 January, but it was 21 January before he sent the first of his lists (for California only) to Washington for transmission to the Attorney General. One of his principal difficulties was to reconcile the recommendations of the Navy, which by agreement were to be made through General DeWitt, with the position of the Department of Justice. Navy commanders wanted to exclude not only enemy aliens but also all American-born Japanese who could not show “actual severance of all allegiance to the Japanese Government.” [11]

General DeWitt’s recommendation of 21 January dealing with California called for the exclusion of enemy aliens from eighty-six “Category A” restricted zones and their close control by a pass and permit system in eight “Category B” zones. Many of the Category A areas, in the vicinity of strategic installations, were uninhabited or had no alien population, but the execution of the recommendation nevertheless would have required the evacuation of more than 7,000 persons. Only 40 percent of these would have been Japanese aliens; the majority would have been Italians. [12]

The Secretary of War’s letter (drafted in the Provost Marshal General’s office), which forwarded this recommendation to Mr. Biddle, added the following comments:

In recent conferences with General DeWitt, he has expressed great apprehension because of the presence on the Pacific coast of many thousand alien enemies. As late as yesterday, 24 January, he stated over the telephone that shore-to-ship and ship-to-shore radio communications, undoubtedly coordinated by intelligent enemy control were continually operating. A few days ago it was reported by military observers on the Pacific coast that not a single ship had sailed from our Pacific ports without being subsequently attacked. General DeWitt’s apprehensions have been confirmed by recent visits of military observers from the War Department to the Pacific coast.

The alarming and dangerous situation just described, in my opinion, calls for immediate and stringent action. [13]

Actually there had been no Japanese submarine or surface vessels anywhere near the west coast during the preceding month, and careful investigation subsequently indicated that all claims of hostile shore-to-ship and ship-to-shore communications lacked any foundation whatsoever. [14] General DeWitt’s recommendations for restricted areas in Arizona followed on 24 January, and for Oregon and Washington on 31 January; the recommendations were forwarded by the War Department to Justice on 29 January and 3 February, respectively. [15] By the latter date the position of the Japanese population was under heavy attack, and in consequence the alien exclusion program was being eclipsed by a drive to evacuate all people of Japanese descent from the west coast states.

Agitation for a mass evacuation of the Japanese did not reach significant dimensions until more than a month after the outbreak of war. Then, beginning in mid-January 1942, public and private demands for federal and state action increased rapidly in tempo and volume. [16] Behind these demands lay a profound suspicion of the Japanese population, fanned, of course, by the nature and scope of Japan’s early military successes in the Pacific. Army estimates of the situation reflected this suspicion. An intelligence bulletin of 21 January concluded that there was an “espionage net containing Japanese aliens, first and second generation Japanese and other nationals ... thoroughly organized and working underground.” [17] In conversations with Brig. Gen. Mark W. Clark of GHQ on 20 and 21 January, General DeWitt expressed his apprehension that any enemy raid on the west coast would probably be accompanied by “a violent outburst of coordinated and controlled sabotage” among the Japanese population. [18] In talking with General Gullion on 24 January, General DeWitt stated what was to become one of the principal arguments for evacuation. “The fact that nothing has happened so far is more or less ... ominous,” he said, “in that I feel that in view of the fact that we have had no sporadic attempts at sabotage there is control being exercised and when we have it it will be on a mass basis.” But in this same conversation he also said that he was still opposed to any move to transfer authority from Justice to the War Department because he thought there was “every indication” that the arrangements made with the Department of Justice and its FBI were going to prove satisfactory. [19]

The publication of the report of the Roberts Commission, which had investigated the Pearl Harbor attack, on 25 January had a large and immediate effect on both public opinion and government action. The report concluded that there had been widespread espionage in Hawaii before Pearl Harbor, both by Japanese consular agents and by Japanese residents of Oahu who had “no open relations with the Japanese foreign service.” [20] The latter charge, though proved false after the war was over, was especially inflammatory at the time it was made. On 27 January General DeWitt had a long talk with Governor Culbert L. Olson of California and afterward reported:

There’s a tremendous volume of public opinion now developing against the Japanese of all classes, that is aliens and non-aliens, to get them off the land, and in Southern California around Los Angeles—in that area too—they want and they are bringing pressure on the government to move all the Japanese out. As a matter of fact, it’s not being instigated or developed by people who are not thinking but by the best people of California. Since the publication of the Roberts Report they feel that they are living in the midst of a lot of enemies. They don’t trust the Japanese, none of them.
Two days later the general and Mr. Pieper, the FBI chief, met with the Attorney General of California, Mr. Earl Warren. General DeWitt reported that Mr. Warren was in thorough agreement with Governor Olson that the Japanese population should be removed from the state of California and the general expressed his own unqualified concurrence in this proposal and also his willingness to accept responsibility for the enemy alien program if it were transferred to him. [22]

In Washington, as Major Bendetsen told General DeWitt on 29 January, the California Congressional delegation was “beginning to get up in arms,” and its representatives had scheduled an informal meeting for the following afternoon to formulate recommendations for action. Some Washington state congressmen also attended the meeting, to which representatives of the Justice and War Departments were invited. Major Bendetsen reported General DeWitt’s views to the. assembled congressmen and, though denying that he was authorized to speak for the War Department, nevertheless expressed the opinion that the Army would be entirely willing to take over from Justice, “provided they accorded the Army, and the Secretary of War, and the military commander under him, full authority to require the services of any other federal agency, and provided that federal agency was required to respond.” [23] The congressmen unanimously approved a suggested program of action, which called for an evacuation of enemy aliens and “dual” citizens from critical areas, but which made no specific mention of the Japanese. In presenting the Congressional program to his chief, Major Bendetsen described it as actually “calling for the immediate evacuation of all Japanese from the Pacific coastal strip including Japanese citizens of the age of 21 and under, and calling for an executive order of the President, imposing full responsibility and authority (with power to requisition the services of other Federal agencies) upon the War Department.” [24] He also reported the Congressional recommendations, as adopted, to General DeWitt, who expressed general approval of them despite some technical objections. The next day, the general recorded this opinion:

As a matter of fact, the steps now being taken by the Attorney General through the F.B.I. will do nothing more than exercise a controlling influence and preventative action against sabotage; it will not, in my opinion, be able to stop it. The only positive answer to this question is evacuation of all enemy aliens from the West Coast and resettlement or internment under positive control, military or otherwise. [25]
The Department of Justice in the meantime had agreed informally to accept General DeWitt’s initial recommendation for restricted areas in California, and it was preparing to carry out this and other aspects of the alien control program. On 28 January it announced the appointment of Thomas C. Clark as Co-ordinator of the Alien Enemy Control program within the Western Defense Command, and Mr. Clark arrived on the scene of action on the following day. On 29 January Justice made its first public announcement about the restricted Category A areas that were to be cleared of enemy aliens by 24 February. [26]

As a result of the Congressional recommendations and other developments, Attorney General Biddle asked War Department representatives to attend a meeting in his office on Saturday afternoon, 1 February. There he presented them with the draft of a press release to be issued jointly by the Justice and War Departments, indicating agreement on all alien control measures taken to date and including the statement: “The Department of War and the Department of Justice are in agreement that the present military situation does not at this time require the removal of American citizens of the Japanese race.” In opening the meeting Mr. Biddle stated that Justice would have nothing whatever to do with any interference with citizens or with a suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. The War Department representatives—Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy, General Gullion, and Major Bendetsen-agreed to the wording of the press release except for the sentence quoted. The meeting then adjourned, the War Department representatives withholding approval of any press release until General DeWitt’s views could be obtained, and until they learned the outcome of a conference at Sacramento that had been arranged for 2 February between General DeWitt, Mr. Clark, the governor of California, and other federal and state officials. Major Bendetsen informed the Chief of Staffs office that the Justice Department’s proposal had been held up also because General DeWitt in telephone conversations had been provisionally recommending the evacuation of the whole Japanese population from the Pacific coastal frontier. In the meantime the Provost Marshal General’s office had been formulating plans for mass evacuation and had already located sufficient nontroop shelter to provide for substantially all of the west coast Japanese. In a telephone conversation immediately after the meeting with Justice representatives, Major Bendetsen reported, General DeWitt agreed to submit a recommendation for mass evacuation in writing. [27]

Before General DeWitt could report the outcome of the Sacramento meeting, Secretary Stimson met, on 3 February, with Mr. McCloy, General Gullion, and Major Bendetsen to confer about the proposed press release and the Japanese problem in general. They discussed a proposal under which military reservations would be established around the big aircraft factories and some port and harbor installations, and from which everyone could be excluded at the outset and until they were licensed to return. In practice, licenses would not be issued to Japanese residents or to other groups or individuals under suspicion. It appeared that under this plan citizens as well as aliens could be excluded legally without obvious discrimination.

During the 3 February discussion, Mr. Stimson was handed a record of a telephone conversation between General George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff, and General DeWitt, who had called just as the Secretary of War’s meeting was getting under way. In it, General DeWitt said:

I had a conference yesterday with the Governor and several representatives from the Department of Justice and Department of Agriculture with a view to removal of the Japanese from where they are now living to other portions of the State. And the Governor thinks it can be satisfactorily handled without having a resettlement somewhere in the central part of the United States and removing them entirely from the state of California. As you know the people out here are very much disturbed over these aliens, the Japanese being among them, and want to get them out of the several communities. And I’ve agreed that if they can solve the problem by getting them out of the areas limited as the combat zone, that it would be satisfactory. That would take them 100 to 150 miles from the coast, and they’re working on it. The Department of Justice has a representative here and the Department of Agriculture, and they think the plan is an excellent one. I’m only concerned with getting them away from around these aircraft factories and other places. [28]
In other exchanges on this and succeeding days General DeWitt explained that what the California authorities proposed to do was to move both citizen and alien Japanese (voluntarily if possible, and in collaboration with American-born Japanese leaders) from urban areas and from along the seacoast to agricultural areas within the state. They wanted to do this in particular in order to avoid having to replace the Japanese with Mexican and Negro laborers who might otherwise have to be brought into California in considerable numbers. The California officials felt they needed about ten days to study the problem and come up with a workable plan. By 4 February it appeared to General DeWitt that they could produce a plan that would be satisfactory from the standpoint of defense. [29]

After meeting with Secretary Stimson on 3 February, McCloy called DeWitt to tell him about the licensing plan and to caution him against taking any position in favor of mass Japanese evacuation. [30] The next day General Gullion told General Clark that Mr. Stimson and Mr. McCloy were against mass evacuation of the Japanese. “They are pretty much against it,” he said, “and they are also pretty much against interfering with citizens unless it can be done legally.” While agreeing that the Stimson-McCloy point of view represented the War Department position for the moment, Gullion also said that personally he did not think the licensing action proposed was going to cure the situation. [31] On this same day, 4 February, Colonel Bendetsen (just promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel) in talking with General DeWitt remarked that he was sure that American citizens of Japanese extraction would have to be excluded from some areas at least. General DeWitt evaded a direct comment at this point in the conversation, but later said:

You see, the situation is this: I have never on my own initiative recommended a mass evacuation, or the removal of any man, any Jap, other than an alien. In other words, I have made no distinction between an alien as to whether he is Jap, Italian, or German—that they must all get out of Area A, that is the Category A area. The agitation to move all the Japanese away from the Coast, and some suggestions, out of California entirely—is within the State, the population of the State, which has been espoused by the Governor. I have never been a body [sic] to that, but I have said, if you do that, and can solve that problem, it will be a positive step toward the protection of the coast ... But I have never said, “You’ve got to do it, in order to protect the coast”; ... I can take such measures as are necessary from a military standpoint to control the American Jap if he is going to cause trouble within those restricted areas. [32]
The projected joint press release of the War and Justice Departments, which had been submerged in this more fundamental issue, was finally issued in revised form on 5 February, and in terms that differed from what either General DeWitt or the Provost Marshal General’s office had wanted. With respect to citizens, it stated innocuously: “The Government is fully aware of the problem presented by dual nationalities, particularly among the Japanese. The appropriate Governmental agencies are now dealing with the problem.” [33]

Three days earlier, on 2 February, members of Congress from all three Pacific states had organized informally under the leadership of their senior Senator, Hiram Johnson. He had appointed two subcommittees, one headed by Senator Rufus C. Holman of Oregon to consider plans for increased military strength along the Pacific coast, and the other by Senator Mon C. Wallgren of Washington to deal with the questions of enemy aliens and the prevention of sabotage. On 4 February General Clark of GHQ and Admiral Harold R. Stark, the Chief of Naval Operations, were asked to testify on the west coast military outlook at a meeting of the first of these subcommittees. Before they spoke, Senator Holman summed up the situation by saying that the people on the west coast were alarmed and horrified as to their persons, their employment, and their homes. General Clark said that he thought the Pacific states were unduly alarmed. While both he and Admiral Stark agreed that the west coast defenses were not adequate to prevent the enemy from attacking, they also agreed that the chance of any sustained attack or of an invasion was—as General Clark put it—nil. They believed that sporadic air raids on key installations were a distinct possibility, but they also held that the west coast military defenses were considerable and in fairly good shape; and as Admiral Stark said, from the military point of view the Pacific coast necessarily had a low priority as compared with Hawaii and the far Pacific. These authoritative Army and Navy views were passed on to the Wallgren subcommittee, but they do not seem to have made much impression. [34]

On this same day, 4 February, the federal government’s Office of Facts and Figures completed an analysis of a hasty survey of public opinion in California and concluded: “Even with such a small sample, ... one can infer that the situation in California is serious; that it is loaded with potential dynamite; but that it is not as desperate as some people believe.” [35] A contemporary Navy report described what was happening to the Japanese population in the Los Angeles area in these words: “... loss of employment and income due to anti-Japanese agitation by and among Caucasian Americans, continued personal attacks by Filipinos and other racial groups, denial of relief funds to desperately needy cases, cancellation of licenses for markets, produce houses, stores, etc., by California State authorities, discharges from jobs by the wholesale, unnecessarily harsh restrictions on travel including discriminatory regulations against all Nisei preventing them from engaging in commercial fishing.” While expressing opposition to any mass evacuation of the Japanese, the report concluded that if practices such as those described continued there would “most certainly be outbreaks of sabotage, riots, and other civil strife in the not too distant future.” [36]

In fact, no proved instances of sabotage or of espionage after Pearl Harbor among the west coast Japanese population were ever uncovered. The most damaging tangible evidence turned up against the Japanese was that produced by the intensive searches of their premises by the FBI from early February onward. By May it had seized 2,592 guns of various kinds, 199,000 rounds of ammunition, 1,652 sticks of dynamite, 1,458 radio receivers, 2,914 cameras, 37 motion picture cameras, and numerous other articles that the alien Japanese had been ordered to turn in at the beginning of January. A major portion of the guns and ammunition was picked up in a raid on a sporting goods shop. After assessing this evidence, Department of Justice officials concluded:

We have not, however, uncovered through these searches any dangerous persons that we could not otherwise know about. We have not found among all the sticks of dynamite and gun powder any evidence that any of it was to be used in bombs. 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 camera which we have reason to believe was for use in espionage. [37]

There were better if less tangible grounds for suspecting that some of the Japanese people—citizens as well as aliens—might become disloyal in the event of a Japanese invasion. The Navy report mentioned above indicated that a small but significant minority of the west coast Japanese could be expected to be highly undependable in a crisis; and subsequently the War Relocation Authority concluded that for this reason “a selective evacuation of people of Japanese descent from the west coast military area was justified and administratively feasible in the spring of 1942,” although it concluded also that a mass evacuation such as was actually carried out was never justified. [38]

Within this setting Colonel Bendetsen on 4 February wrote a long memorandum to General Gullion that stated at the outset his conclusion that an enemy alien evacuation “would accomplish little as a measure of safety,” since the alien Japanese were mostly elderly people who could do little harm if they would. Furthermore, their removal would inevitably antagonize large numbers of their relatives among the American-born Japanese. Aftr considering the various alternatives that had been suggested for dealing with citizens, Colonel Bendetsen recommended the designation of military areas from which all persons who did not have permission to enter and remain would be excluded as a measure of military necessity. In his opinion, this plan was clearly legal and he recommended that it be executed by three steps: first, the issuance of an executive order by the President authorizing the Secretary of War to designate military areas; second, the designation of military areas upon the recommendation of General DeWitt; and, third, the immediate evacuation from areas so designated of all persons to whom it was not proposed to issue permits to re-enter or remain. Colonel Bendetsen assumed that, if military areas were established on the west coast in place of all Category A restricted areas thus far recommended by General DeWitt, about 30,000 people would have to be evacuated. [39]

The Deputy Provost Marshal General, Col. Archer L. Lerch, endorsed Colonel Bendetsen’s proposals, and in doing so commented on what he called the “decided weakening of General DeWitt” on the question of Japanese evacuation, which he considered “most unfortunate.” He also thought the plan for resettlement within California being worked out between General DeWitt and the state authorities savored “too much of the spirit of Rotary” and overlooked “the necessary cold-bloodedness of war.” [40] General Gullion presented a condensed version of Colonel Bendetsen’s observations and recommendations in a memorandum to Mr. McCloy on the following day. In doing so, he also noted that General DeWitt had changed his position, and now appeared to favor a more lenient treatment of the American-born Japanese to be worked out in co-operation with their leaders; in General Gullion’s opinion, such co-operation was dangerous and the delay involved was “extremely dangerous.” [41] A revision of this memorandum, with all reference to General DeWitt deleted, became the Provost Marshal General’s recommendation of 6 February to Mr. McCloy that steps be taken immediately to eliminate what General Gullion described as the great danger of Japanese-inspired sabotage on the west coast. He advised that these steps should include the internment by the Army of all alien Japanese east of the Sierra Nevada mountains, together with as many citizen members of their families as would voluntarily accompany them, and the exclusion of all citizen Japanese from restricted zones and their resettlement with the assistance of various federal agencies. [42]

On the following day, 7 February, Colonel Bendetsen read General Gullion’s memorandum to General DeWitt, who expressed some enthusiasm for its recommendations but did not want to endorse them without further study. [43] By 7 February, also, Mr. McCloy had decided to send Colonel Bendetsen to the west coast “to confer with General DeWitt in connection with mass evacuation of all Japanese. [44] When Colonel Bendetsen departed for San Francisco he carried new instructions for the Army’s west coast commander. These instructions, together with President Roosevelt’s decisions on 11 February, presently to be mentioned, were to produce new and detailed recommendations from General DeWitt. [45]

In the meantime, the War and Justice Departments had been approaching an impasse over the area evacuations contemplated under the enemy alien control program. After agreeing informally to accept General DeWitt’s initial California recommendation, Justice officials balked at accepting the very large size Category A areas he recommended for Washington and Oregon, since they included the entire cities of Seattle, Tacoma, and Portland. The execution of this recommendation would have required the evacuation of about 10,700 additional enemy aliens and, as in the case of California, only about 40 percent of these would have been Japanese. As a practical matter the Department of Justice would have found it extremely difficult to supply either the manpower or the internment facilities that a compulsory evacuation of seventeen or eighteen thousand enemy aliens would have required, and by 4 February its Washington representatives were intimating that, if there were any further Category A recommendations or if the evacuation of any citizens were to be involved, Justice would have to bow out and turn its evacuation responsibilities over to the War Department. General DeWitt on 4 February was considering putting the whole Los Angeles area into Category A because his air commander had recommended Category A zones around 220 different installations that, when plotted on the map, almost blanketed the area anyway. For the same reason, General DeWitt believed he might have to put all of San Diego in Category A also. [46] He finally recommended the blanket Category A coverage of the two cities in a letter of 7 February, and five days later he recommended that almost all of the San Francisco Bay area be put in Category A. If all of General DeWitt’s recommendations for Category A areas through 12 February had been accepted, it would have made necessary the evacuation of nearly 89,000 enemy aliens from areas along the Pacific coast-only 25,000 of whom would have been Japanese. [47]

It should be borne in mind that none of the enemy alien program recommendations submitted by General DeWitt through 16 February included American citizens of Japanese or other extraction. The concentration of the Japanese population near strategic points seemed in itself to be sinister in 1942. Actually, there was a greater proportionate concentration of German and Italian aliens near strategic points than there was of Japanese. General DeWitt’s Category A recommendations would have affected nine tenths of the west coast German alien population and nearly three fourths of the Italian aliens, but less than two thirds of the Japanese aliens. Of course General DeWitt after 3 February was also counting upon the California state authorities to persuade the citizen Japanese to evacuate California’s urban areas and other sensitive points along the coast.

In a letter to the Secretary of War on 9 February, Attorney General Biddle formally agreed to announce the Category A areas initially recommended for Arizona, California, Oregon, and Washington as prohibited to enemy aliens by 15 or 24 February—applying the latter date to those areas that had a considerable alien population. But Mr. Biddle questioned the necessity of forcibly excluding German and Italian aliens from all of these areas and wondered why whole cities had been included in Washington and Oregon and none in California. He added that if, as he had been informally advised, all of Los Angeles County was going to be recommended as a Category A area, the Department of Justice would have to step out of the picture because it did not have the physical means to carry out a mass evacuation of such scope. In conclusion, he stated that the Department of Justice was not authorized under any circumstances to evacuate American citizens; if the Army for reasons of military necessity wanted that done in particular areas, the Army itself would have to do it. [48]

The Attorney General’s stand led naturally to the drafting of a War Department memorandum summarizing the “questions to be determined re Japanese exclusion” that needed to be presented to President Roosevelt for decision. These questions were:

(1) Is the President willing to authorize us to move Japanese citizens as well as aliens from restricted areas?

(2) Should we undertake withdrawal from the entire strip DeWitt originally recommended, which involves a number of over 100,000 people, if we included both aliens and Japanese citizens?

(3) Should we undertake the intermediate step involving, say, 70,000, which includes large communities such as Los Angeles, San Diego, and Seattle?

(4) Should we take any lesser step such as the establishment of restricted areas around airplane plants and critical installations, even though General DeWitt states that in several, at least, of the large communities this would be wasteful, involve difficult administrative problems, and might be a source of more continuous irritation and trouble than 100 percent withdrawal from the area? [49]<

In the early afternoon on 11 February Mr. McCloy accompanied Mr. Stimson to the White House, where they obtained answers to the four questions. The President told the War Department secretaries to go ahead and do anything they thought necessary under the circumstances. “We have carte blanche to do what we want to as far as the President’s concerned,” Mr. McCloy informed Colonel Bendetsen immediately after the White House conference. The President specifically authorized the evacuation of citizens. In doing so he observed that there probably would be some repercussions to such action, but said that what was to be done had to be dictated by the military necessity of the situation. Mr. Roosevelt’s only reported qualification was, “Be as reasonable as you can.” Mr. McCloy also told Colonel Bendetsen that he thought the President was prepared to sign an executive order giving the War Department the authority to carry out whatever action it decided upon. [50]

The President’s decisions gave an understandable impetus to the so-called final recommendation being prepared by General DeWitt, which with the assistance of Colonel Bendetsen he had begun to draft on the evening of 10 February. Completed as a formal memorandum for the Secretary of War on 13 February, it was forwarded with a covering memorandum to GHQ via air mail. [51] General DeWitt’s new recommendations differed from those he had already submitted under the enemy alien control program in only one important particular: he recommended the enforced evacuation by federal authority of the American-born Japanese from the Category A areas already recommended by him in previous letters to the Secretary of War. [52] His memorandum reached GHQ at 5:00 P.M., 18 February. On 19 February it was decided at a GHQ staff conference not to concur in General DeWitt’s recommendations, and instead to recommend to General Clark that only enemy alien leaders be arrested and interned. General Clark, being aware of developments in the War Department, must have realized the futility of a GHQ nonconcurrence. [53] On 20 February GHQ sent General DeWitt’s memorandums to the War Department through normal channels, with an endorsement that they were being “transmitted in view of the proposed action already decided upon by the War Department.” [54] They finally reached the Provost Marshal General’s office “for remark and recommendation” on 24 February, the day after General DeWitt received new directives from the War Department that differed in many particulars from the recommendations he had submitted. [55]

In the meantime, on 13 February, the Pacific coast Congressional subcommittee on aliens and sabotage had adopted the following recommendations:

We recommend the immediate evacuation of all persons of Japanese lineage and all others, aliens and citizens alike, whose presence shall be deemed dangerous or inimical to the defense of the United States from all strategic areas.

In defining said strategic areas we recommend that such areas include all military installations, war industries, water and power installations, oil fields, and refineries, transportation and other essential facilities as well as adequate protective areas adjacent thereto.

We further recommend that such areas be enlarged as expeditiously possible until they shall encompass the entire strategic area of the states of California, Oregon and Washington, and Territory of Alaska.

These recommendations were forwarded to President Roosevelt with a covering letter of the same date signed on behalf of the entire west coast Congressional delegation. [56] On 16 February the President sent the letter and its enclosed recommendations to Secretary Stimson, with a memorandum that read: “Will you please be good enough to reply to Congressman Lea in regard to the enclosed letter.” [57]

On the same day, 16 February, Colonel Bendetsen boarded an airplane in San Francisco, reaching the War Department’s offices in Washington about noon on 17 February. [58] Before his arrival, the Provost Marshal General’s office initiated a telegraphic survey among the corps area commanders with the following message:

Probable that orders for very large evacuation of enemy aliens of all nationalities predominantly Japanese from Pacific Coast will issue within 48 hours. Internment facilities will be taxed to utmost. Report at once maximum you can care for, including housing, feeding, medical care, and supply. Your breakdown should include number of men, women, and children. Very important to keep this a closely guarded secret. [59]
A follow-up letter explained that 100,000 enemy aliens would be involved, 60,000 of whom would be women and children, and that all were to be interned east of the Western Defense Command, “50 percent in the Eighth Corps Area, 30 percent in the Seventh, and 10 percent each in the Fourth and Sixth.” [60] There were three reasons for the intention (as of 17 February) of removing the Pacific coast Japanese to areas east of the Western Defense Command. Since mid-December General DeWitt had insisted that internment of enemy aliens ought to be outside his theater of operations; some of the governments of the intermountain states had already indicated that they would not countenance any free settlement of the west coast Japanese within their borders; and, lastly, an Army survey of existing facilities for internment in the five interior states of the Ninth Corps Area disclosed that they could not accommodate more than 2,500 people.

The final steps toward a decision on the evacuation of the west coast Japanese began on 17 February with another conference between Secretary Stimson and President Roosevelt. Thereafter, Mr. Stimson met in the afternoon with Mr. McCloy, General Clark, General Gullion, and Colonel Bendetsen. General Clark protested that a mass evacuation would involve the use of too many troops. Mr. Stimson again expressed his dislike of mass evacuation. But finally the Secretary decided that General DeWitt should be instructed to commence an evacuation immediately and to the extent he deemed necessary for the protection of vital installations. At the conclusion of this meeting, General Clark consulted his GHQ chief, Lt. Gen. Lesley J. McNair, who decided that General DeWitt should not be allotted any additional troops for evacuation purposes. [61]

On the evening of 17 February, McCloy, Gullion, and Bendetsen met with Justice representatives at the home of Attorney General Biddle. After some preliminary discussion, General Gullion pulled from his pocket and proceeded to read the draft of a proposed Presidential executive order that would authorize the Secretary of War to remove both citizens and aliens from areas that he might designate. Mr. Biddle accepted the draft without further argument, because the President had already indicated to him that this was a matter for military decision. After several more meetings between Justice and War Department officials during the next two days, the executive order was presented to the President and signed by him late on 19 February. [62] Between 18 and 20 February Mr. McCloy, General Gullion, and Colonel Bendetsen drafted the instructions for General DeWitt to guide his execution of the evacuation plan, and embodied them in two letter directives, both dated 20 February. These directives and a copy of Executive Order 9066 reached General DeWitt on 23 February. [63]

On 21 February the Secretary of War, in accordance with the President’s request, answered the Congressional letter of 13 February by assuring the west coast delegation that plans for the partial or complete evacuation of the Japanese from the Pacific coast were being formulated. [64] In consultation with the Department of Justice. War Department officials at this time also prepared a draft of legislation that would put teeth into the enforcement of the new evacuation program, but did not submit it to Congress until 9 March. This draft as a bill became Public Law 503 after brief debate; it was passed by a voice vote in both houses on 19 March and signed by the President on 21 March. Three days later, the Western Defense Command issued its first compulsory exclusion order. [65]

As already noted, the plan for evacuation presented in the War Department’s directives of 20 February differed materially from the plan recommended by General DeWitt in his memorandum of 13 February. [66] The central objective of the DeWitt plan was to move all enemy aliens and American-born Japanese out of all Category A areas in California, Oregon, and Washington that the general had recommended through 12 February. Although General DeWitt had repeatedly described the Japanese as the most dangerous element of the west coast population, he also made it clear as late as 17 February that he was “opposed to any preferential treatment to any alien irrespective of race,” and therefore that he wanted German and Italian aliens as well as all Japanese evacuated from Category A areas. [67] His plan assumed that all enemy aliens would be interned under guard outside the Western Defense Command, at least until arrangements could be made for their resettlement. Citizen evacuees would either accept internment voluntarily, or relocate themselves with such assistance as state and federal agencies might offer. Although this group would be permitted to resettle in Category B areas within the coastal zone, General DeWitt clearly preferred that they move inland. The central objective of the War Department plan was to move all Japanese out of the California Category A areas first, and they were not to be permitted to resettle within Category B areas or within a larger Military Area No. 1 to be established along the coast. [68] There was to be no evacuation of Italians without the express permission of the Secretary of War except on an individual basis. Although the War Department plan ostensibly provided that German aliens were to be treated in the same manner as the Japanese, it qualified this intention by providing for the exemption of bonefide German refugees. This qualification automatically stayed the evacuation of German aliens until General DeWitt could discover who among them were genuine refugees. The War Department plan contemplated voluntary relocation of all types of evacuees to the maximum extent possible, with internment as necessary outside the Western Defense Command. Another major difference between the two plans was related to General DeWitt’s recommendation of a licensing system for Category A areas; the President’s executive order of 19 February did not require the application of the licensing plan, and licensing was not embodied in the War Department’s directives of 20 February.

There were other lesser differences between the two plans. General DeWitt had recommended that before any evacuation all preparations should be complete, including the “selection and establishment of internment facilities in the Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Corps Areas.” As already noted, the War Department at this time was also planning to put all internees east of the Ninth Corps Area, but its directives did not contemplate postponement of evacuation until internment facilities were ready. General DeWitt had also recommended the initial and separate internment of all enemy alien males over fourteen years of age until family units could be established in internment camps. The War Department plan had no such provision. As for the number of people to be involved, General DeWitt’s memorandum contained an estimate that 133,000 people would have to be evacuated either voluntarily or by compulsion. A breakdown of the figure (based on his previous Category A recommendations) discloses that his plan would have involved about 69,000 Japanese (25,000 aliens and 44,000 American citizens), about 44,000 Italians, and about 20,000 Germans. The War Department planners apparently made no estimate of the numbers that their directives would involve, but eventually they did involve more than 110,000 Japanese residents—citizens and aliens—of the Pacific coast states.

Nearly three years later, in December 1944, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of mass evacuation, in the test case of Korematsu v. United States. Its decision, rendered in the midst of war, also had to be made without access to many pertinent records. The Court concluded:

Korematsu was not excluded from the Military Area because of hostility to him or his race. He was excluded because we are at war with the Japanese Empire, because the properly constituted military authorities feared an invasion of our West Coast and felt constrained to take proper security measures, because they decided that the military urgency of the situation demanded that all citizens of Japanese ancestry be segregated from the West Coast temporarily, and finally, because Congress, reposing its confidence in this time of war in our military leaders —as inevitably it must— determined that they should have the power to do just this. There was evidence of disloyalty on the part of some, the military authorities considered that the need for action was great, and time was short. We cannot— by availing ourselves of the calm perspective of hindsight— now say that these actions were unjustified. [69]
Would the Court’s conclusion have been the same in the light of present knowledge? Considering the evidence now available, the reasonable deductions seem to be that General DeWitt’s recommendation of 13 February 1942 was not used in drafting the War Department directives of 20 February for a mass evacuation of the Japanese people, and that the only responsible commander who backed the War Department’s plan as a measure required by military necessity was the President himself, as Commander in Chief.
STETSON CONN, Historian with OCMH since 1946. Ph. D. in history, Yale University. Taught: Yale University, Amherst College, and The George Washington University. Author: Gibraltar in British Diplomacy in the Eighteenth Century (New Haven, 1942). Coauthor: The Framework of Hemisphere Defense and Guarding the United States and Its Outposts, to be published in UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II.

The decision to evacuate the Japanese from the Pacific, by Stetson Conn. pp. 125-149, Washington, D.C. : Center of History, U.S. Army, 1990.

CMH pub ; 70-7-05.
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