Wartime Exile: The Exclusion of the Japanese Americans from the West Coast

U.S. Dept. of Interior, War Relocation Authority, Jan. 1, 1946

This is another of the government publications relating to the internment of the Japanese Americans during World War II. As I usually do, I will only comment on what I feel are significant portions of the document.

The Japanese live near airfields, etc.

One of the arguments used by DeWitt and others in calling for evacuating the Japanese was that they owned land surrounding various important military plants and airfields, making the assumption that they had developed some kind of very long-term program to buy land in those spots on purpose so they could eventually, decades later, go to war with the U.S. and use those spots for spying.

Although it was a ridiculous argument it was believed by many to be true. This report tears that argument apart by saying:

'In the light of cold fact, the charges made in wartime mood by certain West Coast militarists, politicians and professional racists, impugning the motives of the Japanese immigrants in settling where they did, lost substance and credibility. The most intent and extensive examination of historic fact reveals that nothing more sinister than economic necessity determined the pattern of geographic distribution of the Japanese immigrants upon the West Coast of the United States, and that that pattern had been set in such commonplace fashion for more than 30 years when the country of their ancestry and the country of their adoption went to war.'

In other words, the Japanese had bought land where they could economically afford it and where it would be useful, usually for farms. There was no long-term or even short-term plan to spy on the U.S.

Attacks on American shipping

There had been some Japanese attacks on American shipping which I didn't find covered in other books, except for one case. In late December of 1941 an American tanker was fired on off Cypress Point but got away on its own power. A second tanker was sunk. On the 22nd a freighter was fired on but was missed. On the 23rd, a tanker was shelled by escaped. After Christmas day an Army bomber sank one single sub off the California coast and suddenly all the attacks on shipping ended. In other words, all of those attacks were done by one submarine, even though rumors were that there was a whole line of subs off the California coast.

Attacks on Japanese in America

According to the report, on Dec. 23,1941, a Nisei who "had been honorably discharged form the United States Army Medical Corp" earlier in the year was stabbed to death on a Los Angeles street. On Christmas day a Japanese was killed in Stockton, and in the next ten days there were attacks on Japanese in San Jose, Gilroy and Sacramento.

This was also related to one of the arguments used to justify evacuation, and that it was to "protect" the Japanese Issei and Nisei from racial attacks.

Terminal Island

Other sources I've consulted have talked about how all the fishermen from Terminal Island were evacuated since they were of Japanese ancestry, but the report goes into some information on just how chaotic and disorganized this process was.

"On Tuesday, February 10, 1942, posers were put up on Terminal Island by Department of Justice order, warning all Japanese aliens that the deadline for their departure was the following Monday,February 16. However, on February 11, without warning, a Presidential order transferred Terminal Island to the jurisdiction of the Navy, and Secretary Knox instructed Rear Admiral R.S. Holmes, Commandant of the 11th Naval District in San Diego to notify all residents of Terminal Island that their dwellings would be condemned and that they would be evicted within 30 days. This arrangement automatically canceled the orders of the Department of Justice...Before a week had passed, the residents of Terminal Island were ordered to be out within 48 hours of notification."

The report goes on to tell how the residents were lead to believe they would get certain aid from the government, then they weren't able to since they didn't get any notices about where they could get any aid before they had to be out of their homes.

Official Prejudice

The Mayor of Los Angeles was not exactly friendly to the Japanese Americans. In a radio address he said the following, according to the report:

"If Lincoln were alive today, what would he do to defend the nation against the Japanese horde, the people born on American soil who have secret loyalty to the Japanese Emperor? ... The removal of all those of Japanese parentage must be effected before it is too late. Those little men who prate of civil liberties against the interest of the nation and the safety of the people will be forgotten in the pages of history, while an executive in Washington who will save the nation against invasion and destruction will be entitled to a secure place beside Lincoln."

The Power of the Press

Walter Lippmann was a nationally known columnist who ended up writing about the Japanese American situation, and in relation to the fact that there had been no sabotage on the Pacific Coast since the start of the war, he said "It is a sign that the blow is well organized and that it is held back until it can be struck with maximum effect." In other words, since there had been no sabotage it was proof that there would be sabotage. This is exactly the same argument that DeWitt noted when he was pushing for the removal of the Japanese Americans from the West Coast.

This is shown in a February 14, 1942 memo that DeWitt wrote to the Secretary of War about the "Evacuation of Japanese and other Subversive Persons from the Pacific Coast." He said "The very fact that no sabotage has taken place to date is a disturbing and confirming indication that such action will be taken."

In other words, Lippman's argument, almost word-for word. In addition, the report noted things like "The Japanese race is an enemy race and while many second and third generation Japanese born on United States soil, possessed of United States citizenship, have become ‘Americanized', the racial strains are undiluted. ...It therefore follows that along the vital Pacific Coast over 112,000 potential enemies, of Japanese extraction, are at large today. There are indications that these are organized and ready for concerted action at a favorable opportunity."


The report had the following comment on the JACL:

"The Japanese American Citizens League provided about the only leadership that emerged from the minority at this time.... The league was not actually representative of the Japanese minority, but its officials at this time appeared as the only spokesmen."

The Santa Barbara submarine attack

Directly from the report:

"At approximately 7:10 p.m. on February 23, 1942, an attack was made on the Santa Barbara area by an unidentified vessel off the coast of California. Included in the area shelled was an oil refinery. The blackout in this area went into effect about one hour after the shelling had occurred and although there were reports of lights and flares in the vicinity, investigations were made with negative results. ...There was no evidence of shore-to-ship signaling and no evidence of a landing in the area."

(Continuing) "The effect of this incident was immediate and pronounced. Representative Alfred Elliott, of Tulare, California, shouted next day from the floor of the House: ‘We've got to move all the Japs in California into concentration camps, somewhere, some place, and do it damn quick."

The Battle of Los Angeles

Some books have made reference to the rumors of a plane attack on Los Angeles which turned out to be a wayward weather balloon, although damage was done to some cars by falling spent shells.

The report goes into the attack, and Tokyo's response, in considerable detail and it's really quite interesting.

"In the small hours of February 25, Los Angeles had a blackout with antiaircraft guns brought into use. Five deaths resulted from traffic accidents or heart attack and were laid to what the newspapers called the ‘raid.' The War Department stated officially that the alarm as real; the Navy Department stated officially that it was a case of ‘jittery nerves.' Whether the ‘Battle of Los Angeles' was or was not a genuine raid, was still unsettled in the fall of 1945. An Associated Press Story reported from San Francisco under dateline of October 28, 1945:"

"As many as five unidentified airplanes, either Japanese, , civilian or commercial, were over southern California the night of February 24-25, 1942, during the ‘Battle of Los Angeles,' Fourth AAF headquarters disclosed today.

" ‘The blackout and antiaircraft firing in the Los Angeles area on the morning of February 25, 1942, were caused by the presence of one to five unidentified airplanes' reported Lieut. Gen. John L. DeWitt, then commanding general of the Fourth Army and the Western Defense Command. He added it was his belief that three planes appeared over Beverly Hills. ...the officer said ‘My belief is that those three planes could have been launched from submarines somewhere close into shore under our detectors.'"

"On November 1, 1945, comment on that statement came from Tokyo in the form of an Associated Press story, which appeared in the Washington Evening Star under the caption:Jap Air Raid' of Los Angeles in 1942 was Myth' and continued:"

"The battle of Los Angeles was a myth. The Japanese did not send planes over that city the night of February 24-25, 1942, a Japanese Navy spokesmen told the Associated Press today. ... Captain Omae of the Japanese navy said, however, that a plane was launched from a submarine and sent over the Southern Oregon Coast on February 9, 1942, to attack military installations, but the lone plane was unable to discover any.'"

Even though it was later found to be a weather balloon, at the time the rumor mills and the anti-Japanese racists played the event up and it, too, contributed to the political pressure to remove the Japanese Americans from the West Coast.

Red Cross limits involvement of evacuees

Some of the evacuees were put to work making camouflage nets with some degree of difficulty and some degree of success. The Red Cross allowed the evacuees to donate money, but 'steadfastly refused to allow the center residents to roll bandages or knit for the armed forces, even going so far as to deny members of the Junior Red Cross units at centers their right to fill game kits for the soldiers, and not allowing center Red Cross organizations to be called chapters, They were called units' to differentiate between Japanese American branches of the organization and others."

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