Executive Order 9066: Summary & Facts

Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

After the Japanese government attacked Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. This lesson explores the background of the executive order and what it allowed the military to do.

Fear and Panic

When was the last time you were panicky or afraid? How did those emotions make you feel? Perhaps they caused you to make rash judgments or do things you wouldn't normally do. Panic and fear are powerful emotions that can cause people to do seemingly crazy things. One of the biggest examples of this phenomenon is the U.S. government's response after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. In the aftermath of the Japanese attack, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt took extreme measures to keep the country safe.

The Japanese in America

In the decades before World War II, countless Japanese immigrated to the United States in search of a better life. Most Japanese immigrants lived in the Hawaiian Islands, or on the West Coast in states like California, Oregon, and Washington. During this time, the United States did not have a great track record when it came to treating Asian immigrants fairly. In fact, by the mid-1920s, Congress passed legislation to restrict Chinese and Japanese immigration.

Racial discrimination did not end at immigration laws. Japanese living in states like California were generally restricted to certain neighborhoods, and they had limited property rights. These anti-Japanese sentiments only got bigger after Pearl Harbor.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, FDR asked Congress to declare war on Japan. Within days, the U.S. found itself in the middle of World War II. As the country mobilized for war, many Americans were in a complete panic over what would happen on the home front. Did Japanese people living in Hawaii help coordinate the attack on Pearl Harbor? With so many Japanese people living on the West Coast, would that put the U.S. at risk of an attack on American soil?

These concerns were also reflected at both the state and federal government levels. Members of FDR's cabinet as well as leaders from western states asked the president to take action and safeguard against a Japanese threat at home. Roosevelt responded by issuing an executive order. An executive order is an action the president can take that has the full force of law, but it doesn't need to be approved by Congress.

Executive Order 9066

FDR signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942. The order gave the military the right to relocate anyone living on the West Coast that they considered a threat to national security, namely Japanese people. At first, Japanese families living in California, Oregon, and Washington were given the choice to evacuate their homes voluntarily. Shortly after, the Army began forcing people to evacuate. Imagine having to leave your home to move to a strange place that you've never seen before. The idea is pretty awful to think about!

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