Lesson Plans -- Student

The Japanese Internment
A Document Based Question
by Nancy George

Historical Context: After Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese, President Roosevelt gave the Army authority to designate certain vital defense areas and exclude from them all persons, citizens and aliens alike. On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 authorizing the Secretary of War to designate parts of the country as "military areas" from which any any and all persons might be excluded, and in which travel restrictions might be imposed. A few weeks later General John L. DeWitt, in charge of the Western Defense Command, designated the entire Pacific coast as a military area because of its susceptibility to attack. Curfews were established, and Japanese Americans were at first prohibited from leaving the area, and then from being in the area. The only way Japanese Americans could comply with these contradictory orders was to submit to evacuation to relocation centers in other regions of the country. The evacuation may have affected 200,000 Pacific Coast Japanese Americans and their American-born children. Governors of states between the Pacific Ocean and the Mississippi would permit Japanese aliens to live only in relocation centers.

Part A: Short Answer

Directions: Carefully examine and read the following eight documents. Following each document will be questions. Answer each of these questions by using the information contained in the document.


Document 1: Francis Biddle, Attorney General, to Roosevelt, February 17, 1942

For several weeks there have been increasing demands for evacuation of all Japanese, aliens and citizens alike, from the West Coast states. A great many West Coast people distrust the Japanese, various special interests would welcome their removal from good farm land and the elimination of their competition... My last advice from the War Department is that there is no evidence of imminent attack and from the F.B.I. that there is no evidence of planned sabotage.

Source: http://www.geocities.com/Athens/8420/politicians.html#biddle

Question 1: Why would various special interests welcome the removal of the Japanese Americans?

Document 2: Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of War

"Their racial characteristics are such that we cannot understand or trust even the citizen Japanese."

Source: http://www.geocities.com/Athens/8420/politicians.html#stimson

Question 2: How does this statement differ from Anttorney General Biddle's comments in Document 1?

Document 3: Editorial, "Their Best Way to Show Loyalty," The San Francisco News, March 6, 1942.

Japanese leaders in California who are counseling their people, both aliens and native-born, to co-operate with the Army in carrying out the evacuation plans are, in effect, offering the best possible way for all Japanese to demonstrate their loyalty to the United States.

Many aliens and practically all the native-born have been protesting their allegiance to this Government. Although their removal to inland districts outside the military zones may inconvenience them somewhat, even work serious hardships upon some, they must certainly recognize the necessity of clearing the coastal combat areas of all possible fifth columnists and saboteurs. Inasmuch as the presence of enemy agents cannot be detected readily when these areas are thronged by Japanese the only course left is to remove all persons of that race for the duration of the war.

Real danger would exist for all Japanese if they remained in the combat area. The least act of sabotage might provoke angry reprisals that easily could balloon into bloody race riots. We must avoid any chance of that sort of thing. The most sensible, the most humane way to insure against it is to move the Japanese out of harms way and make it as easy as possible for them to go and to remain away until the war is over.

Source: http://www.sfmuseum.org/hist8/editorial1.html
Question 3: According to this editorial, what danger existed for Japanese Americans in California?

Document 4: Photograph by Dorthea Lange, 1942.

Source: http://www.owensvalleyhistory.com/manzanar3/japanesestore1942.jpg Question: In this photograph, what do you think the Japanese American owner of the store believed the reason was for the forced evacuation?

Document 5: "Jap Farmland Is Transferred," The San Francisco News, April 3, 1942.

Nearly one-third of the Japanese farm lands on the Pacific Coast have been transferred to new operators under the supervision of the Farm Security Administration, L.I. Hewes, regional director, announced today.

More than 1000 Japanese farms, totaling 50,000 acres, were transferred during March, Mr. Hewes said. FSA field agents have registered 6000 farms totaling approximately 200,000 acres and have received applications to acquire vacated farms from more than 2000 farmers

Source: http://www.sfmuseum.org/hist8/land2.html
Question 5: Who will be responsible for the transfer of the farms businesses that are owned by the Japanese Americans while we are at war with the Japanese Government?

Question 6: How many acres of Japanese American Owned farmland has been and will be transferred?

Document 6: Poster, "Don't Talk!"

Source: http://afsf.lackland.af.mil/Images/WWII/pages/WWII%20Dont%20Talk3_gif.htm

Question 7: According to this WWII poster from the War Department, what threat did Japanese and German Americans pose?

Document 8: President Roosevelt to Governor Herbert H. Lehman, June 3, 1943

...please be assured that I am keenly aware of the anxiety that German and Italian aliens living in the United States must feel as the result of the Japanese evacuation from the West Coast. Will you assure Mr. Antonini that no collective evacuation of German and Italian aliens is contemplated at this time?

Source: http://www.geocities.com/Athens/8420/politicians.html#roosevelt
Question 8: What state is Lehman the Governor of?

Document 8:U.S. Supreme Court Case, Korematsu v. United States, decided December 18, 1944

BACKGROUND: At the time of the announcement of the exclusion order, Fred Korematsu was only in his early twenties. He was of Japanese Ancestry but was born in Oakland, California. A graduate of Oakland High School, Korematsu had tried twice to enlist in the army but was turned down for a physical disability. Before and afte the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Fred worked in defense plants in the San Fransisco area. He had no criminal record and had been a loyal, law-abiding American citizen. Had he obeyed the order, he would have been separated from his Caucasian girlfriend, so rather than submit to confinement he ran away. Posing as Chinese, Korematsu took a job in a trailer park.

Arrested in May, Korematsu was tried in a federal district court. He challenged the order as it applied to him, a loyal citizen of the United States, but he was found guilty of knowingly violating the Civilian Exclusion Order.

To cast this case into outlines of racial prejudice, without reference to the real military dangers which were presented, merely confuses the issue. 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.

Source: http://tourolaw.edu/patch/Korematsu/
Question 9: According to this ruling by the Supreme Court, why was Korematsu and all citizens of Japanese ancestry segregated from the West Coast during WWII?

Question 10: Who did Congress give the authority to determine whether or not to evacuate Japanese Americans?

Short Answer Questions:

Question One: Why would the "various special interests" welcome the removal of Japanese Americans?

Sample Answer: Students should be able to infer that the "various special interests" who would welcome the "elimination of their competition" are individuals and corporations that compete with Japanese Americans in business. An excellent answer will note that this memo is coming from Attorney General Biddle, one of the most influential men in Roosevelt's administration, who had access tot he highest level of military intelligence, and if he is skeptical of the threat Japanese Americans pose, then the fear of Japanese Americans being used as counter terrorists by the Japanese Government is not warranted.

Explanation: This memo from Biddle to Roosevelt proves that the president was aware that there were special interests who might rationalize the removal of Japanese Americans so they might profit by acquiring their farmland. In this same document, the Attorney General makes clear that the War Department's intelligence found no evidence of a threat from these citizens.

Question 2: How does this statement differ from Attorney General Biddle's comments in Document 1?

Sample Answer: A good answer should include the fact that Biddle wrote that the Department of War had not found any evidence of planned sabotage from the Japanese American community. An excellent answer would note that the racial bias against Japanese Americans created a paranoia that reached the highest level of the administration.

Explanation: This is a startling piece of evidence that confirms that the administration's bias was so strong that they believed the internment of Japanese Americans was in the nation's best interest.

Question 3: According to this editorial, what danger existed for Japanese Americans in California?

Sample Answer: The student should be able to pick out the editorial's stated concern that if any act of sabotage did occur, white citizens in California would vent their anger on innocent Japanese Americans. An excellent answer would show that the student understands that this editorial is a rationalization that relieves the public of any feelings of guilt over stripping the Japanese Americans of their property, livelihoods, and civil rights.

Explanation: This document provides another reason for the evacuation of Japanese Americans. Whether there was ever a real danger of Japanese Americans being attacked by angry mobs is debatable; it may have just served as a rationalization for the wholesale theft of Japanese American property.

Question 4: In this photograph, what do you think Japanese American owner of the store believed the reason was for the forced evacuation?

Sample Answer: The student should realize that the owner of the store believes that the government and the public believe that all Japanese Americans are aliens and are therefore loyal to Japan. An excellent answer will address the "SOLD" sign and how this is an indication of the desire of some to acquire property and businesses of Japanese Americans.

Explanation: This photograph is evidence of both the economic consequences of Japanese internment as well as their civil rights. The sign proclaims their identity as Americans who should be guaranteed the same rights and privileges as all Americans.

Question 5: Who will be responsible for the farms and businesses that are owned by Japanese Americans while we are at war with the Japanese Government?

Sample Answer: The newspaper article identifies Mr. L. I. Hewes of the Farm Security as responsible for the transfer of land owned by Japanese Americans to the "new operators." An excellent response will not the large amount of acreage that is involved and may also point out the derogatory use of the word "Jap" to designate the Japanese Americans.

Question 6: How many acres of Japanese-owned farmland has been and will be transferred?

Sample Answer: A total of 250,000 acres of Japanese American-owned land has been and will be transferred. An excellent answer would note that the average size of the Japanese American farm was 35.5 acres and the "new operators'" farms averaged 100 acres.

Explanation: The purpose of this article is to document that Japanese Americans-owned farms were being transferred to "new operators," thus supporting Biddle's claim that the motive behind having Japanese Americans put in internment camps was probably opportunism by competitors.

Question 7: According to this WWII poster from the War Department, what threat did Japanese and German Americans pose?

Sample Answer: The poster can be interpreted two ways. First, that Japanese and German spies had infiltrated the United States, and second, the German and Japanese Americans would be more loyal to their own home countries that to their adopted one. A good answer will have one of these explanations, an excellent answer will include both.

Explanation: This poster shows that the War Department and the public were not just concerned about Japanese espionage; German spies were also a consideration. This document can be used to support the argument that there were motives other than the fear of Japanese espionage for the internment policy of the Roosevelt administration. The absence of German and German American internment camps indicates the importance of racial bias and special interests in the creation of Japanese internment camps.

Question 8: What state is Lehman the Governor of?

Sample Answer: Governor Lehman was the governor of New York. An excellent answer would note that New York is on the Atlantic Ocean and if German or Italy were to attack, New York City would be a likely target, therefore the Germans and Italians on the East Coast should have been viewed as suspiciously as the Japanese on the West Coast and removed to relocation centers.

Explanation: This document is evidence that FDR viewed Asian Americans as being more of a threat to national security than European nationals in the United States. This, taken along with document 1, is evidence of the president's racist bias against Japanese Americans.

Question 9: According to this ruling by the Supreme Court, why were Korematsu and all citizens of Japanese ancestry segregated from the West Coast during WWII?

Sample Answer: The Japanese were segregated because the United States was at war with the Japanese Empire and the military feared Japanese Americans would feel more loyalty to Japan should the country invade the West Coast, and would even assist in the invasion. An excellent answer would note that the Court ignores the racial component of the Exclusion Order when it claims that Kotematsu was not targeted because of "hostility to him or his race."

Explanation: It is important to understand that Congress abdicated its responsibilities in the balance of powers and the checks and balances that are the basic principles of the Constitution and the enduring foundation of American government.

Essay Question Response

This essay should be graded using the New York State Regents Exam grading rubric. The body of the essay should contain a paragraph for each reason that the United States evacuated Japanese Americans, a paragraph that explains how each of these reasons relate to one another, and a paragraph in which the student states what reason is the most compelling reason for the internment. Finally, the essay should have a clearly stated thesis in the introductory paragraph and a conclusion that sums up the argument in a concise manner.

There are four arguments that can be made for why the American government and the public evacuated Japanese Americans in 1942. 1.) The fear of sabotage from Japanese Americans or Japanese nationals posing as American citizens. The three documents that provide evidence of this fear are four, six, and eight. 2.) The intent of special interests to acquire land and businesses owned by Japanese Americans. The two documents that support this argument are one and five. 3.) The rationalization that Japanese Americans needed to be sent to internment camps for their own protection. The document that supports this argument is number three. 4.) the motivation of racial prejudice. Documents two and seven support this motivation an show that such feelings of racial prejudice was prevalent at the highest levels of the Administration.

A good essay will mention three of these motivations for evacuation and will cite at least one document to support each of the three motivations. An excellent essay will make and argument for all four motivations and will include all the documents that relate. A good essay will be able to explain that racism allowed for the wholesale theft of Japanese-held farms and property and that statements claiming Japanese Americans needed to be interned for their own protection were rationalizations. An excellent essay will make a connection between racism and protection by pointing out that similar arguments were not made for German Americans, who, by virtue of their race, blended more easily into the mainstream population.

A good essay will argue which of the reasons for the evacuation is the most compelling by using the documents in the DBQ. An excellent answer will use the documents as well as draw from a knowledge of American History. One way that students could do that is to argue that because of the Dust Bowl there was a large population of landless white farmers in California who welcomed the opportunity to acquire the farm land owned by Japanese Americans. Another way they could draw on their knowledge of American History is to tie this issue in with the history of U. S./Native American relations as they pertain to land acquisition. Or they could chose to discuss the history of racist legislation against Asians such as the Chinese Exclusion Act/Immigration Exclusion Act (1882) which prohibited Chinese citizenship, and the Immigrant Act of 1924, which barred entry of Japanese and other Asians.


The primary purpose of this DBQ is to expose the student to some of the other reasons for the Japanese Internment besides racism. There were rationalizations and economic motives that complicated the issue and these are often ignored in the textbooks. Students should understand that events such as the evacuation involve many groups with varying incentives. They should be able to distinguish each of these motives and form an opinion as to which factor had the strongest influence. They should be able to write a convincing arugment that is concise and uses specific examples from the documents to express their opinion. The essence of history is the understanding of the reasons why decisions are made and how various factors combine to create events. Students need the opportunities to be able to study in detail the context of events to develop an understanding of history. History is not just an exercise in memorizing dates and facts but instead is a discipline that examines the rich and dynamic quality of the human experience.