The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, was not just a disaster for the American military. One of the side effects of the war between Japan and the United States was one of the greatest mass violations of civil liberties in American history, the internment of over 110,000 Japanese Americans, almost 90 percent of the entire population, in camps in isolated rural areas.
On February 19, 1942, against the advice of Attorney General Francis Biddle, but at the urging of military leaders, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066. It allowed military commanders to designate certain areas from which suspicious persons could be excluded. On the West Coast, the military commander, Gen. John L. DeWitt, ordered the exclusion of all persons of Japanese ancestry from all of California and large portions of Oregon, Washington, and Arizona. The consensus of historians today is that this simply reflected ethnic and racial prejudice. F.B.I. Director J. Edgar Hoover had assured authorities that Japanese Americans posed no threat, but anti-Japanese feelings after Pearl Harbor were ferocious, and farmers and business people who resented Japanese competition took advantage of the situation to remove rivals and, in many cases, acquire their businesses and land at bargain basement prices. In May 1942, Japanese Americans were ordered to report to assembly centers, whence they would be moved to relocation centers. Over a dozen camps were used as relocation centers, in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming. In 1944, a divided United States Supreme Court upheld the relocation order. In 1988, however, President Ronald Reagan approved an act of Congress, which apologized for the internment and provided reparations to camp survivors.