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Executive Order 9066: Impact on Japanese and Japanese Americans

Executive order 9066

Executive Order 9066, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on February 19, 1942, was a pivotal chapter in American history that marked a dark period during World War II. This order authorized the forced relocation and incarceration of over 120,000 Japanese and Japanese American citizens on the West Coast of the United States. The policy, driven by wartime hysteria and anti-Japanese sentiment, had profound and lasting effects on the individuals and communities it targeted.

The implementation of Executive Order 9066 precipitated a swift and far-reaching consequence — the involuntary removal of Japanese and Japanese American families from the familiar confines of their homes. Faced with a stark ultimatum, individuals were afforded only a brief window of time to liquidate their properties, businesses, and personal belongings, often incurring substantial financial losses in the process. This forced exodus tore families away from the embrace of their communities, thrusting them into an uncertain and disorienting journey.

These uprooted individuals found themselves navigating a path that led to hastily constructed incarceration camps situated in American remote and desolate areas. The camps were encircled by imposing barbed wire and presided over by vigilant armed military personnel. The harsh conditions of confinement with its consequential restrictions on personal freedom, created an environment not only physically confining, but also emotionally and psychologically taxing for those ensnared by the ramifications of Executive Order 9066.

To clarify the wartime experiences of the Japanese population on the West Coast, the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) released a brochure that rectifies commonly used euphemisms employed to describe the actions of the U.S. government. Refer to the table listed at the end of the article showing the left alongside more accurate descriptions on the right.

Executive order 9066 Paper

The forced removal had devastating effects on Japanese and Japanese American families. Many faced economic hardships, including lost homes, businesses, and livelihoods. The disruption also strained family ties, the traditional social structure was upended. The loss of personal freedom and dignity in the camps left lasting emotional scars on those who endured this injustice.

The incarceration of Japanese and Japanese Americans under Executive Order 9066 represented a severe violation of civil rights. Despite the majority of those incarcerated being  American citizens, their only crime was their ancestry. Executive Order 9066 reflected a climate of fear and prejudice that ignored the principles of due process and equal protection under the law, bedrocks of the American system of justice. 

In the years following World War II, the policy faced legal challenges. Although Korematsu v. United States (1944) upheld the constitutionality of the incarceration, subsequent investigations revealed that the government had withheld crucial evidence from the Supreme Court, casting doubt on the decision. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act, formally apologizing for the incarceration and providing reparations to surviving Japanese American internees.

The legacy of Executive Order 9066 remains a significant chapter in American history, prompting reflection on the fragility of civil liberties during times of crisis. The incarceration experience serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of fear and prejudice, and the importance of safeguarding the rights of all citizens, regardless of their background. The Japanese American community continues to educate regarding this dark period through pilgrimages to former camps, initiatives, memorials, and various efforts to ensure that such injustices are never repeated.

Executive Order 9066 stands as a stark reminder of the impact fear, prejudice, and wartime hysteria can have on the fundamental rights of citizens. The forced relocation and incarceration of Japanese and Japanese Americans during World War II had profound and enduring effects on the individuals and communities affected. While the formal apology and reparations provided in 1988 acknowledged the injustice, it serves as a solemn reminder of the importance of upholding civil liberties, even in challenging times.


Created from Ishizuka’s list, (Ishizuka, 2006, p. 72, Lost and Found: Reclaiming the Japanese American Incarceration. Urbana & Chicago: University of Illinois Press), the following table summarizes the various euphemistic terms and their more accurate counterparts.




Exclusion or forced removal


Incarceration in camps; also used after release from camps


U.S. citizens of Japanese ancestry

Civilian exclusion orders

Detention orders

Any or all persons

Primarily people of Japanese ancestry

May be excluded

Forcibly evicted from one’s home

Native American aliens

Renunciants, or citizens who, under pressure, renounced U.S. citizenship.

Assembly center

Temporary detention facility

Relocation Center

American concentration camp, incarceration camp, illegal detention center. Inmates held were referred to as incarcerees.

Internment center

Reserve for DOJ or Army camp holding alien enemies under Alien Enemies Act 1798.


National JACL Power of Words II Committee. Power of Words Handbook: Euphemisms and Preferred Terminology. Japanese American Citizens League, (April 2013) 14.


Works Cited

Whaley, Lori Tsugawa. Let the Samurai Be Your Guide: The Seven Bushido Pathways to Personal Success. Tuttle Publishing, 2020.

“A controversial executive order leads to internment camps | Constitution Center.” The National Constitution Center, 19 February 2023, Accessed 1 February 2024.

“JACL on 80 Years Since Executive Order 9066 — JACL.” Japanese American Citizens League, 18 February 2022, Accessed 1 February 2024.

Meller, Arica. “The Internment and Relocation of Japanese-Americans.” The Internment and Relocation of Japanese-Americans, vol. 5, 2002, p. 6. Accessed 1 February 2021.

Taylor, Nicholas. “he American Public’s Reaction to the Japanese American The American Public’s Reaction to the Japanese American Internment.” he American Public’s Reaction to the Japanese American The American Public’s Reaction to the Japanese American Internment, vol. 1, no. 1, 2020, p. 15. West Virginia University, Accessed 1 February 2024.


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