When things went south with Japan during WWII, some Americans felt that people with Japanese roots could potentially sabotage allied war efforts. Accordingly, General John De Witt proposed to move all “Japanese” away from the Pacific coast. Franklin D. Roosevelt agreed and signed Executive Order 9066 on 19th Feb 1942. It meant that the 120,000 West Coasters with Japanese ancestry had to move eastbound. 10,000 found relatives and the like to stay with but the other 110,000 were brought to internment camps.

62 per cent of these people were American citizens and most the rest had been living in the US for 20 to 40 years. They could only keep the belongings they could carry; so they had to sell everything from their cars to their houses and businesses. They got between four days and two weeks to do so and, thus, often fetched poor prices.

The living conditions in the internment camps called “War Relocation Centers” were very modest with makeshift barracks, little privacy, limited resources to school the 30,000 detained children, etc. However, the guards mostly treated the internees fairly and the food rationing was equal to that of other Americans.

The Japanese Americans could only return to the Pacific Coast in 1945 when Japan had lost the war and the Supreme Court had decided it was against the constitution to detain people because of their ancestry (Dec 1944). Executive Order 9066 had been increasingly criticised since the 1960s and was ultimately appealed by President Gerald Ford in 1976. Nonetheless, it wasn’t until 1988 that the former internees were granted a compensation under the Civil Liberties Act.

Manzanar is the best-preserved internment camp for Japanese Americans. This is the memorial at the site. The inscription reads: “Monument to console the souls of the dead.”