The shock of Pearl Harbor and subsequent Japanese advances and atrocities in the Philippines fueled already tense race relations. In the face of political, military, and public pressure, Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 that resulted in the internment of Japanese Americans. 

The removal—which the government termed an “evacuation”—began in March 1942. Eventually, approximately 110,000 individuals were transported to government camps in remote inland areas. Nearly all those incarcerated there were from the West Coast, but smaller numbers came from Hawaii and Alaska and others were later born in the camps. The total number of people confined was approximately 120,000. Roughly two-thirds were American citizens.

President Franklin Roosevelt

In his speech to Congress, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (a Democrat) declared that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, was “a date which will live in infamy.” The attack launched the United States fully into the two theaters of World War II – Europe and the Pacific. Prior to Pearl Harbor, the United States had been involved in a non-combat role, through the Lend-Lease Program that supplied England, China, Russia, and other anti-fascist countries of Europe with munitions.

The attack on Pearl Harbor also launched a rash of fear about national security, especially on the West Coast. In February 1942, just two months later, President Roosevelt, as commander-in-chief, issued Executive Order 9066 that resulted in the internment of Japanese Americans. The order authorized the Secretary of War and military commanders to evacuate all persons deemed a threat from the West Coast to internment camps, that the government called “relocation centers,” further inland.

John DeWitt

Wartime commanding general of the Western Defense Command and the Fourth Army. As head of the Western Defense Command, John L. DeWitt (1880–1962) has often been cast as one the primary villains in the drama leading up to the mass forced removal and detention of Japanese Americans from the West Coast. John Lesesne DeWitt was born at Fort Sidney, Nebraska, to a military family and raised at various army posts. His father, Calvin DeWitt, was a former Civil War infantry captain and a Princeton graduate, and his brothers Calvin, Jr. and Wallace were also generals. He left Princeton in 1898 to enlist in the Spanish-American War and followed it with the first of four tours of duty in the Philippines in 1899. It is unknown whether he was a Democrat or Republican.