Illinois at War, 1941-1945
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives

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December 6, 1943


When the war broke out Americans were stunned by the swiftness of the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor and by the enemy's rapid and successful aggression in the Philippines and elsewhere in the Far East. Especially those Americans living along the West Coast believed themselves vulnerable to Japanese attack. Wartime hysteria combined with long held racial prejudice made the Japanese-American community the subject of fear and distrust for many of those residing in California, Oregon, and Washington.

President Roosevelt issued an executive order on February 19, 1942 which provided the mechanism for relocation. Some 110,000 Japanese-Americans, two thirds of whom were U.S. citizens, first were confined in temporary quarters in various fairgrounds, race tracks, and athletic stadiums. They then were transported to ten separate relocation camps in remote portions of Arizona, California, Utah, Washington, Idaho, and Arkansas. These benign concentration camps were surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by armed soldiers.

Soon it became apparent that the large majority of those interned were loyal Americans who could serve both themselves and their country better by actively participating in their nation's affairs. Many young Japanese-American men volunteered and were enrolled in the army where they formed special units. They made excellent soldiers and were decorated highly for their service in Europe. Quietly beginning in mid-1942 other Japanese-Americans who had been certified as loyal were again resettled, this time into mainstream society in the East and Midwest. In Chicago alone approximately 20,000 were placed.

The Tule Lake Relocation Camp was located in northeastern California. It was the designated center for those Japanese-Americans who refused to pledge allegiance to the United States for whichever reasons. But the camp included also many of those who did swear their fidelity and this group made up the majority of residents. A small riot erupted at this site on November 4, 1943 when a group of young dissidents beat up several government employees and set small fires. An army unit was dispatched quickly and it soon put down the disturbances. Newspapers and radio broadcasts highlighted the incident and this caused public outrage.

Points to Consider

Why were Japanese-Americans relocated during WWII?

Why was this apparent violation of constitutional rights tolerated?

If Japanese-American detainees certified as being loyal were resettled in the Midwest as early as mid-1942, why was the Illinois governor's office only made aware of this fact in late 1943?

Why were German-Americans and Italian-Americans not relocated?

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