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Behind Barbed Wire: Japanese Internment

Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor by Japan during World War II, the U.S. government moved swiftly to develop policies for the internment of Japanese Americans, primarily those living on the West Coast. Review the articles on the internment, including specific actions taken by the government, as well as on the Bill of Rights and due process, and then analyze the primary sources to explain how civil liberties of Japanese Americans were violated by these policies.

Clarifying Questions

  • What does "internment" mean?
  • Why were Japanese Americans interned during World War II?
  • What are civil liberties? Why are they important for American citizens?


  • Bill of Rights: The Bill of Rights, a document listing the first 10 amendments of the U.S. Constitution, was created to address concerns that the Constitution did not name specific rights of individuals.
  • civil liberties: Civil liberties are citizens' legal protection against the government. The Bill of Rights lists the civil liberties held by U.S. citizens.
  • due process: Due process, the broadest and most basic protection granted by the U.S. Constitution, prevents the government from wrongly depriving individuals of their life, liberty, or property.
  • Executive Order 9066: Executive Order 9066, a presidential order signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt on February 19, 1942, authorized the relocation and internment of tens of thousands of Japanese Americans during World War II.
  • Japanese internment: During World War II, tens of thousands of Japanese Americans were forced to leave their homes and detained in internment camps. Japanese internment occurred because the U.S. government and much of the public feared that Japanese Americans would undermine the U.S. war effort and assist the Japanese.
  • Nikkei: "Nikkei" refers to anyone of Japanese descent living abroad as citizens of other countries.

Background Information

During World War II, Japanese and Japanese American individuals and families were uprooted from their everyday lives and forced to move into internment camps—sometimes called relocation centers—that were located in the western states. The federal government's internment policy—codified under Executive Order 9066—took place in the aftermath of Japan's December 1941 attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The attack stirred many Americans' fear that people of Japanese descent living in the United States (especially on the West coast) might actually be loyal to Japan and working to undermine the U.S. war effort through acts of espionage and sabotage. The government's stated purpose of Japanese American internment was to remove "dangerous enemy aliens" from ordinary society, and many Americans at the time approved of the policy.

The internment experience forever changed the lives of Japanese Americans who suffered economic, social, and educational disruption, as well as psychological trauma. In the decades after the war, the internment policy has been widely recognized as unconstitutional because certain actions taken against Japanese Americans conflicted with protections of civil liberties guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. How did internment during World War II violate Japanese Americans' civil liberties?

MLA Citation

"Behind Barbed Wire: Japanese Internment." History Hub, ABC-CLIO, 2020, historyhub.abc-clio.com/Support/Display/2233282?cid=272. Accessed 20 Jan. 2020.

Entry ID: 2233282

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