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Gallup Vault: WWII-Era Support for Japanese Internment

by Art Swift

In December 1942, a year after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and several months after Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast were subsequently "relocated" inland to U.S. detention camps, 48% of Americans believed the detainees should not be allowed to return to the Pacific coast after the war. Just 35% of Americans said they should be allowed to go back.

Americans' Views of Japanese Internment
Do you think the Japanese who were moved inland from the Pacific coast should be allowed to return to the Pacific coast when the war is over?
Yes No No opinion
% % %
December 1942 35 48 16

President Franklin Roosevelt signed an executive order to relocate nearly 120,000 Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast to internment camps during the war. Roosevelt's order forced those of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast to evacuate, regardless of their citizenship or their sympathies. This decision was driven by the fear that Japanese-Americans would be loyal to Japan and sabotage the U.S. war effort.

Gallup asked those who said Japanese-Americans should not be able to return to the Pacific coast a follow-up question: "What should be done with them?" Half (50%) believed they should be sent "back to Japan," and 13% said, "Put them out of this country." One in 10 Americans (10%) said to "leave them where they are -- under control."

Toward the end of the war, after the Supreme Court ruled in late 1944 that the incarceration of loyal Japanese-Americans was illegal, detainees began returning to the coast. The last internment camp closed in March 1946.

President Gerald Ford in 1976 formally terminated Roosevelt's executive order, calling the internment camps -- by then considered a blatant violation of civil liberties -- a "national mistake." In 1988, Congress awarded $20,000 in restitution to each camp survivor, with 73,000 people expected to eventually receive compensation.

These data can be found in Gallup Analytics.

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