Japanese Internment During WWII and Post-Internment Housing Discrimination


Every minority group in the United States of America has a characteristic history that is intricately linked to the nation’s history. These include famous examples such as the history of the African Americans who are a result of the slave trade, the Europeans who migrated to the US following turmoil and persecution in Europe during the dark ages, and the red Indians, who are considered the indigenous inhabitants of the US. The World War II period became the darkest time for individuals of Japanese ancestry who resided in the US at the time (Densho, 2021).

Although many of them fashioned themselves to be Americans by every right, this particular demographic found itself on the receiving end as they became the unintended casualties of the ensuing war between the US and Japan. This paper takes an in-depth consideration of the history of Japanese Americans by evaluating the most famous thing about their presence and experience in America; the Japanese-American conflict of World War II. In this regard, therefore, the focus of this discussion will be to demonstrate the injustice and suffering that the Japanese Americans suffered following the internment during the war and the subsequent discrimination whereby they were subjected to various forms of housing discrimination.

The Internment

The Japanese internment refers to relocating and incarcerating the Japanese Americans by force following the famous Pearl Harbor attack that was orchestrated by the nation of Japan. The majority of the Japanese Americans onto whom these atrocities were visited resided on the country’s Pacific coast at the time. However, more than 120,000 of them forcefully arrested and moved to the western interior region of the country, where they were in turn held in multiple concentration camps (Nagata & Patel, 2021). These severe actions resulted from a direct order by the then president, Franklin D Roosevelt, who issued the decree immediately after the Pearl Harbor attack.

Why the Internment Was Undemocratic and Illegal

Even before World War II and the subsequent exaltation of America alongside other victors of the complete, The United States of America was often heralded as the beacon of democracy and protection of human rights. However, the internment of the Japanese Americans became a glaring blot on this legacy and reputation as it violated several principles of American democracy. First, it is necessary to contextualize the actions of the government at the time. To justify its activities, the Roosevelt administration began by classifying the exercise as a “military necessity.” This classification was informed that Japan was the primary foe of the US at the time. As a result, the Japanese Americans were considered a security threat for the mere fact of being of Japanese ancestry. The subsequent disregard and blatant abuse of their rights and freedoms were justified as necessary for national security purposes.

The first affront to democracy is evident as the government, under the guise of national security, went against the human rights clause in the constitution, which unequivocally provides that all Americans are deserving of the protection of their fundamental human rights regardless of their descent. The illegality of this action is demonstrated by the fact that the decision was premised on a fallacy and not any concrete reason.

First, it is essential to note that before this action of relocating the Japanese Americans, there had not been a single instance of a severe security threat that was orchestrated or linked to the Japanese American population (Aitken & Aitken, 2011). Secondly, this population was legally categorized in the bracket of American citizens and taxpayers, and they always undertook their civil duties and responsibilities as American citizens. Consequently, they were entitled to fundamental constitutionally guaranteed freedoms such as the freedom of association and assembly. Therefore, having this understanding, it is evident that President Roosevelt’s ‘Executive Order 9066’ that was based on the generalization of all Americans of Japanese descent as threats to national security was a direct contravention of the human rights clause of the American Constitution.

The unconstitutionality of this government action was proven in retrospect following the findings of the “Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians.” The commission, established by President Carter, was tasked with establishing whether or not the government’s targeting of a population of a single ancestry during the war was an overstep. Accordingly, the commission set that the government’s actions at the time were not objective (Rolle & Verge, 2014). The targeting of the Japanese Americans in only one region while disregarding those residing in other parts of the country was found to have had no concrete and justifiable premise. Additionally, it is a fact that the government could not, at the time, and even later, provide substantial evidence of instances where the Japanese American population that was subjected to internment had been disloyal. The government’s targeting of a population of a single ancestry was found to have been discriminatory since the nation also had other foes, such as the Germans. Yet, no similar harsh actions were considered or taken against the Americans of German origin.

The commission also found that the internment policy had been contrary to another provision of the constitution. This finding was based on the fact that in the execution of the order, the subjects were not provided with sufficient communication regarding the impending government action. This action by the government was against the constitutional provision, which documents that all American citizens are entitled to receiving timely information regarding any action to be taken by the state against them and the reasons for such action. Such information should be provided before the actualization of the intended actions. Since the Japanese Americans were not provided with any data concerning their internment but were instead forcefully apprehended and committed to concentration camps, they were denied the opportunity to continue with nation-building, another critical element on which the American democracy is founded.

The state in which the Japanese Americans were kept at the concentration camps is another element that demonstrates the unconstitutionality of the policy. In many of the concentration camps, the facilities there lacked basic amenities such as medical facilities that would be necessary for human survival. This absence of basic social facilities was in spite of the fact that the populations that were relocated to the sites constituted persons of all ages, with all of them having different needs. This blatant denial of access to basic human needs was a significant complication of the government’s already adverse state of denying citizens their rights to the association as it effectively denied them access to social services, all based on a biased internment policy.

The internment policy was also an attack on the Japanese culture and heritage. This factor is most evident when one examines the status of the relocation centers in which the Japanese Americans were committed. For example, the internment centers were not designed per the architectural designs and depictions of the Japanese culture with which the people identified with. Therefore, the kind of settlements in which they found themselves did not provide them with a unique identity, as was the case before their internment. As a result, most of them felt disenfranchised and alienated from their cultural identities, yet they had done nothing to warrant such an affront on their culture and livelihoods.

Historical Factors that Facilitated the Internment Policy

Despite the condemnation of the internment policy, it is essential to understand the historical dynamics that facilitated the contemplation and sanctioning of the internment policy seemingly unamerican. The first aspect in this regard would be the political dynamics of the period. At the time, imperial Japan was considered one of the most powerful nations in the world. Hence America was right in taking the threat posed by Japan with the highest sense of seriousness. According to historians, Japan was at the time a military powerhouse that had enjoyed very rapid success in military conquests as it had conquered vast parts of Asia-Pacific.

Therefore, the attack on Pearl Harbor struck stroke fear in the American leadership as they feared potential conquest by the seemingly unstoppable Imperial Japan. Thus, according to many of them, it was necessary to take rapid action to prevent domination. This fear led to the leadership being uncertain of the loyalty of the Japanese Americans and caused some politicians while defending the internment policy to declare that being American citizens was not a guarantee for a commitment since the population in question was still Japanese and Japan and everything Japanese ought to have been considered an enemy. For example, this excerpt of the statement by the internment program administrator summarizes the leadership’s thinking. He said, “I don’t want any of them [persons of Japanese ancestry] here. They are a dangerous element. There is no way to determine their loyalty… It makes no difference whether he is an American citizen; he is still Japanese.

American citizenship does not necessarily determine loyalty… But we must worry about the Japanese all the time until he has wiped off the map” (Mullen, 1943). However, the United States of America had other similarly powerful enemies in the likes of Hitler-led Germany. This consideration, therefore, raises the question of why the Japanese Americans were the ones singled out for the discriminative policy. Accordingly, a keen look at history would demonstrate that a fear informed America’s tough actions of potential disloyalty from the Japanese Americans. The obvious consideration of imperial Japan as a significantly powerful military nation meant that the prospects of Japanese Americans pledging loyalty to Japan by considering it the most likely victor in the conflict were real.

Secondly, there was the Niihau Incident that compounded the loyalty problem. This incident occurred in Niihau island, whereby three Japanese Americans forcefully released a captured soldier belonging to the Japanese military. Therefore, a reflection upon this incident caused many to believe that the Japanese Americans would either aid the Japanese or sympathetic to them under sharing a common ancestry with them.

Housing Discrimination

In addition to the ill of internment, the Japanese Americans suffered further still as they experienced the most incredible difficulty in housing. This problem persisted even after the internment had ended. The first housing crisis that hit the Japanese Americans was the abrupt loss of their housing and accommodation immediately after the announcement and commencement of the internment policy. Before internment, many Japanese Americans on the West Coast had made significant investments in the housing sector. Consequently, a substantial number of them owned property either as private homes or for commercial purposes such as renting out to clients. However, the Pearl Harbor attack and the subsequent declaration of the internment order brought chaos to the housing sector, with the Japanese Americans losing hugely in the crisis. Immediately, many of the businessmen disposed of their property at throw-away prices for fear of losing them entirely (Pearson, 2020). Others lost their homes as they were forcefully arrested and transported into the country’s interior to be held in the internment centers.

The housing discrimination against the Japanese did not end with the internment, however. Even after the internment had ended, Japanese Americans continued to encounter intense discrimination on housing matters. To begin with, the internment had led to the rise of several anti-Japanese groups that sprouted following the government order for internment. These groups continued terrorizing the Japanese Americans who returned to their initial areas of residence (Starr, 2007). The members of those anti-Japanese groups would, for example, raid the Japanese settlements and even torch them as a way of chasing them away. Additionally, most returning Japanese Americans struggled to find decent-paying jobs and therefore could not afford proper housing, especially considering that they had to rent premises for their residence upon return from the internment centers.


It is evident that the internment was not just an unfair treatment of the people of Japanese descent but was, in fact, a trampling of democracy and the fundamental human rights that are enshrined in the constitution of the United States as the very foundation of the American democracy. In retrospect, the actions of the officers and institutions that sanctioned and implemented the internment policy had no basis in law or any other statute to undertake the activities that they did. The suspension and grounding of their rights and freedoms in their own country without their consent disregarded the central role that Japanese Americans played as citizens who worked hard to build the nation and paid taxes just like every other American.

In addition to the injustices meted upon the Japanese by the Americans during the internment period, this demographic continued to suffer discrimination after release from the internment centers, with housing discrimination being the major one. They were discriminated against through outright bullying, denial of housing services, and the denial of work opportunities that would otherwise have fetched them income to afford better housing. The consequences of the discriminative internment policy coupled with the perpetual housing discrimination meant that the Japanese Americans could not enjoy the benefits of the post-war booming American economy, at least in the immediate period. These actions by the American government were truly undemocratic and unconstitutional. The acts of the Americans were inhuman and left the lives of the Japanese citizens devastated. Recovering from the ordeal took a long time and strength.


Aitken, R., & Aitken, M. (2011). Japanese American internment. Litigation, 37(2). Web.

Densho. (2021). Hearing about the bombing of Pearl Harbor: “I felt vulnerable” – Fred Shiosaki. Web.

Mullen, F. (1943). Dewitt attitude on Japs upsets plans: Many ready for return to coast. Watsonville Register-Pajaronian.

Nagata, D. K., & Patel, R. A. (2021). “Forever foreigners”: Intergenerational impacts of historical trauma from the World War II Japanese American incarceration. In P. Tummala-Narra (Ed.), Cultural, racial, and ethnic psychology. Trauma and racial minority immigrants: Turmoil, uncertainty, and resistance (p. 105–126). American Psychological Association.

Pearson, B. (2020). For Japanese-Americans, housing injustices outlived internment. The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. Web.

Rolle, A., & Verge, A. C. (2014). Wartime Setbacks and Gains. In California: A history. John Wiley & Sons. Web.

Starr, K. (2007) People of color: the beginning of the end for Jim Crow California. In California: A history. Random House Digital.

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