Framing Fear

The forced relocation and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II was prompted by sensationalized government fear of Axis threat within the nation's borders. With the enactment of Executive Order #9066 and the authorization of the Department of War's prescription of military zones, the U.S. government justified the removal of Japanese American peoples from communities along the West Coast and their placement in internment camps between 1942 and 1945.

Before understanding the scope and influence of Japanese internment, it is critical to first understand the intentions of the operation's mastermind: the U.S. government. The internment of Japanese Americans during World War II was in many ways a social experiment. In addition to its attempt to protect the American public from the potential threats of "disloyal" Japanese persons living in the U.S., the government used the interment as a means to Americanize and in some ways, gain the loyalty of the Japanese Americans. This clash of intentions is clear in the examination of governance within the camps as well as the government's portrayal of internment to the American public.

Framing Fear examines government notions and attitudes toward Japanese internment. The sources and their curation in this section demonstrate the tension between the government's efforts to "Americanize" the so-called threatening population and its legacy of stripping individuals of basic civil liberties and personal autonomy. 

Yakahari, a Recruit
Mitsuma Yakahari, a 21 year-old interned Japananse-American man, is signing documents to enlist in the U.S Army.
Granada City Politics
An army recruiter and a member of city council speak to internees about the ways they can contribute to America's war effort at Granada Relocation Center in Amache, Colorado.





As director of the WRA, Director Dillon Meyer meticulously  surveyed the influence of Americanization efforts within the camps. Summarizing an interim report from Special Agent Gurnea who was touring and surveying the authority at internment centers, Meyer wrote the following to J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation:

"They are split into two schools of thought, one made up of economists who want to administer the camps on an economic basis, and the other made up of social service workers who are always concerned about the welfare of the Japanese. Mr. Gurnea stated that in some of the centers this division of thought has led almost to strife in the administration [of internment camps]."

Life at a Japanese internment camp was comparable to the life of a prisoner behind bars. Families of internees were cramped into small spaces without insulation and joined a larger block of fellow internees, sharing dining and washing facilities with hundreds of other Japanese Americans. Camps were surrounded by barbed wire fences and guard towers. Although internment naturally robbed Japanese Americans of personal autonomy, the WRA permitted internees to establish a form of self-governance. Elected interned leaders worked with WRA supervisors to help run day-to-day operations at the camp and plan programming for thousands of inmates. Although this measure permitted some degree of autonomy for internees, the WRA hoped that the encouragement of self-governance would supplement the WRA's mission of assimilation. According to officials like Meyer, efforts to Americanize Japanese persons would enable internees to blend into white American society after the war. Only Nissei internees were eligible to run for office.

 Another effort to Americanize within internment camps was the mass recruitment of Japanese Americans into U.S. military forces. Recruitment officers from the Army, Navy and Marines were to determine the loyalty of internees prior to authorizing his or her recruitment. More than 3,500 Japanese Americans joined the armed forces directly from internment camps in addition to more than 20,000 people of Japanese ancestry living outside of relocation zones


At the peak of wartime frenzy, the U.S. acted desperately to prevent another deadly attack, particularly on the mainland. The potential threats of disloyal Japanese Americans, the competition and integirty of farming on the Pacific coast and an unassimilated population were used to rationalize the internment of more than 120,000 people. Stripping an entire population of basic autonomy and fundamental civil liberties clashed with the WRA's efforts to Americanize Nissei and Issei persons.

Framing Fear