There were a number of Japanese-Americans who were discovered to be working for Japanese military intelligence in Hawaii and on the West Coast, but not many. Certainly there was nothing that can, in retrospect, justify the internment of thousands of Japanese and Japanese-Americans. There were intelligence-gathering operations and espionage agents both, with the agents divided between those in contact with Japanese embassies and those who had no contact with officials of Japan. Some were naval officers, and were inportant in gathering information about Pearl Harbor in the year before the attack.
At the time, it seemed reasonable to the government that there could have been as many as the 3,500 that were suspected, although that seems very unlikely in the rear-view mirror of time. The really disturbing thing is the concept that we put Japanese-Americans into what were, essentially, concentration camps, although of course they were not subjected to the kind of treatment Nazi camps meted out to their inmates.
German-Americans were not treated the same way, and racism was obviously a part of this. But there were other reasons, one being that there were simply too many Americans of German descent to concentrate into controlled locations. Another was that the military's intelligence officers and those from Britain operating in America wanted to keep some German agents active so their contacts and secret cell members could be discovered and either arrested, fed false information, or turned into double agents. The FBI was sometimes a problem for this operation, as they tended to arrest all German agents they found to feed J. Edgar Hoover's propaganda machine.
But there seems no doubt that the fear of the "Yellow Peril" was a major component of what led American politicians on the West Coast to essentially demand this kind of overreaction, and the readiness of the military and government to comply.
In order to understand the reason for the internment of the Japanese, you have to know a bit about World War II. Japan and Germany were allies, both fighting on the same side against England, France, and several other countries. As the war began, the United States had not yet joined in. But on December 7, 1941 the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, which was American territory even though it was not yet a state. With this attack, Japan automatically became our enemy, and the United States entered the war.
At this time, many Japanese people lived on the west coast of the United States. They worked hard, bought land, had children, got educations, and became citizens. They paid taxes and voted, just like other Americans. There were two problems, though. First, their country of origin, Japan, attacked the United States, and second, they were another race, and people then, as now, were sometimes prejudiced.
The United States government feared that Japanese people might be spies for Japan, and they took their land and placed them in camps, essentially ruining their lives without any evidence that any of them were spies.
Since the government did not take similar steps against German-Americans, it is reasonable to conclude that the internment was a result of prejudice against people of Asian origin.
That the government did this, without any evidence, is disgraceful and since that time, the government has formally apologized and made reparations to the people harmed or to their descendants. But this is not an episode in American history that we can be proud of.
I hope this helps you. Good luck.
All of the above answers are factually correct and well written.
Please remember that the American sentiment against the Japanese who attacked Pearl Harbor was that of unmitigated anger, shock, and rage. War hysteria took over the country.
While the Japanese were placed in Internment camps, lost their property, and business ventures. Many were paid far less than the actual worth of the property that they were forced to sell due to the 48 hour notice they were given before evacutation. They were not murdered in the streets.
It is possible, by conjecture, to think that FDR used the camps as a way to protect the Japanese-Americans from the rage that the regular citizens of the United States felt toward the Japanese who attacked Pearl Harbor.
While the Internment camp idea is very much like the Nazi concentration camp, the Japanese were not subjected to the harsh slave-labor or starvation conditions that the inmates of Dacchau or Auschwitz were subjected to. Japanese housed in internment camps were asked to take a "loyalty oath" to the United States. Those that refused were relocated to a different Internment camp in the California Rocky Mountains.
It was a sad chapter in American history that Japanese Americans were removed from society on the suspicion that they might be spys. But, in many ways, they were spared the violence that may have occurred against them if they were not kept away from the "mainstream" of society during the War Hysteria that swept the country.
Executive Order #9066 was issued by F.D.R. in February of 1942 exercizing his executive wartime power to isolate specific ethnic groups in internment camps that 'have the potential' of posing a threat to the war effort. The War Relocation Authority used the F.B.I. to collect thousands of Japanese-Americans (Nisei) and send them to various camps in Arizona, Utah and Arkansas. There is no doubt that after Pearl Harbor the Japanese Americans were subjected to harsh and cruel discrimination. Executive order #9066 was definitely issued in response to these anti-Japanese sentiments motivated by fear. This action resulted in the denial of Due Process for many Americans, a violation of the 14th Amendment. In 1944 the actions under the federal government were upheld in Korematsu v. The United States,the Supreme Court citing Schenck v. The United States as precedent. It wasn't until 1988 that the U.S. government officially apologized for its actions and compensated the living survivors $20,000 in reparations.
I have a great book for you to read that gives a great account of these camps yet in a novel type format. It is by Sandra Dallas called Tallgrass. FDR established these camps, that imprisoned many innocent Japanese during World War 2, in response to the Pearl Harbor disaster and the belief that there were Japanese in the United States that to Japan. Feelings of distrust by Americans toward any Japanese became common and these camps were a way to isolate them from the public. Fear among Americans fueled much discrimination and it did not matter how loyal an American Japanese was, they were simply imprisoned because of their race. After many years the government realized how wrong this was and have since reimbursed a small amount of money to the victims of this unfair act.
Racism against Asian-Americans living on the west coast of the United States dates back to - the arrival of Asian-Americans in the United States. From anti-immigrant, anti-Chinese legislation to anti-Japanese sentiment in the 1920s and during World War II, the internment of these citizens was just the latest in a long series of discrimination and hardships against this segment of our own population. Pearl Harbor merely intensified existing feelings of racism.
The primary reason for the establishment of the Japanese internment camps and the forced population of them by Japanese-Americans was xenophobia, pure and simple. After Pearl Harbor, there was intense fear of anyone who appeared to be Japanese, regardless of whether that person was an immigrant or a native-born Asian-American.
There have been some comments about the fact that the German-Americans were not interned during WWII like the Japanese-Americans were. According to the German American Internee Coalition, German-Americans were interned and the last one was released from internment in 1948. The GAIC has a website if you are interested in their information. http://www.gaic.info/
The internment of 112,000 Japanese-Americans or all ethnic Japanese, who were American citizens, was enforced through the passing of Executive Order 9066. Japanese communities in the US were evacuated under the presidential order and forcefully moved to places in the interior. This was presented as an essential policy needed to maintain national security, since these Japanese-Americans were viewed as possible sources of espionage and infiltration. No evidence was however presented to support such a claim. In reality, the White House seemed to have been motivated by the fact that these Japanese citizens faced the possibility of being lynched to death by non-Japanese White males - the policy thus served more as a form of protection, rather than persecution. Nevertheless, these people were denied their rights as American citizens in a botched attempt by the state to protect them. This highlighted how a society that was far away from the war front and as strong as the US could still be psychologically transformed by extreme circumstances perpetuated by an "exotic" other and gross racism.