The Journal of San Diego History
Winter 1972, Volume 18, Number 1
James E Moss, Editor


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The Japanese attack upon Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, presented the anti-Oriental forces on the West Coast with the opportunity to culminate over forty years of effort. For many years the anti-Japanese elements within California had worked for discriminating legislation against the Japanese. The crowning achievement of their efforts would be the total exclusion of the Japanese from the Pacific shore. The groups most responsible for the anti-Oriental activities in California were strongest in the northern part of the state. The organizations, however, were composed of the most influential citizens, so their activities affected not only the entire state but the nation as well.

In spite of the efforts of local Japanese-Americans to demonstrate their loyalty by actions such as enlistments, purchase of war bonds and eagerly turning in anything that might be considered contraband, anti-Japanese sentiment grew.

At first it was subtle, but the tempo and volume of anti-Japanese sentiment increased rapidly after the middle of January 1942, both in the San Diego area and throughout California. For example, on January 18, 1942, the state legislature passed a resolution urging the state personnel board to investigate the loyalty of the state employees of Japanese ancestry. The opponents of this measure, however, quickly retorted that such a proposition was discrimination and witch hunting.1 Then, on January 20, six weeks after the Pearl Harbor attack, the San Diego Union published its first editorial calling for the removal of the Japanese from the coastal area and in the process mistakenly pointed out the “treachery” of resident Japanese in Hawaii and the Philippines. The editorial also argued that the Nisei could not be Americanized. This editorial was accompanied by letters to the editor which called for the removal of the Japanese from the area.2

On January 22, 1942, federal officials closed the Japanese language school on Market Street in San Diego. In reporting the story one local newspaper saw fit to mention that the school had a picture of a Japanese aircraft carrier on the wall. The fear of a Japanese invasion assisted by local Japanese was reaching the state of credibility in the minds of many people. Moreover, the San Diego Union reported that one Randolph Leigh had stated that Japanese fishermen in the Gulf of California were a serious threat because the Baja peninsula could shelter aviation and naval bases from which the Japanese could strike at San Diego, Los Angeles and Boulder Dam.3 The fear of many Californians was compounded by erroneous reports from recent evacuees from Hawaii who stated that the Japanese in the Islands had moved into Caucasian homes on December 7, 1941, and had assisted the attack by espionage.4

Late in January, Attorney General Earl Warren called together the sheriffs and district attorneys of California to begin an investigation of Japanese land holdings to determine if the Alien Land Law was being violated. The San Diego Union‘s response was one of praise. The month ended with another editorial urging the removal of the Japanese from the area.5 Moreover, on January 31, Earl Warren warned all Japanese secret societies to register at once and announced that an investigation of land holdings was under way. At the same time Governor Culbert L. Olson sought approval to revoke all professional and business licenses of enemy aliens and citizens holding dual citizenship.6

While state and federal officials were acting to protect the citizenry from the alleged enemy from within, and the San Diego press was doing its best to convince the public of the imminent danger from local Japanese, local officials acted to bring about the removal of the Japanese from the area. At the regular meeting of the city council on January 21, 1942, Councilman Fred W. Simpson of San Diego introduced and read a letter he had written pertaining to the disposition of enemy aliens in San Diego. The council transformed the letter into a resolution which was sent to the local FBI office. The resolution noted the number of enemy aliens in San Diego, especially Japanese, and argued that their continued presence was inimical to the best interests of the area. The council, therefore, urged their removal because of “known” subversive elements among them.7 Councilman Simpson related that he had received numerous phone calls asking that he propose such a resolution. As Mexico had already moved all of her Japanese inland, he believed that the federal government should act immediately.8 In response to this resolution, H. Nathan, special agent in charge of the San Diego office of the FBI, informed the council that the United States Attorney General was responsible for such action. But he did forward the resolution to the FBI in Washington for transmission to the Attorney General, although, apparently, Nathan made no attempt to gather additional information about the so-called “known” subversives.9

The residents of San Diego were becoming very concerned about the Japanese in the area. On February 6, 1942, the city council received a letter from R. L. Fairbank, whose prejudice transcended his knowledge. “Are we ever to really prepare ourselves for war or are we to continue the part childish ways indefinitely?” Fairbank asked indignantly.

I favor taking all Japanese inland to Montana, Wyoming or the Dakotas where the farmers will need help badly this summer and spring. We will have to bear another catastrophe before we awake to the fact that they will stop at nothing, that as a nation they have no
Christian morality, no honor, sympathy, no human feeling for other humans. The present methods being employed seem to me the feeble efforts of a degenerate people.10

Moreover, in February the National City Defense Council passed a resolution which stated that local Japanese hampered defense of the area. The resolution stated that the federal government’s removal and incarceration of Japanese aliens proved that they were dangerous. The National City group also argued that removal of the Japanese from coastal and military areas concentrated them in adjacent areas where they could commit sabotage and impede defense efforts. Therefore, they urged that the alien Japanese and their families be moved 100 miles inland.11

Mayor Frederick J. Thatcher of National City sent a copy of this resolution, accompanied by a personal letter, to every city in the county and to representatives in Washington, D.C. He urged that every city adopt a similar resolution. The La Mesa City Council filed the resolution without action. The officials of Chula Vista also took no action because they believed that the government had taken the necessary steps to remove all enemy aliens.12 The League of California Cities also urged all of its members to pass similar resolutions.13 And President Franklin D. Roosevelt received a letter from the West Coast congressional delegation on February 13, 1942, urging the removal of all Japanese from all strategic areas, which included the states of California, Oregon, Washington, and the Territory of Alaska.14

General John L. DeWitt, west coast military commander, recommended evacuation on February 14, 1942. Observing that “the Japanese race is an enemy race . . . that along the vital Pacific Coast over 112,000 potential enemies, of Japanese extraction, are at large today,” DeWitt concluded with the kind of logic that was becoming all too common; “the very fact that no sabotage has taken place to date,” the general predicted, “is a disturbing and confirming indication that such action will be taken.”15 The result of General DeWitt’s recommendation was the issuance of a presidential order on February 19, 1942, allowing military commanders to establish military areas and exclude people from them. On March 1, 1942, DeWitt established military areas in California and excluded all people of Japanese descent, both aliens and citizens, from Military Area No. 1. The exclusion urged voluntary evacuation.16

The basis for the exclusion was “military necessity,” DeWitt explained, but the facts belie this. In his Final Report, DeWitt maintained that ship-to-shore communication had led to the sinking of American ships. But on February 9, 1942, J. Edgar Hoover denied the existence of any information showing ship-to-shore communication. James L. Ely, Chairman of the F.C.C., on February 26, 1942 (two weeks after DeWitt’s recommendation to evacuate), reported that army equipment and personnel were inadequate to handle radio intelligence properly. General DeWitt also alleged that 60,000 rounds of ammunition and many guns and maps were found in one raid by the FBI. He failed to mention that a truckload of ammunition and arms had come from a sporting goods store operated by a Japanese alien and from a warehouse of the owner of a general store. In contrast, torpedoing of ships on the East Coast was more constant and menacing than on the West Coast, but no move was made to intern all German or Italian aliens and their families.17

On February 21, 1942, the Tolan Committee of the United States House of Representatives began hearings to determine the “need” for mass evacuation. The committee met in California and heard testimony from public officials, private groups and citizens. Earl Warren, Attorney General of California, reported to the Tolan Committee, or Select Committee Investigating National Defense Migration, that farms operated by Japanese were located in strategic areas near military camps, airfields, telephone and power lines and oil fields. He suggested that this was more than coincidence. An editorial of March 6, 1942, in the San Diego Union argued along similar lines. The Tolan Committee report pointed out, however, that, “the main geographic pattern of Japanese population in California was pretty well fixed by 1910.”18 In other words, the Japanese farms existed prior to the location of military camps, oil wells and other strategic elements, but the Committee’s task was to justify the need for the evacuation already under way.

Attorney General Warren, whose thinking in this instance paralleled General DeWitt’s, also testified that sabotage by resident Japanese must be imminent because none had yet occurred. He also agreed with Governor Olson that the Japanese would not report the subversive activities of other Japanese because none had been reported thus far.19 He evidently did not consider the fact that none had taken place.

The Tolan Committee cited the example of Hawaii and alleged sabotage there as one of the reasons for evacuation, apparently ignoring all evidence in the process. For example, Representative Sam King, W. A. Gabrielson (Chief of Police in Honolulu), prominent citizens of Honolulu, the Citizens Council of Honolulu, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of Navy Frank Knox and J. Edgar Hoover all stated that there was no sabotage at Pearl Harbor before, during or after the Japanese attack.20

Not everyone who testified before the Tolan Committee agreed with the decision to evacuate. Clarence E. Rust, an Oakland attorney, Mike Masaoka of the Japanese American Citizens League and Esther S. Boyd, a Washington University student, maintained that the primary reason for the evacuation order was economic. Miss Boyd quoted a farmer to the effect that “the white farmer would have more land and more water if he could get rid of the Japanese and he could demand higher prices for his farm produce.”21 Others who expressed opposition to the evacuation were the Puget Sound Chapter of American Association of Social Workers, various religious leaders, the California State Congress of Industrial Organizations, Dr. Eric C. Bellquist of the University of California and Harry P. Cain, Mayor of Tacoma, Washington.22

The actions on the local scene were part and parcel of actions throughout the state. Led by the traditional anti-Japanese forces, the exclusionists were determined to remove the Japanese from California. By encouraging local participation they could better argue to federal officials that the majority of people agreed. On March 9, 1942, however, the Office of Facts and Figures circulated a confidential report among government officials. The office had conducted a poll which revealed that less than one-half of the people interviewed outside of southern California favored the internment of Japanese aliens and only 14 per cent favored the internment of U.S. citizens of Japanese ancestry.23

Yet the discriminatory campaign was achieving results. Early in March the Board of Supervisors of San Diego County passed a resolution urging internment of the Japanese on the grounds that Japanese residents had aided the attackers at Pearl Harbor, that more Japanese lived on the West Coast than in the rest of the United States combined, that one could not distinguish a loyal from a disloyal Japanese, that California produced essential products, that it was unsafe for the Japanese here and that the Japanese from British Columbia and Mexico had been removed from the coast line. The facts were, of course, that no Japanese residents of Hawaii were involved in fifth column activities. It was also impossible to tell a loyal from a disloyal Italian or German (although the Tolan Committee maintained that removal of all German and Italian aliens was unthinkable because “place of birth and technical noncitizenship alone provided no decisive criteria for assessing the alignment of loyalties in this world-wide conflict”); and there were only thirty-six cases of violence against the Japanese between December 8, 1941, and March 31, 1942, on the whole western seaboard.24 This resolution passed by the San Diego Supervisors was an exact copy of the resolution urged by the County Supervisors Association of California. In passing, it is interesting to note that in February 1943, Morton Grodzins, author of Americans Betrayed, wrote to the Board of Supervisors asking if it had taken any action in regard to Japanese evacuation and resettlement. After passing Grodzins’ letter around to different departments, the Board of Supervisors instructed County Clerk J. B. McLees to notify Grodzins that the Board had adopted no ordinances, resolutions, etc., relative to this matter.25 For some reason the Board was being modest.

Some private organizations were also increasingly anxious to remove the Japanese from the area. On March 16, 1942, the Fallbrook Grange No. 614 sent a resolution to the San Diego Board of Supervisors asking for immediate removal of the Japanese from San Diego County. The Grange also offered its services, as far as possible, to replace the loss of crops caused by the removal of the Japanese. About the same time, the California Department of the American Legion urged that the Japanese be interned for the duration of the war.26

General DeWitt established Military Area No. 1 as the western half of the Pacific states on March 2, 1942, and the Japanese in that area were to evacuate the area voluntarily. Early in March, DeWitt and representatives of federal agencies met to discuss the disposition of property of the evacuees. It was decided that federal custodians, appointed through county U.S. Department of Agriculture War Boards, would handle the transfer properties. The authorities stated that persons should not dispose of their property unless they received full value. DeWitt also announced that Japanese farmers, aliens or citizens, who plowed under their crops would be arrested and prosecuted as saboteurs.27

The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco was appointed to assist the Japanese in bringing about a fair liquidation of properties, including crops. The bank would not take title to the property but could exercise power of attorney. The officials stressed liquidation, however. Most of the land owned by the Japanese was agricultural. Some did sell their land because they were frightened and did not know what to expect. The prices they received were ridiculously low.28 Because voluntary evacuation was not a simple process and because the Japanese were aware of anti-Japanese sentiment in other states, they did not rush into moving. To help offset some of the discrimination elsewhere, the local Japanese American Association requested Conrad C. Cooper of La Mesa to assist with the relocation to Utah. The Association chose Cooper because he owned a large service station in El Cajon and many of the local Japanese traded with him. He also had lived in Utah at one time. Cooper requested that the Board of Supervisors supply him with some kind of identification stating that he was attempting to help the Japanese of this area voluntarily relocate in Utah. The Supervisors issued Cooper the necessary papers.29

Public Proclamation No. 4, issued March 27, 1942, stated that all persons of Japanese ancestry were permitted to change their residence. The reason for ending voluntary migration was that few Japanese were relocating and those that were ran into hostilities in the states to which they moved. Most of the governors of western states had already expressed opposition to the resettlement of the Japanese in their states unless they were put into concentration camps. The sugar beet growers of the mountain states did indicate they would employ enemy aliens for short terms if kept under close supervision. They said nothing about wages30 but the prevailing rate for prisoners of war was ten cents an hour.

The anti-Japanese forces led by the Native Sons of the Golden West, the American Legion, and prominent Californians such as Attorney General Earl Warren and Congressman Leland Ford had achieved their goal. The Japanese were going to be incarcerated. Lower government officials throughout the state fell into line and accepted the erroneous reasoning of those who favored internment. They did not stoically accept the reasoning; they assisted in its promulgation by passing resolutions asking that the Japanese be interned. Hysteria, caused by Allied defeats in the Pacific, led to some of this. In the case of civil defense, some air raid wardens insisted that they be allowed to bear sidearms and use them in the defense of their nation. One San Diego County Supervisor introduced a resolution every week asking removal of the Japanese. The other supervisors finally agreed on March 2, 1942.

The local newspapers added to anti-Japanese sentiment by colorfully reporting such incidents as the arrest of thirty-five Japanese from Chula Vista. These “highly nationalistic” Japanese were seized along with contraband consisting of a therapeutic machine, a long sword, a camera, some film and a flashlight. The FBI also apprehended twelve foreign language teachers in San Diego and found one box of twenty gauge shotgun shells but no shotgun. The reports of this arrest emphasized the language school teachers’ alleged fealty to the emperor.31

After the Japanese were required to stay in Military Area No. 1, their plight was even more uncertain. They knew they were going to be removed but not when or where. But on April 1, 1942, the local Japanese had their fate secured. Civilian Exclusion Order No. 4, issued that day, announced that all Japanese, aliens and citizens, living south of the San Dieguito River would be excluded on or before twelve noon, Wednesday, April 8, 1942. One member of each family was
instructed to report between 8:00 A.M. and 5:00 P.M. on April 2 or 3 to the Civil Control Station located at 1919 India Street, San Diego. Thus, the Japanese had six days to prepare for an indeterminate evacuation, and to sell or store whatever possessions they had, since they were allowed to take only what they could carry.32

Because the time was so short, many people left their homes with food in the refrigerator, as if they were going away for the weekend. Many farmers left their equipment. People had promises from neighbors that their automobiles would be purchased, their crops harvested and the money sent to them. In most cases the farm equipment simply disappeared, the autos were never paid for, and the crop price was below market value. The utilization of the internees’ lands is difficult to ascertain. Those that still held title to real estate had to pay taxes annually. Whether the agricultural land was put to use is hard to determine because most of the Caucasians will not say or cannot remember. But in a letter to the Board of Supervisors on July 1, 1942, Elwood E. Trask, field agent of the Department of Agriculture, stated that his job was to see that the crops of the Japanese and Japanese-Americans were harvested and that their farms continued in operation. This seems to indicate that the lands were used, but the Japanese in the camps did not profit.33

U. S. Attorney General Francis Biddle was determined to avoid mass internment. In a radio broadcast Biddle pointed out that internment would be a waste of labor and that the hysteria was foolish. At a meeting between the Attorney General and representatives of the War Department, Biddle stated that the Justice Department would not interfere with U.S. citizens or recommend suspension of habeas corpus.34

J. Edgar Hoover said that the internment decision was a result of politics and hysteria, not a measure of national security. “It is interesting to observe,” Hoover noted, “that little mention has been made of the mass evacuation of enemy aliens.” The FBI had arrested 733 Japanese aliens in the U.S. by 6:30 A.M. December 8, 1941. Colonel Karl R. Bendetsen of the General Staff was brought into the Provost Marshal General’s Office from law offices on the prejudice-ridden West Coast. In the 1948-1949 edition of Who’s Who In America, he stated that he had “conceived the method, formulated the details and directed the evacuation of 125,000 persons of Japanese ancestry from military areas.” In the next edition of Who’ Who, this statement was omitted. Historian Roger Daniels believes that Bandetsen, as a second-rank federal bureaucrat, manipulted the decision to intern the Japanese.35 Perhaps, but there were certainly many first-rank bureaucrats and politicians in California who supported the move.

Eleven hundred and fifty Isei and Nisei left San Diego by train on April 7, 1942, bound for Santa Anita race track. Thousands of San Diegans, many of their neighbors of long duration, saw them off. The two trains had three baggage cars jammed with the possessions of the 306 family
groups. Joseph K. Sano, a veteran of the First World War, observed: “I guess it is all right to be going, but when we make an offensive war out of this and send our bombers over Japan, I’d like to be in the attacking force.” The Chula Vista Star News guilelessly informed its readers that a new location would be found for each individual and family where they would be able to earn their own livelihood during the war. It reported “Each realized that the U.S. was doing everything in their power to make the pathway as easy as possible for them.”36

The decision to intern the Japanese was made and carried out but this did not end the efforts of the anti-Japanese forces in California. The Nisei were still citizens, and after the war many would return to the West Coast to live and claim their property. The sad conditions of the camps and their long internment would not destroy the loyalty or industriousness of the internees. The anti-Japanese forces recognized that only the first round in their war against the Japanese-Americans was won, and that the fight had to continue?and continue it did.


1. San Diego Union, January 19, 1942, p. 1B.

2. Ibid., January 20, 1942, p. 2B; January 22, 1942, p. 8A.

3. Ibid., January 22, 1942, p. 1B.

4. Ibid., January 23, 1942, p. 4A.

5. Ibid., January 24, 1942, p. 6A, 2B; January 31, 1942, p. 2B.

6. Ibid., January 31, 1942, pp. 1-2A.

7. San Diego City Council Minutes, January 27, 1942.

8. Letter from Councilman Fred W. Simpson, January 26, 1942. Found in World War II Defense

File, San Diego City Clerk. Hereinafter cited as Defense File I.

9. Letter from H. Nathan, Special Agent in Charge, San Diego Office FBI, January 30, 1942, Defense File I.

10. Letter from R. L. Fairbank, 2476 A St., San Diego, February 6, 1942, Defense File I.

11. Resolution by National City Defense Council, Defense File I.

12. La Mesa City Council Minutes, February 24, 1942; Chula Vista City Council Minutes, March 9, 1942.

13. La Mesa City Council Minutes, February 10, 1942.

14. U.S. Congress, House, Select Committee Investigating National Defense Migration, National Defense Migration, 77th Congress, 2d Sess., March 19, 1942, House report, 1911, pp. 3-4.

15. General J. L. DeWitt, Final Report: Japanese Evacuation From the West Coast 1942, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1943, p. 34. Hereinafter cited as Final Report.

16. Ibid., pp. 26-27, 41-49.

17. Ibid., pp. 8-9; Francis Biddle, In Brief Authority, pp. 221-223.

18. U.S. Dept. of Interior, War Relocation Authority, Wartime Exile The Exclusion of the Japanese Front the West Coast, 1946, pp. 52-53; U.S. Congress, House, Select Committee Investigating National Defense Migration, National Defense Migration Fourth Interim Report, 77th Cong., 2d Sess., May 1943, House report 2124, p. 93.

19. U.S. Congress, House, National Defense Migration, House report 2124, p. 141.

20. U.S. Congress, House, National Defense Migration, House report 1911, pp. 13, 31; U.S. Congress, House, National Defense Migration, House report 2124, pp. 48-58.

21. U.S. Congress, House, National Defense Migration, House report 2124, pp. 154-155.

22. Ibid., pp. 147-151.

23. Biddle, In Brief Authority, p. 224.

24. Resolution by Board of Supervisors, San Diego County, March 2, 1942. Found in World War II Defense, Clerk of San Diego Board of Supervisors. Hereinafter cited as Defense File II; Biddle, In Brief Authority, p. 224; U.S. Congress, House, National Defense Migration, House report 2124, p. 25.

25. Resolution distributed by County Supervisors Association of California, letter to Morton Grodzins, February 3, 1943, Defense File II.

26. Letter from Fallbrook Grange No. 614, March 16, 1942, Defense File II; San Diego Union, January 28, 1942, p. 4A.

27. DeWitt, Final Report, p. 41; Chula Vista Star News, March 13, 1942, pp. 1, 4.

28. Chula Vista Star News, March 20, 1942, p. 1; U.S. Congress, House, National Defense Migration, House report 1911, p. 19.

29. Letter from Conrad C. Cooper, 4271 Olive Ave., La Mesa, March 17, 1942, reply from Board of Supervisors, San Diego County, Defense File II.

30. DeWitt, Final Report, pp. 43-49; U.S. Congress, House, National Defense Migration, House report 1911, pp. 27-30; U.S. Congress, House, National Defense Migration, House report 2124, pp. 155-156; interview with Mr. X, October 1966.

31. Interview with former Supervisor Dave Bird, February 1967; San Diego Union, February 22, 1942, p. 1A, March 14, 1942, p. 1A.

32. U.S. Congress, Senate, Report on Japanese War Relocation Centers, p. 193.

33. Letter from Elwood E. Trask, Field Agent, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, July 1, 1942, Defense File II; interviews with Mr. X, October 1966, Mr. Azuma, October 1966, Mr. Oyama, November 1966 and many people of Japanese ancestry.

34. Biddle, In Brief Authority, pp. 207, 209-210, 216, 217.
35. Ibid., pp. 224, 213; Whitehead, The FBI Story, p. 188; Roger Daniels, “Why It Happened Here,” p. 12, remarks before a symposium at UCLA, June 1967.

36. San Diego Union, April 8, 1942, p. 1A; Chula Vista Star News, April 10, 1942, p. 1.

Gerald Schlenker is assistant principal, San Dieguito Union High School District, and instructor of history at San Diego Evening College. He was graduated cum laude from N.Y.U. College at Buffalo (1962), and earned his M.A. degree in history at San Diego State College (1968). He has served on various professional education commissions and boards, and has been active in historical societies’ young historian programs in California. In 1967 he was selected one of San Diego’s Ten Outstanding Young Men.