Civilian exclusion orders


A series of orders issued by Gen. John L. DeWitt as head of the Western Defense Command (WDC) directing the exclusion of "all persons of Japanese ancestry, including aliens and non-aliens" from designated areas on the West Coast. Issued over a period of five months—from late March to August, 1942—the 108 orders systematically facilitated the removal of all Japanese Americans in California, Washington, Oregon, and parts of Arizona neighborhood by neighborhood.

After Executive Order 9066 was issued on February 19, 1942, Gen. DeWitt issued Public Proclamation No. 1 on March 2 designating Military Areas No. 1 and 2; Japanese Americans would be excluded from the former. After encouraging affected Japanese Americans to move from these areas on their own (see "Voluntary evacuation"), but seeing scant results for various reasons, the Western Defense Command realized that they would have to organize the forcible removal of Japanese Americans from these areas. Karl Bendetsen, as head of the Wartime Civil Control Administration, the civilian branch of the WDC, headed the implementation of this program.

As a result, the WDC carved out 99 exclusion areas encompassing Military Area 1. The Census Bureau illegally provided confidential demographic information to the WDC to help define these areas with the exact knowledge of Japanese American populations within them. Exclusion Orders for each area were prepared. The orders were issued sequentially, with areas deemed sensitive militarily given the highest priority. Exclusion Order No. 1 targeted Bainbridge Island in Washington, issued on March 24, 1942.

Exclusion Order No. 1 set the template for the others to follow. Exclusion Order notices were posted on buildings, billboards, telephone poles, and other high visibility spots within the exclusion area. The notice announced the exclusion of Japanese Americans and gave them one week to prepare. A member of each family was to register immediately at the designated "civil control station" of the area (usually a school or other public facility), and each family was given a number. For the day of removal, they were instructed to bring only what they could carry and were to use the remaining time to dispose of their other belongings. On that day, their bags were tagged and they and their belongings were transported to temporary camps that the WCCA called "assembly centers," beginning their odyssey of mass incarceration. Those that failed to comply by remaining in the area after the appointed time would be subject to criminal penalties.

By June 6, all Japanese Americans had been systematically removed from Military Area No. 1. But despite the fact that DeWitt had earlier assured residents of Military Area 2 that there would be no exclusion from that area—and that many Japanese Americans had in fact moved there from Military Area 1 for that reason—he ordered the removal of all Japanese Americans from the California portion of Military Area 2 as well. An additional nine exclusion orders—bringing the total to 108—were issued for the smaller number of California Japanese Americans in Military Area 2. By August 18, this exclusion was completed. Except for those in sites of confinement, all Japanese Americans had been forcibly removed from the West Coast.

Authored by Brian Niiya, Densho

For More Information

Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1982. Foreword by Tetsuden Kashima. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997.

Japanese American Veterans Association archive. http://www.javadc.org/research%20archives.htm. [The research archive of the Japanese American Veterans Association includes scanned copies of 104 of the 108 civilian exclusion orders.]

Robinson, Greg. A Tragedy of Democracy: Japanese Confinement in North America. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009.