Study Guide

John Lesesne DeWitt in Executive Order 9066: The President Authorizes Japanese Relocation

By Franklin Delano Roosevelt

John Lesesne DeWitt

Sir, Yes, Sir!

Who had two thumbs and loved the military? This guy: John L. DeWitt.

He's also the guy who had two thumbs and an unfounded, irrational prejudice toward people of Asian descent. With the input of DeWitt's national security "assessments," the U.S. government embarked upon its controversial wartime strategy of interning Japanese Americans.

A career military man, DeWitt spent his life rising in the ranks and acquiring power and influence along the way. Originally from the southern edge of Nebraska's panhandle (yes, it has a panhandle), DeWitt entered the Army at age 18 and never left. He gained recognition for his service during World War I, and, in the years leading up to the second, he benefited from several significant promotions.

A Nasty Report

At the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, DeWitt was the head of an Army group called the Western Defense Command, which was tasked with defending the Pacific coast of the U.S. of A. during World War II. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, DeWitt, likely feeling a bit rattled, kicked his defense duties into high gear.

On Valentine's Day 1942, DeWitt sent Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson his "Final Report: Japanese Evacuation from the West Coast." Far from being a bundle of roses, it was still remarkably thorny. In brief, the report argued that there was no way to confirm Japanese American loyalty to the United States. Therefore, anyone with Japanese heritage should be removed from the western coastal region and placed in an isolated community patrolled by guards.

This report was forwarded from Stimson to FDR, who, for some reason, felt that it was valid—despite the overwhelming lack of evidence that any sort of treachery was afoot among Japanese Americans.

Thirty-five years later, a copy of the final report was uncovered in the National Archives that differed from the standard version. This discovery revealed that DeWitt's original, unedited, and unredacted text was outrageously racist, and for that reason had been suppressed.

Penalty Kick

It was no secret that DeWitt was a man driven by a concern for the safety and welfare of his country. Nor was it a secret that he combined those concerns with outspoken racial hatred. It was a reputation that would follow him until his dying day.

In addition to penning the "Final Report: Japanese Evacuation from the West Coast," he went to other great lengths to protect his country. In 1942, he made the Rose Bowl game relocate to North Carolina because he feared the crowd of rabid football fans would be too tempting a target for the Japanese not to attack. It is the only time in history that the Rose Bowl game was not played in Pasadena, California.

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