Study Guide

Executive Order 9066: The President Authorizes Japanese Relocation Themes

By Franklin Delano Roosevelt

  • Power

    Just because E.O. 9066 is a government document doesn't mean it's exempt from thematic content. It may not be overflowing with themes like an Edgar Allan Poe story, but themes are definitely there.

    And they are choice.

    The issue of power takes over in this text. The whole thing is about power. Who has it, who gets it, and who gets got by it.

    It begins with the president acknowledging his own power. Then he uses that power to give special power to the secretary of war and subordinate military commanders. In turn, they exert that power to essentially alter the map of the United States. The creation of military areas and the subsequent removal of Japanese Americans was a show of their unique wartime authority.

    And "the people"? Some would argue they were powerless.

    Questions About Power

    1. Do you think the president was influenced by the power of suggestion when he signed E.O. 9066?
    2. Considering what happened with the WRA relocation camps, do you think power was abused by the authorities who acted under the permissions of E.O. 9066?
    3. Does FDR adequately justify his use and distribution of power here? Why or why not, and to what extent?
    4. Are there any other examples in American history in which power was used to enact controversial policies during times of crisis? Try to think of at least two.

    Chew on This

    Franklin D. Roosevelt might have followed official rules when enacting Executive Order 9066, but he fails to justify his reasons for it beyond superficial protocol.

    Regardless of the wartime crisis, Franklin D. Roosevelt handed too much unchecked power to the secretary of war and his military officials.

  • Home

    "E.O., phone home."

    Within a given text, not every theme is necessarily explicit. Often there are subtler ideas at play as well. And while the concept of power seems to bulldoze any sort of nuance from Executive Order 9066, implicit themes do exist. One of these has to do with the notion of "home."

    E.O. 9066 was created to protect the homeland and maintain security, safety, and peace on American soil. In doing so, it separated many, many people from their individual homes.

    For the older generation of Japanese Americans, the Issei who were born in Japan, they had already left their homes once to establish a new life in the United States. Imagine being told that, after years of raising families and contributing to society in your adopted country, you were told you no longer belonged. Or rather, that you belonged in an internment camp, which, as you remember, is just a soft way of saying "concentration camp."

    E.O. 9066 raises some bigger, tougher questions about the nature of home, like: what is it, and where is it? And, in a time of war, who deserves one?

    Perhaps it's a question of rights versus privilege? For more on this, jump down to the aptly titled "Rights Versus Privilege."

    Questions About Home

    1. In E.O. 9066, FDR directs "all Executive Departments, independent establishments and other Federal Agencies" to provide basic supplies such as medical aid, hospitalization, food, and clothing to Japanese American prisoners. Do you think FDR was attempting to improve the ethical conditions of an unethical situation?
    2. What is "home" to you, and how would you feel if it were suddenly taken away?
    3. What is the difference between securing the homeland and protecting one's home?
    4. During wartime, regular comforts are often set aside. It can be argued that the removal of Japanese Americans from their homes was an extreme example of this. Do you agree? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    The comforts of home dissolve once a nation is under the threat of war, and sacrifices have to be made during times of crisis. In retrospect, the evacuation of Japanese Americans was regrettable, but the larger idea of America as a whole, as the homeland, was in jeopardy. All measures had to be taken to protect it.

    Within the context of a democratic and free nation, when the sanctity of one home is violated, the sanctity of all homes are violated. The evacuation of Japanese Americans was an injustice not just to the prisoners, but to all Americans.

  • Rights Versus Privilege

    So, in our discussion of "Home," we mentioned how the issue of rights versus privilege arises when we start to think about how the notion of home sweet home is altered by Executive Order 9066.

    What we didn't mention is that it's also tied to that tricky business of "Power."

    As we know, with E.O. 9066, the president allotted a certain amount of power to the secretary of war and military officials to determine who had the privilege of living freely within designated military areas, as well as passing hither and thither across the borders. FDR gave the secretary of war the right to determine the privileges of private citizens and, in turn, deny a specific demographic their civil rights to the extent that they were incarcerated.

    E.O. 9066 doesn't articulate this tension between rights and privilege, government and military, and military and citizen, but it doesn't have to. (That's our job.) It was simply that first domino that toppled the rest.

    Questions About Rights Versus Privilege

    1. What is the difference between a right and a privilege?
    2. Can a right turn into a privilege? When and how? Consider the historical context of E.O. 9066, and think about which is easier to deny.
    3. Is the power given to the president a right or a privilege of his position as the country's leader?
    4. Can you think of an example of something that was considered a privilege in the past but is viewed as a right today?

    Chew on This

    Executive Order 9066 takes advantage of wartime conditions to deliberately blur the barrier between governmental privileges of power and fundamental rights of leadership. As a result, the United States pursued one its most unacceptable and inhumane policies.

    It was Roosevelt's right as the president to ratify Executive Order 9066. He's not responsible for the abuse of power that occurred as a result of the authority he assigned to the secretary of war and his military officials.