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When Military Necessity Overrides Constitutional Guarantees: The Treatment of Japanese Americans During World War II (curricula)

Creators: Jay M. Brown, Yale/New Haven Teachers Institute


This curriculum guide examines the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans through the lens of its constitutional merit. It should be noted that it was published in 1982, and it contains terminology that in 2017 is considered inappropriate and/or offensive in the use of "Oriental" versus Asian or Asian American. In addition, many of the suggested classroom materials are outmoded (filmstrips) or out of print and may be difficult to access. The guide refers to a "media kit" which may have been available when the guide was first published.

The suggested use of this curriculum is with 8th grade through high school, U.S. History and/or civics or law related courses.

The stated objectives are to provide insight into:

• the overall treatment of Japanese Americans,

• what led our government to place citizens into concentration camps, and

• legal ramifications of the relocation program.

The bulk of this guide is a historical narrative that examines the development of anti-Asian (and anti-Japanese American) sentiments from the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 through Executive Order 9066 (which allowed for the incarceration of Japanese Americans) and Supreme Court cases in the 1940s and 1950s. The author suggests that the long standing and pervasive anti-Japanese American attitudes caused racial discrimination in the decision to incarcerate Japanese Americans during the war.

A course outline organized chronologically by topic is provided. Included in the outline are reading assignments and titles of filmstrips to show to students. Although the course outline notes "evacuation", "relocation" and "camp life," the website text does not explore these topics and it appears relies on other sources, including filmstrips and readings from Justice Denied by Jennifer Cross (Scholastic Books, 1972) which is out of print, but may be available through academic and public libraries.

Course Outline

I. Introductory Activities (immigration and the role of Japanese immigrants in the development of America)

II. Prejudice Against Japanese (political, economic and social anti-Japanese campaigns including alien land laws , and the Gentlemen's Agreement )

III. Pearl Harbor and its Aftermath (enemy aliens, Executive Order 9066, removal and incarceration, camp life)

IV. The Supreme Court ( Hirabyashi , Yasui , Korematsu , Endo , Brown vs. Board of Education )

The curriculum guide provides Sample Lessons versus prescriptive learning activities. This includes a list of discussion questions (e.g. "To what extent can national security considerations overcome basic notions of fairness?"), the suggestion of role playing, and a list of writing assignments. This is followed by reading lists, and materials and resources for teachers.

Authored by Janet Hayakawa , Densho