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Japanese Americans
Grade Level  9-12
Subject Area  U.S. history

Curriculum Focus
  U.S. government, civics
Duration  3-5 class periods

  Students will:
  1. Research the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
  2. Discuss Roosevelt’s Executive Order in the light of the Fifth Amendment and discuss its legality.
  3. Hold a mock trial to explain and evaluate the positions favoring and opposing the policy of internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

  Information sources including Internet sites, magazines and books, electronic encyclopedias and databases

Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which forced the Japanese-American population of the western United States into internment camps. Many of these American citizens lost their property or were forced to sell their homes. Tell students that they are about to exmine both sides of this issue by conducting a mock trial.
  1. Motivation
Distribute theFifth Amendmentto the United States Constitution to the class and play the audio file. Have students read and discuss the key ideas aloud. Note: To hear the audio files, you need the RealPlayer plug-in.Downloadit now.

The Fifth Amendment
Sound14.4 kbps
Sound28.8 kbps
(running time: 00:48)

To set the scene for this activity, read aloud theWorld War II scenarioand discuss the questions accompanying it with students.

  2. Mock Trial Assignments
Introduce students to the list of trial players below and ask them to pick the role they would like to play in the trial.
  • The lawyers for the defense (3 to 4 students)
  • The lawyers for the plaintiff (3 to 4 students)
  • The panel of judges (any odd number of students up to 9)
  • “Convicts” and witnesses for the plaintiff (7 to 8 students). The convicts represent the Japanese-Americans who have been arrested for violating the Executive Order. Family members are part of this group.
  • Witnesses for the defense (4 students). This group will include the roles of military leaders, the president’s cabinet, and even the president himself. It can also include members of the military police who run the internment camps.
  • Additional students can be assigned to a group representing the press, which must express its viewpoint as the trial progresses and concludes.
  3. Preparing for Trial
Distribute thetrial preparation briefand review it aloud so the roles of each group are clear.

You may decide to include information on the trial of Korematsu v. The United States as part of the brief. Or you may decide to prevent students from accessing the Web site containing that court case until after the mock trial to see if the students can independently reproduce the arguments made during that trial.

Students should be aware that the simulation is that of a civil trial rather than a criminal one. The “convicts” have already been through a criminal trial. They are now suing the government based on claims that their constitutional rights have been abridged due to Executive Order 9066. The students must make an effort to bring historical documents into their presentations. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, maps of the western region of the United States, photographs of Japanese-Americans in the internment camps are all possible documents that can be used by both sides and obtained from the Internet (see related links).

  4. Steps of the Trial
The steps of the mock trial should follow this general procedure:
  1. The judges read the facts of the case.
  2. The lawyers for the plaintiff make opening arguments.
  3. The lawyers for the defense make opening arguments.
  4. The plaintiff makes his or her case by calling witnesses.
  5. The defense is given a chance to cross-examine plaintiff’s witnesses.
  6. The defense presents its witnesses.
  7. The plaintiff’s lawyers are given a chance to cross-examine witnesses for the defense.
  8. Final arguments are made first by the plaintiff’s lawyers, then those of the defense.
  9. Judges develop their opinions and vote.
  10. The press reports on the opinions of the judges and discusses the case in their editorials.
Judges may break into the questioning to ask questions of lawyers or of witnesses to gain clarification or follow their own line of questioning. This process is similar to that followed in the Supreme Court, even though the high court sees no witnesses.

  Have students compose a statement in support of or condemning President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066. Students should provide a list of reasons for their stance and include at least three facts to support their argument. Students should include some commentary on these issues in their responses:

What was life like for the thousands of people in these camps?

Were they being protected or detained by the U.S. government?

Could such an experience take place in modern America today? Why or why not?

  Allow students to use texts, CD-ROMs, and the Internet to locate images and accounts of the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews in Europe before and during World War II. Have students create a chart comparing Japanese-American internment and Nazi concentration camps.

  This lesson will give students the opportunity to investigate the constitutionality of Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066. In addition, the main activity of this lesson is a mock trial that outlines both sides of the issue related to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. The case which did just that is Korematsu v. The United States (1944), where the conviction of Fred Korematsu was upheld by the Supreme Court. Korematsu was convicted of violating laws that removed him from his home in San Leandro, California. Note: Additionalbackground informationis available.

Teacher’s Notes

It is always difficult for a teacher to stay uninvolved during a simulation. It is important that the students understand what the teacher expects in terms of research, product, and the simulation procedure itself, but it must be up to the students to direct the role-play to its logical conclusion. Teachers must also be sure to discuss both process and content during and after the simulation.

Related Links
  Japanese-American Internment Experience
Japanese-American Exhibit and Access Project
Executive Order 9066
K-12 Teachers’ Workshop, March 7, 1997

  Our thanks to George Cassutto, a social studies teacher at North Hagerstown High School in Hagerstown, Maryland, for his consultation. Audio file source:The Constitution of the United States in Audio.