How Was Alaska Affected by World War II?

Most Americans are familiar with President Franklin D. Roosevelt's infamous Executive Order 9066, which singled out "resident enemy aliens" in the United States during World War II. Notoriously, this included 120,000 Americans of Japanese heritage, as well as U.S. residents with Italian and German ancestry. Less widely known is the 1942 decision to round up 881 indigenous people living in Alaska's Aleutian Islands, who were forcibly moved from their homes and taken to camps in southeastern Alaska. Because the Japanese military was routinely making forays onto the islands, the U.S. government decided that the Aleuts would be safer elsewhere. But even if their evacuation was carried out in the name of safety, the conditions that the Aleuts faced in the camps were miserable. The Aleuts remained silent about their ordeal for years, fearing that they would be considered unpatriotic. The United States ultimately issued a formal apology in 1988 and provided some reparations.

A forgotten chapter in America's past:

  • After the relocation, the U.S. military destroyed Aleut homes in nine villages to prevent invading Japanese troops from using the housing.

  • The evacuation was considered hasty and traumatic. Residents could only pack one suitcase before being herded onto crowded boats. They were sent to live in abandoned canneries and other camps with rotting facilities and no plumbing, electricity, or toilets.

  • The Aleuts had little potable water, no warm winter clothing, and very little edible food. Nearly 10 percent of the evacuees died in the camps.

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More Info: Smithsonian magazine

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