Exclusion: The Presidio's Role in World War II Japanese American Incarceration
Exclusion explores the Presidio's role in Japanese American incarceration as informed by government findings, current historical and curatorial scholarship, and the Japanese American community. The exhibition invites visitors to explore how and why the past matters and inspires civic engagement by fostering an understanding of the ways in which the Presidio's heritage is relevant today.
Civilian Exclusion Orders
As visitors enter the museum at the Presidio Officers' Club, they encounter installations that address the Presidio's role in the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans, including historic and contemporary perceptions and memories of the incarceration. Visitors first encounter a 1942 San Francisco street scene with a reproduction telephone pole and Civilian Exclusion Order No. 5 poster set against a life-size Dorothea Lange image of San Francisco’s Japantown.
One Hundred Twenty Thousand Lives
Using historic government data, this installation shows the names of Japanese American incarcerees en masse. Many visitors with personal connections to the exhibition engage deeply with this installation, locating names of family and loved ones. Since Exclusion opened, exhibition staff has added interpretive material and takeaway resources to facilitate visitors’ engagement with this exhibit.
Select artworks by local artist Judy Shintani are on view throughout the exhibition. Currently on display is Pledge Allegiance, pictured above.
A Critical Eye
Historic photographs made by incarcerated Japanese Americans show intimate and powerful views of life behind barbed wire. On view are images by Toyo Miyatake (Manzanar) and Bill Manbo (Heart Mountain).
A Legacy of Service
Historic artifacts connect Japanese American military service during World War II to the Presidio’s long legacy of service.
Your Voice Matters
Visitors are invited to contemplate what can be learned from these historic events that helps us contend with present-day issues, namely mass incarceration, immigration reform, and racial profiling. Visitors can engage in dialogue about such parallel contemporary social issues at "Your Voice Matters" stations throughout the exhibition. Each station includes prompts that examine non-partisan issues of civic engagement in democratic society. The words and phrases embedded in each station reflect language used in mainstream news reports. Learn more and
share your voice here.
Visitors encounter large words displayed on the walls surrounding the exhibition gallery. The text comes directly from Civilian Exclusion Orders issued at the Presidio and posted in prominent public places throughout the West Coast. In the 1940s, the federal government used euphemisms to disguise their actions. Today we use more accurate words. The following distinctions are explained in the gallery:
citizens and non-citizens were "non-aliens" and "aliens."
Forced removal was called "evacuation."
Incarceration was "internment."
Detention centers were "assembly centers."
Concentration camps were "relocation centers."
Japanese American concentration camps in the U.S. were distinct from Nazi Germany's concentration camps, designed to exterminate people. The term
concentration camp describes any site where minority groups are imprisoned by the government because of their identity, without due process, and with the implicit consent of the rest of society.
Immigration, Economics, and Prejudice
A timeline provides historical context for the exhibition. Key events trace the history of racial prejudice and anti-Asian legislation from the 1890s to 1940s. Historic images illustrate the events of Japanese American mass incarceration. The timeline concludes with an overview of post-war civil liberties issues.
A Failure of Leadership
The core of the exhibition examines the role of military and civic leadership in the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans. The Presidio, wartime headquarters of the Army's Western Defense Command, sits at the epicenter of this narrative. From his desk at WDC headquarters, Lt. Gen. John L. DeWitt signed military proclamations and 108 civilian exclusion orders that implemented Executive Order 9066. Reproductions of these seminal documents accompany photographs and first person accounts of the bureaucratic struggle among the War Department, Justice Department, and Executive Office. Decades later, the federal government would call its decision to incarcerate Japanese Americans a "failure of political leadership."
Incarceration, Patriotism, and Civil Liberties
Historic artifacts, images and quotes accompany infographics and text describing Japanese American response to incarceration, including their significant military service during World War II, dissenting voices from camps, legal challenges to incarceration, and efforts for recognition and redress of these wrongs.
Shaping Public Opinion
The final section of the exhibition explores the public's role in Japanese American incarceration. Looking at historical evidence and the role of journalism, this section presents multiple public perspectives.