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Japanese-American Internment during World War II (book)

Creators: Peggy Daniels Becker

Overview book by Peggy Daniels Becker on the World War II removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans that includes a one-hundred page narrative summary, eleven short biographies of key figures, and a selection of primary sources. It is part of the "Defining Moments" series published by Omnigraphics.


Japanese-American Internment during World War II is divided into three broad sections. A narrative overview (104 pages) provides a broad picture of the wartime removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans in seven chapters. A section of biographies (42 pages) includes eleven profiles of key figures in the story. A section of primary sources (53 pages) includes a range of primary sources from both governmental and inmate sources.

The narrative overview consists of seven chapters. After a chapter covering Japanese immigration and Japanese Americans prior to World War II, the next two chapters cover the attack on Pearl Harbor and its aftermath, the chain of events leading to Executive Order 9066 , and the roundup of West Coast Japanese Americans. Chapter Four covers life in the War Relocation Authority (WRA) concentration camps, while Chapter Five looks at those who left the camps prior to 1945. The last two chapters cover the closing of the camps the return of Japanese Americans to the West Coast and the legacy of the incarceration, including the Redress Movement .

The section of biographies includes profiles of three federal/military officials (President Franklin D. Roosevelt , Western Defense Command head Gen. John L. DeWitt , and WRA Director Dillon S. Myer ), an outside librarian who aided incarcerated children ( Clara Breed ), two Nisei war heroes (Senator Daniel Inouye and Kazuo Masuda ), three men whose challenges of the curfew or exclusion went to the Supreme Court ( Gordon Hirabayashi , Fred Korematsu , and Minoru Yasui ), and two leaders of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) ( Saburo Kido and Mike Masaoka ). Each includes a photograph and suggestions for further reading.

The section of primary sources includes a range of documents. On the government side, there is President Roosevelt's "Day of Infamy" speech, Gen. DeWitt's February 14, 1942 memo urging mass removal of Japanese Americans, Executive Order 9066, the text of a typical exclusion order poster , an excerpt from a one year report of the WRA by Myer, Public Proclamation 21 ending the exclusion, President Gerald Ford's statement ending EO9066 , the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, and the text of the apology letter mailed to surviving former inmates. On the inmate side, there are three contemporaneous letters written by youth to teachers/librarians (two are to Clara Breed), two short excerpts from later inmate memoirs (by Jeannie Wakatsuki Houston and James Houston and by Kiyo Sato ), and an excerpt from an oral history of Violet deChristoforo , and a 2013 article by actor George Takei recalling his incarceration as a child at Rohwer .

Other elements of the book include a Preface that is a general introduction to the "Defining Moments" series; "How to Use This Book," an introduction to this particular volume; a list of suggestions of broad topics for research papers; a listing of "Important People, Places, and Terms"; a chronology; suggestions for additional information; and a bibliography.

Additional Information

Japanese-American Internment during World War II includes erroneous or incomplete information on several key topics:

Alien land laws : makes a blanket claim that Issei were "unable to own land" without mentioning dates and places that land laws took effect (page 11). Becker seems to misunderstand the ban on guardianship, writing that "alien land laws barred Issei parents from acting as guardians of their own children if land was purchased or leased in the child's name," meaning that " Issei had to choose between their legal rights as parents and their ability to make a living"; she also writes that the ban on guardianship was not overturned until after the war (15–16). Guardianship provisions in alien land laws did not threaten parental rights; they were an attempt to ban getting around the land laws by Issei through purchasing land in the name of citizen children. Guardianship was upheld by the California Supreme Court in the 1922 Estate of Tetsubumi Yano decision, and it subsequently became the most common way Issei managed to purchase agricultural land.

• The role of the WRA: Becker writes that the WRA was "charged with planning and implementing the mass mandatory evacuation of nearly 160,000 Japanese from the West Coast to internment camps located further inland" (32) and that they "built ten internment camps" (38). In addition to inflating the number of those removed by 50%, she misstates the WRA's role, which was, in the words of its final report, "to take charge of the relocation center phases of evacuee life" ( Impounded People , p. 26) The U.S. Army, through its Wartime Civil Control Administration (WCCA) ran the mass removal and built the concentration camps. Similar language is used in the biography of Dillon Myer (136).

• Japanese American military service: Becker writes that of the "26,000 Japanese-American men and women [who] served in the U.S. military before World War II ended,.... 5,000 of these individuals were soldiers already in the army at the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The rest were former internees who were given the opportunity to serve in the army in exchange for their family's release from internment" (72). Those that joined the army after Japanese Americans were allowed in after 1943 were more or less equally divided between those from Hawai'i and those from the continental U.S.; of course those from Hawai'i were not "former internees," and a good number of those who joined from the continental U.S. were not either. Furthermore, no families were released from the camps as a result of enlistment. She goes on to mischaracterize the 442nd Regimental Combat Team as being "made up of former internees, soldiers from the Military Intelligence Service , and those in the Office of Strategic Services" (73).

• Japanese American Supreme Court cases: Becker writes that the Hirabayashi and Yasui Supreme Court rulings "upheld the constitutionality of the West Coast exclusion order and internment" (77), that the Korematsu decision "again upheld the constitutionality of the internment," calls Endo "a contradictory decision [in relation to Korematsu]," (77), and that Executive Order 9066 "was rendered obsolete by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1944" (193). The Hirabayashi and Yasui cases focused narrowly on the issue of curfew violations and upheld only the legality of a curfew aimed at Japanese Americans. The Korematsu decision upheld the exclusion of Japanese Americans, but had nothing to say on "internment." The Endo ruling held that "loyal" Japanese Americans could not be held against their will. None of the cases struck down the provisions of Executive Order 9066.

• Renunciation of citizenship: Becker writes that "... seven out of ten Japanese Americans held in Tule Lake —more than 5,000 American citizens—renounced their citizenship." She writes that Nisei renunciants "were not Japanese citizens, [and thus] they could not easily be sent to Japan" (78). Later she includes a quote from Dillon Myer on efforts by renunciants to regain their citizenship in which he claims that "the action of the Attorney General in 1959... cleaned up the whole mess" (79). While the number of renunciants at Tule Lake is correct, the seven out of ten figure refers only to adult Nisei. Many had held dual citizenship and so were in fact Japanese citizens; citizenship status nonetheless had no bearing on whether they could be sent to Japan. Efforts by renunciants to regain American citizenship were led by lawyer Wayne Collins and were not completed until 1968.

Other minor errors include a claim that the 1790 naturalization law "granted American citizenship to all immigrants who were 'free white persons'" (page 11; the law made all such immigrants who met particular conditions eligible for naturalization, but did not automatically grant citizenship to all white immigrants"); referring to Dillon Myer as a "military leader" (xv) and as a "general" (60); a claim that Issei "could not, form, join, or benefit from labor unions" (11; though they were excluded from most unions, there were some exceptions); a claim that "[n]o person of Japanese heritage living in the restricted areas of the West Coast was spared from evacuation" (32; there were some exceptions, most notably tuberculosis patients allowed to remain in sanitariums and Nisei translators working for the Foreign Broadcast Intelligence Service, among others); refers to artist Miné Okubo as "he" (33); claims artist Henry Sugimoto and his family went from Pinedale Assembly Center to Jerome in 1943 (40; transfers from "assembly centers" to WRA camps took place in in summer and fall of 1942); citing "late 1944" as a time when "tensions exploded into outbreaks of violence in several camps" (55; should be late 1942); a claim that letters written in the WRA camps "were reviewed by censors before being mailed" (62; with the exception of letters written to friends or relatives interned in army or Justice Department-run camps, mail was not censored in the WRA camps); misspells Rohwer as "Rohrer" (80); in writing about Fred Korematsu, claims that his family reported to Tanforan in March of 1942 (125; they were forcibly removed in May 1942); the biography of Mike Masaoka gets his age and date of appointment wrong and also repeats the false claim that the JACL had 20,000 members (169); describes the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) as a "Congressional commission" (202; the CWRIC resulted from legislation passed by Congress and signed by the President and its nine members were appointed by Congress and the President); calls the Western Defense Command a "military authority created in 1943" (206; the WDC was established in March of 1941).

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

Might also like The Invisible Thread by Yoshiko Uchida; Dear Miss Breed: True Stories of the Japanese American Incarceration During World War II and a Librarian Who Made a Difference by Joanne Oppenheim; A Fence Away from Freedom: Japanese Americans and World War II by Ellen Levine

Media Details
Author Peggy Daniels Becker
Pages 223
Publication Date 2014