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The Internment of Japanese Americans (ReferencePoint Press) (book)

Creators: David Robson

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Book cover. Courtesy of ReferencePoint Press
View in the Densho Encyclopedia

Overview volume on the wartime removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans aimed at middle and high school audiences published in 2014 by ReferencePoint Press as part of the "Understanding American History" series.

Synopsis

After a brief introductory to its subject titled "The Defining Characteristics of Japanese Internment," author David Robson tells the story in five chapters. The first, "What Conditions Led to Internment of Japanese Americans?," covers Japanese immigration (in the context of immigration in general) along with the anti-Japanese movement, settlement and marriage by the Issei , the Nisei generation, and the rise of tensions between the U.S. and Japan. Chapter Two, "War and Evacuation," looks at the march to war from both the Japanese and American perspectives, the attack of Pearl Harbor , the roundup of Issei community leaders, the road to Executive Order 9066 , and the subsequent removal of all Japanese Americans on the West Coast to assembly centers . The core concentration camp experience is covered in the next two chapters, "Life in Camps" and "Rulings, Release, and Repatriation." (Despite the title, Chapter Four does not discuss post-segregation Tule Lake and renunciation of citizenship/repatriation of Issei to Japan.) The final chapter, "What Is the Legacy of the Japanese Internment Camps?," covers the redress movement , the coram nobis cases, and the contemporary echoes of the removal and incarceration in the reaction of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

A general series foreword explains that "the titles selected for the Understanding American History series portray the many sides of America, depicting both its shining moments and its darker hours." The volume also includes an illustrated timeline of key events, a section of "Important People in the History of Japanese Internment," and a section of additional resources including books and websites. It is illustrated with a relatively small number of historical and contemporary photographs.

Additional Information

Author Robson (1966– ) is a playwright and, since 2002, an associate professor of English at Delaware County Community College. He earned a B.A. from Temple University (1988), and M.S. from St. Joseph's University (1992), and an MFA from Goddard College (2005). The Internment of Japanese Americans was his twelfth children's book for ReferencePoint and Lucent since 2008.

While the historical accuracy of Chapters 1, 2, and 5 is generally good, the middle chapters that describe the core aspects of the incarceration experience contains several significant errors and many instances of overgeneralizing. These errors come mostly from trying to succinctly describe complicated events. For example, Robson's description of the Manzanar riot/uprising cites as its cause the "animosity developed between supporters of the JACL and Kibei..." (page 52). But not all of those who opposed the policies of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) and the War Relocation Authority (WRA) were Kibei , including perhaps the most vocal critic, Joe Kurihara . Later, Robson implies that the unrest caused by "JACL supporters" was the proximate cause of military police responding with tear gas. [1] In describing the loyalty questionnaire , he writes "[t]hose Nisei men responding in the affirmative [to the loyalty questions] became soldiers in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team , which later became part of the Hawaiian Nisei 100th Infantry Battalion " (53). While "yes" answers by Nisei men of the right age made them eligible for military service, only a fraction actually joined the 442nd. And it was the 100th that became part of the 442nd, not the other way around.

A few pages later, Robson claims the WRA director Dillon Myer "appeared to be changing his mind about the internees under his control," citing his calls to close the camps as a "stunning turnaround" (56). But despite being in charge of the concentration camps, Myer had from the beginning opposed the incarceration and sought to release "loyal" Japanese Americans as soon as possible. His description of the Korematsu case claims that the Supreme Court "ruled against Korematsu on the grounds that Japanese Americans were often disloyal," while never explaining what Korematsu had been convicted of. In writing about the Korematsu and Endo decisions, he further claims that "[h]istorians continue to debate why such similar cases were decided in opposing ways" (62), something no serious historian questions. [2]

Other instances of over generalization include claims that interned Issei "were transferred to internment camps run by the Justice Department" (30; many also went to camps run by the army); that every barracks room had a coal stove (45; depending on the camp, some had wood or oil burning stoves); that there were fourteen barracks per block (49; depending on the camp there were between twelve and twenty-four barracks in a block); that inmate workers in WRA camps received $16 or $19 per month (49; the lowest paid workers received $12 per month); and, in describing resettlement , that "more than thirty-six thousand Nisei left their parents to work as secretaries and clerks" (49; those who left camp prior to 1945 included some Issei as well as Nisei; in addition to taking on many more types of jobs, many resettlers also left to attend college).

Other general errors include misspelling the name of newspaper columnist Henry McLemore (34); a map that places the Poston camp in California (43); claiming that mail in the WRA camps was routinely censored (60); and claiming that "WRA authorities had no choice but to let those in need of food and shelter stay on at the camps until they found somewhere to go" (65; when the camps closed, those who were still left were forcibly removed and put on busses or trains to their prewar hometowns).

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

Might also like The Invisible Thread by Yoshiko Uchida; Remembering Manzanar: Life in a Japanese Relocation Camp by Michael L. Cooper; Fred Korematsu Speaks Up by Laura Atkins and Stan Yogi

Footnotes

  1. The relevant passage, from page 52: "Under intense pressure, camp administrators relented and bought Ueno back to the camp, which displeased JACL supporters. Hundreds lashed out, and military police responded with tear gas." Of course the masses who gathered to protest the actions of the WRA and JACL were what brought the MPs into the camp.
  2. The two cases considered different questions. In the Korematsu case, the court ruled that the exclusion of Japanese Americans from the West Coast restricted area was legal without addressing imprisonment. In the Endo decision, the court ruled that "loyal" Japanese Americans could not be imprisoned without addressing the constitutionality of exclusion.
Media Details
Author David Robson
Pages 96
Publication Date 2014