BEHIND BARBED WIRE: The Imprisonment of Japanese Americans During World War II by Daniel S. Davis

BEHIND BARBED WIRE: The Imprisonment of Japanese Americans During World War II

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Several recent juveniles have touched on the discrimination suffered by immigrants from the East, but this particular chapter in our history bears emphasis as an object lesson in both racism and ""security""-related hysteria. Davis begins boldly with the attack on Pearl Harbor, then turns back to the earliest Japanese presence here--thus giving readers a. taste of Americans' sense of treachery at the bombing and sense of strangeness in confronting these inscrutable, oddly dressed foreigners. Nor does he gloss over the conflicting loyalties of the Issei generation, the complicated politics within the detention camps, the pro-Japan militance of one faction, or the fact that many evacuated Japanese-Americans choose to renounce their American citizenship--but he makes clear that most did so from confusion, pressure from the militants, and provocation from our side; and that none of this justified the massive violation of civil rights the evacuation and internment entailed. Few Americans or American institutions come out clean: we see the FBI and the Attorney General resisting the military hysteria at first, but caving in when Roosevelt gives the War Department the ""green light."" We see Earl Warren, at the time California's Attorney General and then Governor, supporting the camps because ""No one will be able to tell a saboteur from any other Jap""; and we see the Supreme Court, Justice Douglas included, upholding the military action on essentially racist grounds. We also see 93 percent of polled Americans approving the evacuation of Japanese aliens (though German aliens were not so treated) and 59 percent approving it for American citizens of Japanese descent. Ironically, after Japanese Americans were allowed to prove their loyalty by out-fighting other American combat units, it was the military, from General Stilwell to the common soldier, who most vehemently defended them. Yet wounded Japanese-American veterans met more prejudice on their return. Throughout the account, Davis is attentive to the human consequences of the imprisonment: an old man's suicide, the anguish of modest families crowded into former horse stalls, a young girl's complaint of the martial-law conditions in her camp (""Oh, it was a miserable life. . . . We got baloney for Thanksgiving""), a young Nisei's incredulity that such a thing could happen here. (""And you feel all tangled up inside because you do not quite see the logic of having to surrender freedom in a country that you sincerely feel is fighting for freedom."") But it did happen here, and a recent parade through San Francisco's Japan Town to protest Japan's whaling violations testifies that Japanese Americans are still associated with their ancestral nation. Thus Davis' conscientious, well-focused chronicle is still relevant.

Pub Date: July 14th, 1982
Publisher: Dutton