DEMOCRACY ON TRIAL: The Japanese-American Evacuation and Relocation in World War II by Page Smith

DEMOCRACY ON TRIAL: The Japanese-American Evacuation and Relocation in World War II

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The evacuation from their homes and relocation to internment camps of Japanese-Americans during WW II had, Smith (Rediscovering Christianity, 1994, etc.) contends, at least one positive result: by toppling the existing immigrant social structure and changing the course of lives, it sped up the process of assimilation. Smith's history of Japanese immigration to the US is excellent and includes ample insight into Japanese society and conditions and that country's relations with the West. He also provides a clear backdrop to the tangled chain of events that followed the attack on Pearl Harbor. The evacuation became ""The Decision Nobody Made"": He finds a measure of blame at every level of government from President Roosevelt to Congress (""A Jap is a Jap anywhere you find him,"" said one senator) to J. Edgar Hoover and Lt. Gen. John L. DeWitt, head of the Western Defense Command. There were those opposed, including Attorney General Francis Biddle, who was ""almost fanatical"" in trying to resist any infringement of civil rights. Smith gets a little top-heavy with statistics, at times; but the numbers often drive home a point: of the 110,000 forced from their homes, 72,000 were Nisei, second-generation Japanese born in the US and, therefore, citizens. The book is best when Smith looks at the evacuation's impact on personal lives, such as that of Mary Masuda, whose brother, killed in action, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Others, like WW I veteran Joe Kurihari, arrested for leading a rebellion at the camp at Manzanar in California, became embittered. Still others look at the disruption in their lives in a positive light: The ""suffering bore fruit,"" says Yosishada Kawai. ""We stood up with hope and courage [and built] the foundation for the future life of the Japanese people on this North American soil."" Covers well-trod ground, but succeeds in bringing a personal dimension--of both victims and perpetrators--to the historical record.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1995
Page count: 496pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster