Former Frontline journalist Reeves (Portrait of Camelot: A Thousand Days in the Kennedy White House, 2010, etc.) brings his reporting chops to this history of America’s less-publicized response to the Pearl Harbor bombings.
The author brings a host of points of view to the story of the internment of more than 120,000 Japanese-Americans in the early 1940s, which was initiated by Franklin Roosevelt. Reeves liberally quotes politicians, reporters and citizens, rehashing the argument that “a Jap is a Jap” and therefore all Japanese aliens and even citizens on the West Coast needed to be removed. Reeves includes firsthand and secondhand accounts of life inside the camps. In addition to chronicling the poor living conditions, he also explores the details that made them livable—e.g., Boy Scout troops, high school dances and mail-order deliveries. Though Reeves’ subject is an essentially bleak picture of hysterical racism, for the most part, the author does a solid job of balancing the dreary passages with occasional shots of humor, humanity or both. Neighbors who protected and managed Japanese-American family assets in preparation for their returns, college students who asserted that “the average intelligence of people in the United States was that of a high grade moron,” and returning veterans who demanded better treatment of their comrades all serve as much-needed breaks from the norm of the day. Reeves unearths and makes public a painful national memory, but he does so while maintaining the dignity of those held behind barbed wire and unmasking the callous racism and disregard of the people who put them there. The author even allows for growth in his villains, giving credit when they later changed their positions. A few instances of repetition and the dark subject matter only occasionally slow the narrative.
An engaging and comprehensive depiction of an essential, but sometimes-overlooked, era of U.S. history.