Books: When the “Japs” Weren’t Coming

American-Japanese Concentration Camps

Tule Lake, CA, Concentration Camp

Tule Lake, CA, Concentration Camp

When Admiral Yamamoto’s forces conducted their mostly successful raid on Pearl Harbor, many Americans panicked over the thought of a follow-up invasion of the west coast.

U.S. Army officers baldly asserted that American-Japanese were all under the control of the Japanese Emperor and therefore consisted of an enemy “fifth column” waiting for the signal to destroy their fellow citizens.

In the weeks after December 7, CIA operative John McCloy and others would convince President Roosevelt to sanction the rounding up of some 110,000 American-Japanese, most of them citizens, and to move them away from the coast where they were imprisoned until the war ended.

Richard Reeves tells the riveting story in Infamy, The Shocking story of the Japanese Internment in WWII.

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Reeves has previously authored a wide range of books on Nixon, Reagan, Kennedy and Clinton.

His book on Kennedy, President Kennedy: Profile in Power, is a superb study of the discipline and focus required to be the chief executive and Kennedy’s difficulty in both areas.

The False Profiling of Disloyalty

Many of the Japanese were “Nisei” or second generation Americans who had been born here, American citizens in every sense of the word.  Their parents may not have been citizens as a 1924 federal law prevented them from gaining citizenship, another racist Catch-22 that would have severe repercussions.

Reeves takes us through the heartrending scenes as they are given 24 hours or less to sell or dispose of their possessions, houses and businesses before being sent to collection centers and then onward to the far-flung camps, located in the middle of nowhere.

As ultimate proof of the false premise of the plan, American-Japanese living in the Hawaiian islands were not interned though one would assume they amounted to a much greater threat as they made up as much as 30% of the population.

The reason, at least in large measure?

There were too many to intern and they were needed to harvest crops, especially sugar cane and pineapple, crops owned by American Corporations.

A Mistake of Awesome Proportions

Reeves writes that it wan’t long until it became clear that the internments were an extraordinary error of epic proportions.

American citizens had been denied due process and other fundamental constitutional rights simply because of their race.

Even after realizing that the prisoners should be freed immediately, Roosevelt kept them in the camps for blatantly political reasons, one of which was to secure his re-election.

Another outcome was the inevitable radicalization, especially of young men, trapped in the camps and judged as traitors to their country for no reason.

They refused to sign phony loyalty oaths.

They formed gangs, refused to either enlist in the military or even register for the draft.

They rioted and some even elected to leave the US for Japan when the war was over.

Many simply forfeited their “citizenship” as it meant nothing in reality, anyway.

The 442 RCT

Amidst this constitutional carnage arose the Phoenix of the 442 Regimental Combat Team and other all Japanese units deployed in the European Theater, especially Italy, after 1943.

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Despite the horrible way they had been treated by fellow citizens and the government, thousands of young American-Japanese men enlisted and served with extraordinary bravery.

In fact, the 442 Regimental Combat Team is the most decorated unit per capita in the history of the United States military:

  • 21 Medals of Honor
  • 53 Distinguished Service Crosses
  • 588 Silver Stars
  • 5,200 Bronze Stars
  • 9,486 Purple Hearts
  • 8 Presidential Unit Citations

Infamy is a book to read for many reasons, but especially as a reminder of the horrible blot on our history when we treated citizens and loyal Americans as traitors and reaped the terrible results.

 

 

 

4 Comments

  • Smitty says:

    Thanks for sharing this book, Eric. Our neighbor (now deceased) was one of the Nisei. Listening to him talk about how he and his family had to just walk away from the flourishing business they owned and try to exist in the camps was shocking. We should be better than this. I believe we are better than this, and that’s why we need to refute the Trumpists and their message of hatred, suspicion, and divisiveness We’ve been there; done that; and it was a real blot on the record of the United States. Let’s not do it again.

  • Cindy Mears says:

    I am so grateful and deeply appreciative of your sharing this aspect of history.
    Thank you so much.

  • Joe blow says:

    Did he mention that Japanese Americans did scope out Pearl Harbor and passed on intelligence to the Japanese military? That seems to be the Forgotten part of this story.

    Japanese Americans living near the coast were offered the opportunity to move Inland. Those who refused were interned.

    It’s easy to judge people in the fullness of time. But I will not condemn Patriots like FDR who did what they thought was necessary to defend the United States of America..

    It is also disturbing that this episode in history is used to justify allowing Muslims immigrants into our country. We denied the rights of US citizens during World War II, therefore we must allow people who may be seeking to destroy us into our country. How does that make sense?

    • Eric Lamar says:

      You make many assertions and cite no references.

      This is particularly absurd:

      “Japanese Americans living near the coast were offered the opportunity to move Inland. Those who refused were interned.”

      Give a reference for that one.

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