Expanding the Story of Japanese American Internment

Author: Lon Kurashige


Greg Robinson, By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001. 322 pp.

Eric L. Muller, Free to Die for Their Country: The Story of the Japanese American Draft Resisters in World War II. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001; paper, 2003. 229 pp.

Since the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, the story of the Japanese Americans interned during World War II has spawned a cottage industry of popular histories, museum exhibits, public memorials, biographies, novels, memoirs, children's fiction and non-fiction, documentary and feature films, and, of course, scholarly studies. The Redress legislation, which required the U.S. government to pay $20,000 in reparations to each living survivor of America's concentration camps, ushered in a new era of legitimacy and popularity to the internment story. An Internet check on “Books in Print” lists 101 titles with the keywords “Japanese American internment.” Professional historians sit at the intellectual helm of this internment boom, and, accordingly, the amount of their output too has expanded. While the production of monographs and dissertations has increased in the recent past, more interesting to observe are the changing ways in which scholars have approached the internment. Since the 1940s, historical researchers focused on the most obvious architects of the decision to remove 110,000 persons of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast; three decades later the innocent victims of this wartime policy took center stage. Now the spotlight of innovation shines on those who have long been considered minor players in the internment drama. Two recent and highly notable monographs, Greg Robinson's By Order of the President and Eric L. Muller's Free To Die for Their Country, epitomize this historiographical trend. In focusing on the shadows of the internment story, these books compel a reconsideration of some of the basic elements to the internment narrative.
Regions: East Asia
Countries: Japan

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December 2003