A Tragedy of Democracy

A Tragedy of Democracy: Japanese Confinement in North America

GREG ROBINSON
Copyright Date: 2009
DOI: 10.7312/robi12922
Pages: 408
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/robi12922
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  • Book Info
    A Tragedy of Democracy
    Book Description:

    The confinement of some 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II, often called the Japanese American internment, has been described as the worst official civil rights violation of modern U. S. history. Greg Robinson not only offers a bold new understanding of these events but also studies them within a larger time frame and from a transnational perspective.

    Drawing on newly discovered material, Robinson provides a backstory of confinement that reveals for the first time the extent of the American government's surveillance of Japanese communities in the years leading up to war and the construction of what officials termed "concentration camps" for enemy aliens. He also considers the aftermath of confinement, including the place of Japanese Americans in postwar civil rights struggles, the long movement by former camp inmates for redress, and the continuing role of the camps as touchstones for nationwide commemoration and debate.

    Most remarkably, A Tragedy of Democracy is the first book to analyze official policy toward West Coast Japanese Americans within a North American context. Robinson studies confinement on the mainland alongside events in wartime Hawaii, where fears of Japanese Americans justified Army dictatorship, suspension of the Constitution, and the imposition of military tribunals. He similarly reads the treatment of Japanese Americans against Canada's confinement of 22,000 citizens and residents of Japanese ancestry from British Columbia. A Tragedy of Democracy recounts the expulsion of almost 5,000 Japanese from Mexico's Pacific Coast and the poignant story of the Japanese Latin Americans who were kidnapped from their homes and interned in the United States. Approaching Japanese confinement as a continental and international phenomenon, Robinson offers a truly kaleidoscopic understanding of its genesis and outcomes.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52012-6
    Subjects: History, Sociology, Political Science, Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. [A NOTE ON TERMINOLOGY]
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-6)

    In the spring of 1942, a few months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor launched World War II in the Pacific, the United States Army, acting under authority granted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and confirmed by Congress, summarily rounded up the entire ethnic Japanese population living on the nation’s Pacific Coast. These American citizens and longtime residents—some 112,000 men, women, and children—were packed into military holding centers for several weeks or months and then transported under armed guard to the interior of the country. There they were confined in a network of hastily built camps constructed...

  5. 1 BACKGROUND TO CONFINEMENT
    (pp. 7-58)

    Although the confinement of Japanese Americans was clearly a war measure, its roots reach as far back as the beginnings of Japanese immigration to North America and to the growth of prejudice against these settlers, the so-called Issei (first generation).

    Japan had remained almost completely closed off to the world for more than two centuries when a United States Navy fleet commanded by Commodore Matthew C. Perry was sent to the island empire in 1853. Under the threat of destruction from Perry’s gunboats, the Japanese agreed to open their ports to American trade and friendship. The “opening up” of their...

  6. 2 THE DECISION TO REMOVE ETHNIC JAPANESE FROM THE WEST COAST
    (pp. 59-103)

    On the morning of December 7, 1941, Japanese naval and air forces executed a mass bombing raid on the United States Naval Station at Pearl Harbor, chief base of the navy’s Pacific fleet, and on other American military bases on the island of Oahu. The attack, launched without warning, devastated the fleet; Japanese planes sunk or damaged eight battleships and ten lesser ships. The raid was also costly in human life. According to official statistics, 2,390 American soldiers and civilians were killed in the bombing, and 1,178 more were wounded. Japanese bombers subsequently launched a similarly devastating bombardment of the...

  7. 3 REMOVAL FROM THE WEST COAST AND CONTROL OF ETHNIC JAPANESE OUTSIDE
    (pp. 104-153)

    In the first days after President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, the federal government began to organize plans for dealing with the “Japanese problem,” and the mass removal of West Coast Japanese Americans was set into motion with a series of decrees. On February 20, 1942, one day after Executive Order 9066 was signed, Secretary of War Stimson delegated to General DeWitt, as Western Defense commander, the authority to create a defense zone and remove civilians from it as he saw fit, offering only some suggestions as to procedure. Ten days later, on March 2, General DeWitt issued a...

  8. 4 THE CAMP EXPERIENCE
    (pp. 154-202)

    The new locations for the Japanese Americans expelled from the West Coast were the ten camps, officially known as “relocation centers,” that were established by the WRA. The first one to open was the former assembly center at Manzanar, which the WRA took over on June 1, 1942, and transformed into a long-term facility with the addition of new barracks and equipment. The WRA also assumed direction of the Poston assembly center project, then being constructed by contractor Del Webb on the Colorado River Indian reservation in Arizona, and turned it into a camp. While these camps were being filled,...

  9. 5 MILITARY SERVICE AND LEGAL CHALLENGES
    (pp. 203-246)

    In spite of the limitations on their freedom during World War II, Japanese Americans were active in pressing for fair treatment, and they were ultimately able to impact decisions about official policy on a national level. The two most visible areas in which the Nisei, with their non-Japanese allies, fought to restore their group’s constitutional rights were military service and the courts. The enlistment of up to 33,000 Nisei soldiers from Hawaii and the mainland in the U.S. Armed Forces during the war years, especially those who volunteered for military service from camp, rebutted widespread public images of Japanese Americans...

  10. 6 THE END OF CONFINEMENT AND THE POSTWAR READJUSTMENT OF ISSEI AND NISEI
    (pp. 247-288)

    Although the Supreme Court’s Endo decision in December 1944 provided the essential legal support (and political cover) for the opening of the WRA camps and unrestricted release of their inmates, it came at the end of a long process of internal conflict and negotiation within the executive branch, one that mirrored in many respects the battle over revoking martial law in Hawaii. Certainly, from the time in early 1943 that the War Department announced the recruitment of Nisei soldiers and the government established a joint board to examine the loyalty of individuals, it could no longer logically justify a blanket...

  11. 7 REDRESS AND THE BITTER HERITAGE
    (pp. 289-304)

    The physical traces of wartime Japanese American confinement rapidly vanished once the inmates had been released, as the government’s War Surplus Division sold off or disposed of the facilities on the camp sites. Native Americans reclaimed the land on their reservations in Arizona where the Poston and Gila River camps had been. Farmers in neighboring towns in Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming bought old barracks from the camps there for use as barns or for housing construction—one set of nurses’ barracks from Gila River was even moved to Phoenix and transformed into a dormitory for baseball players. Yet the spiritual...

  12. [NOTES]
    (pp. 305-368)
  13. [ACKNOWLEDGMENTS]
    (pp. 369-372)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 373-398)