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The Spectacle of Japanese American Trauma

The Spectacle of Japanese American Trauma: Racial Performativity and World War II

Emily Roxworthy
Copyright Date: 2008
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    The Spectacle of Japanese American Trauma
    Book Description:

    In The Spectacle of Japanese American Trauma, Emily Roxworthy contests the notion that the U.S. government’s internment policies during World War II had little impact on the postwar lives of most Japanese Americans. After the curtain was lowered on the war following the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, many Americans behaved as if the “theatre of war” had ended and life could return to normal. Roxworthy demonstrates that this theatrical logic of segregating the real from the staged, the authentic experience from the political display, grew out of the manner in which internment was agitated for and instituted by the U.S. government and media. During the war, Japanese Americans struggled to define themselves within the web of this theatrical logic, and they continue to reenact this trauma in public and private to this day. The political spectacles staged by the FBI and the American mass media were heir to a theatricalizing discourse that can be traced back to Commodore Matthew Perry’s “opening” of Japan in 1853. Westerners, particularly Americans, drew upon it to orientalize—disempower, demonize, and conquer—those of Japanese descent, who were characterized as natural-born actors who could not be trusted. Roxworthy provides the first detailed reconstruction of the FBI’s raids on Japanese American communities, which relied on this discourse to justify their highly choreographed searches, seizures, and arrests. Her book also makes clear how wartime newspapers (particularly those of the notoriously anti-Asian Hearst Press) melodramatically framed the evacuation and internment so as to discourage white Americans from sympathizing with their former neighbors of Japanese descent. Roxworthy juxtaposes her analysis of these political spectacles with the first inclusive look at cultural performances staged by issei and nisei (first- and second-generation Japanese Americans) at two of the most prominent “relocation centers”: California’s Manzanar and Tule Lake. The camp performances enlarge our understanding of the impulse to create art under oppressive conditions. Taken together, wartime political spectacles and the performative attempts at resistance by internees demonstrate the logic of racial performativity that underwrites American national identity. The Spectacle of Japanese American Trauma details the complex formula by which racial performativity proved to be a force for both oppression and resistance during World War II.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6504-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction Staging the Trauma of Japanese American Internment
    (pp. 1-18)

    After the closure of the World War II internment camps and the “relocation” of former internees to new postwar homes, many observed the remarkable silence and stoic rebounding with which most first- and second-generation Japanese Americans (Issei and Nisei) closed that chapter of their lives. It was this silence and stoicism that contributed in large part to their designation, along with other Asian Americans, as the “model minority.” ³ Conservative critics claimed this apparent lack of bitterness as proof that the internment camps were not unjust after all, that even their former inmates tacitly approved the “military necessity” that stripped...

  5. CHAPTER 1 “A Race of Ingenious Marionettes” Theatricalizing the Japanese, 1853–1946
    (pp. 19-56)

    The first phase of the U.S. East Asia Squadron’s bloodless opening of Japan—reputedly ending two centuries of the island nation’s isolation “without firing a shot”—proved so strategic in containing Japanese resistance that its leader, Commodore Matthew C. Perry, resolved that the expedition’s second phase must either reprise his initial reliance on overwhelming spectacle or else forego the spectacular altogether. Resolving his all-or-nothing strategy while docked in China in the 1853–1854 period between the squadron’s two landings in Japan, Perry wrote in his journal that for “the sequel” it was necessary “in conducting all my business with these...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Spectacularizing Japanese American Suspects The Genealogy of the FBI’s Post–Pearl Harbor Raids
    (pp. 57-99)

    Within hours of the 7 December 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, FBI agents had snapped into spectacular action that resulted in the arrests of 1,395 purportedly dangerous Japanese Americans, newly classified as “enemy aliens” and “non-aliens,” in New York, California, and around the country.⁴ Headed by infamous director J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI raids on Japanese American communities in the wake of Pearl Harbor, and the subsequent detention of those of Japanese descent suspected of harboring intentions for sabotage or espionage, initiated a chain reaction that three months later led to the mass evacuation and internment of all West...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Performative Citizenship and Anti-Japanese Melodrama The Mass Media Construction of Home Front Nationalism
    (pp. 100-119)

    Fred Korematsu, the plaintiff inKorematsu v. United States(1944), singles out the disconcerting power of the American press when he looks back on the period during which he resisted the government’s exclusion orders against Japanese Americans. When Korematsu, a Nisei, got word that he would be forcefully evacuated from his home, he decided to evade what he considered an unconstitutional policy. (In 1944 the Supreme Court instead sided with the government.) ³ A friend referred him to a plastic surgeon who transformed his face so he could pass as an American of Italian or Latino descent—anything but Japanese....

  8. CHAPTER 4 “Manzanar, the Eyes of the World Are upon You” Internee Performance and Archival Ambivalence
    (pp. 120-147)

    Applause, distant but ongoing, is the first sound that greets today’s visitors to the Interpretive Center at Manzanar National Park in Inyo County, California. In National Park Service (NPS) lingo, the operation of such interpretive centers facilitates “the process of helping each park visitor find an opportunity to personally connect with a place.” ² On the same grounds where the U.S. government interned Japanese Americans behind barbed wire manned by eight machine-gun-equipped guard towers during World War II, since 2004 the NPS has been welcoming tourists in the “adaptively restored” community auditorium, which was constructed by internees to serve as...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Transnational Theatre at the Tule Lake Segregation Center
    (pp. 148-178)

    While “Japanesey” performances like the Manzanar New Year’s production ofThe Three Kichisaseasily fit the theatricalizing discourse that affixed the feudal soul of Noh and Kabuki to all those of Japanese descent, the “peculiar hodgepodge and medley of things Japanese and things American” that characterized most internee performance festivals was uncategorizable to outside observers of the camps. Despite their bafflement, the resident white anthropologists of the WRA Community Analysis Section had to admit that this “mixture of new and old, of Japanese, of regional West Coast, and of general American traditions was fairly typical of relocation center entertainment interests.”...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 179-214)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 215-224)
  12. Index
    (pp. 225-231)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 232-232)