Democracy on trial : the Japanese American evacuation and relocation in World War II

by Page Smith

Hardcover, 1995





New York : Simon & Schuster, c1995.


In 1942, following Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which authorized the U.S. Army to "exclude" "all persons" considered a threat to national security. In the final analysis these turned out to be some 110,000 Japanese Americans. Losing their jobs, their businesses, their personal property, and their homes, these "persons of Japanese ancestry" - 72,000 of whom were U.S. citizens by birth - were first taken to temporary "assembly centers" (including stalls in converted racetrack stables) and then shipped to "relocation centers" in California, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and Arkansas, where many of them spent the next three years of their lives. In Democracy on Trial, Page Smith tells the dramatic story of the men, women, and children who endured this tragic chapter in American history. Democracy on Trial also exposes the remarkable - and unexpected - range of military, political, economic, racial, and personal motives of public figures such as General John DeWitt, who was in charge of the evacuation; U.S. Attorney General Francis Biddle, who vigorously opposed the internment; Walter Lippmann, the influential liberal columnist, who warned that the whole Pacific Coast was "in imminent danger of attack from within"; Earl Warren, California Attorney General and later Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, who at first opposed the evacuation but then bowed to political pressure; the editors of the Los Angeles Times, who warned that "a viper is a viper wherever the egg is hatched"; and J. Edgar Hoover, who argued that the Japanese American community did not pose a military threat. Drawing on interviews and archival research, Smith shows how behavior in the camps ranged from patriotic cooperation to outright resistance. Everyday life raised a whole host of unanticipated problems that demanded new forms of political, social, and even familial organization. Because the government barred the older Japanese-speaking generation from holding positions of authority in the camps, younger Japanese Americans gained power and status that they otherwise would not have had. At the same time, women gained equality in the camps, where they often did the same work as men. Thus relocation, which began by isolating Japanese Americans from the rest of American society, had the paradoxical effect of speeding up their assimilation, by breaking down the traditional immigrant social structure.… (more)




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