Here’s a short list (so as not to overwhelm) of books and stories which help illustrate different aspects of this complex American tale:
Online education center featuring multidisciplinary curriculum, instructional guides, and primary source material that allow teachers and students to connect with the lived experiences of Japanese Americans
Densho's Facebook page
The Debate Over Japanese Internment Is Deeply Flawed
Essay by Constitutional Scholar Kermit Roosevelt in Time Magazine
Tule Lake Lessons: Tools Against Trumpism
Essay on Dailykos about what can we learn from what happened at Tule Lake
The forgotten history of Japanese-American designers’ World War II internment
Revisiting the link between detention and design history, 75 years after FDR’s executive order
The Forgotten Government Plan to Round Up Muslims
Article about how mass detention and deportation for Muslims was first explored in the 80’s and how one man made a difference, in Politico
From Internee To College Student: UConn’s Enrollment Of Japanese-Americans During World War II (audio)
One East Coast College that made a difference for a lucky few, featured on WNPR’s “Where We Live”
Prisoners in their own land: 75 years after Japanese internment (video)
A brief but very informative explanation which illustrates what happened to those in Washington State
Japanese Internment and its Implications for Today
How censorship worked during WWII and beyond here in the United States, as seen through the story of photographer Dorothea Lange
One-Two-One-Seven: A Story of Japanese Internment (video)
An award-winning video which tells a very poignant story of what happened to a once prosperous Japanese-American family in California
When Lies Overruled Rights
Contrary to what is believed, many challenged incarceration and four even went to the Supreme Court, but it’s taken 75 years and a President Trump for their voices to be finally heard.
Before “Maus” there was:
by Mine Okubo
First published in 1946, the graphic “manga” novel documents Okubo’s life as an art student at Berkeley in the 1940s as war breaks out first in Europe and then the United States. Not allowed to bring a camera to the camps, she uses paper, crayon and her skills as an artist to depict what happened as events unfold. Great for any age.
To see the role of the media in times of crisis and how truth is one of the casualties:
Infamy: The Shocking Story of the Japanese American Internment in World War II
by Richard Reeves
Award-winning journalist, columnist and currently the senior lecturer at the Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism at the University of Southern California. He told me how he remembers driving past signs for “Manzanar” when taking his family on ski trips to Mammoth Mountain, while living in California. He says he noticed the sign but never stopped to find out what really happened. Many books and many years later, when he finally did, he was surprised by what he found.
What was the President thinking?
By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans
by Greg Robinson
Harvard University Press
Robinson is a Professor of History at l'Université du Québec À Montréal and a specialist in North American Ethnic Studies and U.S. Political History. In order to answer the above question, he used FDR’s own writings, his advisors’ letters and diaries, and internal government documents to find out how and why the decision to incarcerate was made.
*A fourth option for those who want to look at the official findings by the US Government’s Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians:
Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and
Internment of Civilians
University of Washington Press
Asians, the “Perpetual Foreigner”:
The Making of Asian America: A History
by Erika Lee
Simon and Shuster
Before the Portuguese figured out how to get around the Africa's Cape of Good Hope, all roads lead to China through the Silk Road and its established trade routes. After that, the Portuguese became the first colonial empire and opened up the floodgates for European empire building. Erika Lee’s extensive history looks at the experience of Asian peoples in the Americas starting with those who were first brought here as slaves by the Spanish as early as the mid-1500’s as a result of the Galleon Trade which went from the Philippines to Peru via Mexico and lasted for over 250 years. While the book is primarily a look at the Asian-American experience in the US, she touches on the various waves of Asian immigrant groups to come to the new world with hopes for a new life, up to the present.
To learn more about the man historians say was the “architect of Internment":
The Colonel and The Pacifist: Karl Bendetsen, Perry Saito and the Incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II
by Klancy Klark de Nevers
University of Utah Press
Her book tells the story of WWII and what happened here on the home front from the lives of two individuals from the small town of Aberdeen, Washington, both of whom would go on to play a big role in the story of the US imprisonment of citizens of Japanese ethnicity. The author herself was born and raised in Aberdeen. Her family published a weekly called Gray’s Harbor Post. Her book grew out of the editing and research she did for a book published by a columnist for her family’s paper. From that project, she became interested in knowing more about this war hero, who was born in her hometown. This is the story that unravelled.
For an fascinating account of what it was like in the camps from the perspective of someone who was on the other side of the fence:
We Were Prisoners, Too: The Effects of World War II
by Louise Korn Waldron
This is a memoir by Louise Korn Waldron, who spent her early years at a “camp” as the daughter of Lewis Korn, the first director of the Gila River “Relocation Camp.” Her book recounts what it was like growing up with the man who set one of the ten “Jap camps” and the painstaking research she did through private letters and government documents to find out more about something her father refused to talk about during his lifetime. According to the author, "He found conditions so horrific and out of his control that joined the Army to escape.”
If I had to pick one book to explore all the complex issues surrounding this story, I would pick this one:
Only What They Could Carry: The Japanese American Internment Experience
edited by Lawson Fusao Inada
While the term “internment” is a bit old fashioned, this book gives amazing clarity to a story rife with euphemism, war propaganda and the fake news of its time. Not a straightforward narrative, the editor, like an archeologist who tries to piece together an ancient vase and unearth the object’s story, Inada takes fragments from various sources, including original newspaper articles, poems, art work, essays, government documents and even excerpts from novels, like Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings to slowly reveal a picture of how civil liberties and rights of citizenship can disappear when fear and prejudice are used to shape media coverage, government policy and, ultimately, public opinion.
The Train to Crystal City: FDR's Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America's Only Family Internment Camp During World War II
by Jan Jarboe Russell
A Japanese American woman recently said to me, “There were Germans and Italians in the internment camps too, not just the Japanese. You should read The Train to Crystal City.” I had read it, and I’m glad she mentioned it because she would understand that of course there were Germans and Italians imprisoned there as well. That’s because Internment camps (and there were many during those years) were created to detain “enemy aliens”—those who were suspected and accused of espionage or treason by the Justice Department. Crystal City was the only one which held foreign nationals as well as their family members. US Concentration camps on the contrary were run by the military and administered by the WRA and were built to hold US citizens of Japanese ancestry and their immigrant parents and grand parents who were forcibly removed from their homes and held solely for having at least 1/16th Japanese blood. For those who want to understand what a real US Internment Camp—run by the American Justice Department—and the other foreign nationals who became caught in this wide net was like, should read this book.
To give greater clarity to the confusion created by the general use of a historically incorrect term—internment camp—to ALL the US prison camps during WWII, the following are the ten concentration camps created to imprison US Citizens of Japanese descent at that time:
Gila River, AZ
Tule Lake, CA
Heart Mountain, WY
As you can see, Crystal City is not one of them. That’s because it was an internment camp which was legally, procedurally and physically a different kind of place than the US concentration camps created to imprison US citizens who were forcibly removed and held solely for being of Japanese descent. Many of those in the internment camps were the first to be rounded up by the FBI simply for being a Japanese national in a position of influence—teacher, businessman, religious leader, community organizer. In the end, no person of Japanese ethnicity was ever charged or found guilty of any act of treason or espionage…check out Personal Justice Denied.
For those who are interested in actually visiting some of these sites one day, I would recommend the following:
Confinement and Ethnicity: An Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites
by Jeffery F. Burton, Mary M. Farrell, Florence B. Lord, Richard W. Lord
Western Archeological and Conservation Center
Ten Visits: Accounts of Visits to All the Japanese American Relocation Centers
by Frank and Joanne Iritani
Frank and Joanne visited them in 1995, but their charmingly hand-drawn maps and details of what they found at the time were still extremely helpful and useful 20 years later when we went in 2015.
For More In-Depth Reading:
You’ll be surprised to know that much of what’s coming out now has been known since the 1970’s. Here are the heroes from that time.
1. Roger Daniels. Concentration Camps, USA: Japanese Americans and World War II, New York, 1972. There is a 2nd edition, Concentration Camps, North America … Melbourne, FL, 1981, that includes material on Canada.
Roger Daniels is the Charles Phelps Taft Professor Emeritus of History, University of Cincinnati.
2. Weglyn, Michi. Years of Infamy: The Untold Story of America's Concentration Camps. New York: Morrow, 1976; University of Washington Press, 1996.
(While not accurate in many details) it is important as the first study by a Nisei to challenge the standard JACL (Japanese American Citizens League) accounts by Bill Hosokawa and others. She is a rare female Nikkei voice for that time.
3. Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston & James D. Houston. Farewell to Manzanar: A True Story of Japanese American Experience during and after the World War II Internment. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1973. Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston. Beyond Manzanar: Views of Asian American Womanhood. Santa Barbara, CA: Capra Press, 1985.
There are more thoughtful memoirs but this one was important in reshaping the Nikkei image, not only by the readers of the book, but by its appearance as a commercial TV blockbuster. It was the right book at the right time.
4. Bill Hosokawa, during a long postwar career as the most important Nisei journalist, established what became the standard, JACL (Japanese American Citizens League) account. You can browse around in the following:
Bill Hosokawa. JACL: In Quest of Justice. New York: William Morrow, 1982;
Nisei: The Quiet Americans. New York. William Morrow, 1969; with new afterword, 1992;
Out of the Frying Pan: Reflections of a Japanese American. Boulder. University Press of Colorado, 1998;
Thirty-Five Years in the Frying Pan. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1978.
5. Roger Daniels. The Japanese American Cases: The Rule of Law in Time of War. University Press of Kansas. Lawrence, 2013.
Helpful as an updated summary of the whole process affecting Japanese Americans and as well as for leads to supplementary materials.
A few documentaries to help understand life after incarceration:
Pilgramage by Tadashi Nakamura (2003)
The story of the younger generation slowly trying to make sense of what happened in the wake of the civil rights movement.
The Cats of Mirikitani by Linda Hattendorf (2006)
An amazing story that slowly came to light when a young filmmaker befriends a Japanese-American homeless man in New York City in the aftermath of 9/11.
Kash: the Legend and Legacy of Shiro Kashino by Vince Mastudaira (2011)
This tells the story of those who went and fought for their country in WWII, despite facing discrimination and incarceration for themselves and their families and what happened to them when they got back.
Resistance at Tule Lake (2017)
A documentary by director Konrad Aderer relates to the tradition of resistance and fighting against injustice that are rooted in the origins of this country. Contrary to popular belief, many Japanese Americans chose to fight for American values not in the battlefields but resisting what they believed was an un-American act, from within the camps.
Hold These Truths: a new play by Jeanne Sakata
Hold These Truths is the story of Gordon Hirabayashi, an American of Japanese ethnicity who as a student at the University of Washington defied the curfew placed on Americans of Japanese ancestry by the US government in the 1940s (they could not be out between 8pm and 6am or they would be put under arrest). By doing so, he became one of four Americans at the time (Fred Korematsu, Minoru Yasui and Mitsuye Endo were the other three) to take cases to the Supreme Court. It is also the story of how the Quaker community, singularly, came to his aid. One reviewer called it the most important play of this summer (2017). It is scheduled to travel around the country. If it comes to your town, I would grab a ticket for you and a friend right away!