Lynn: Imprisoned: The Betrayal of Japanese Americans During World War II (Bloomsbury 2013) begins with a terrible irony. 800 American soldiers had battled their way across Germany to Dachau, where they discovered and liberated the survivors of that horrific place while their families at home were being held against their will in American versions of concentration camps.
“The story of how these Japanese American soldiers, members of the war’s most highly decorated US military unit, came to be there is just part of a remarkable saga. It is also a story of one of the darkest periods in American history, one filled with hardship, sacrifice, courage, injustice, and, finally redemption.”
Sandler jumps back 100 years to chronicle the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants to this country, the hurdles and prejudices they faced and their hard work and contributions to this country. And then came Pearl Harbor. In riveting and horrifying detail, Sandler describes the hysteria that swept the country and the swift and shameful events that followed as 110,000 Americans were imprisoned in “relocation centers.” Sandler’s summary is harrowing and filled with fascinating details, first-hand accounts and well-chosen and moving photographs that put an intensely human face of this injustice.
I was particularly interested in Sandler’s recounting of the political and military processes involved, those who tried to prevent it such as Ralph Carr, the governor of Colorado who lost his position and those like Dorothea Lange whose work chronicling the camps was suppressed. Sandler also includes several fascinating chapters telling of the brave men and women who fought and supported the war despite the treatment of their families. The 100th and the 442nd battalions were comprised of Japanese American men who fought with enormous bravery and sacrifice in crucial battles that helped turn the tide of the war.
The book concludes with information about what happened after the war, what the internees came home to and how they were treated and how attitudes changed in the years that followed. I read the book in galley and the back matter was not yet available and I am very interested in seeing the final copy and what will be included.
This is an extremely well done overview of an important and timely subject because as Sandler notes, the temptation to abuse civil rights is high in times of danger or war and that temptation remains evident today in treatment of Arab Americans.
Cindy: It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned that the “cabin” my grandparents bought in the early 1950s when they first moved to Arizona was really one of the smaller barracks from an Arizona internment camp. They paid $25 in a government sale and bought a few other items and hauled the barracks behind a truck to their new land. My grandmother loved Zane Grey novels and wanted to relocate from western New York state to the land she loved reading about. My mother, forced to move to the “wild frontier” during her last years of high school, was not amused and refused to ever read a Zane Grey novel. My mother’s complaints about her “forced move” seem rather insignificant when the real history is revealed.
Besides Sandler’s nonfiction book, 2013 also has a picture book “inspired by one family’s experience in a Japanese American internment camp.” Fish for Jimmy by Katie Yamasaki (Holiday House 2013) tells the story of two young brothers living in California. When Pearl Harbor is bombed, the father is taken by the FBI and then later the rest of the family is relocated to an internment camp. Taro is charged with being the man of the house to watch out for his mother and younger brother Jimmy in his father’s absence. When Jimmy refused to eat the bland food at the camp and his health declines, Taro takes charge and finds a way to get Jimmy to eat. Yamasaki both writes and illustrates in acrylic this emotionally charged story that makes the relocation history accessible to a young audience.
Common Core Connection
On page 162, Sandler says this:
“One of the most important lessons to be learned from the internment experience is that when a great injustice is done to a particular group, others must come to their aid.”
Have students research the discrimination and harassment to Muslim and Islamic Americans that took place after the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center. Ask students if they think this prejudice still exists today. Discuss what steps could they take to counter these feelings and actions? Ask students to compare and contrast the Japanese-American internment experience with the prejudice Muslim Americans faced after 9/11.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.6-8.7 Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.6-8.9 Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis reflection, and research.