Thursday, November 8, 2007


I know I said the next post would be about the difference between individual bigotry and institutional racism, but I just finished Eric Muller's book American Inquisition: The Hunt for Japanese American Disloyalty in World War II (UNC Press) and I just wanted to put in a plug for it. First of all, it weighs in at a slim 216 pages, which includes notes and bibliography, so it's just under 150 page pages of text. Second, it's extremely well written. Muller writes elegantly and with precision--I suppose it's his training in legal writing. What impresses me about this type of concise writing is that it's not dry. Particularly when Muller tells the stories of Japanese American people whose lives were irrevocably impacted through their internment/incarceration, it's a very moving account. And finally (but this should probably have been the first thing I wrote) it's an important book--because it systematically goes through the process that the various military and non-military agencies used to evaluate who was "loyal" versus who was "disloyal" and therefore, who was deemed a threat to national security and a danger to the war effort. Muller's work is important because he clearly lays out how arbitrary, in many ways, the various cases for "loyalty" were made by the different agencies and in the last chapter in particular, he makes clear that the idea of loyalty as a barometer for who is not dangerous, or to put it a different way, to equate disloyalty with someone who is dangerous or someone who will betray the country is based on faulty logic in many ways.

I also think the book is important for the links it makes, at the end, with what happened in the past regarding civil liberties and civil rights for a specific ethnic group and our current situation, post 9/11 for Muslim and Arab Americans. In particular, there is one quote from American Inquisition that makes this link clear, and it's in a chapter that describes a case brought against the U.S. military by an internee and Nisei, George Ochikubo, who believed that his exclusion from the West Coast and detainment in an internment camp was illegal. Here is a small excerpt from Muller's book:

"For the WDC [Western Defense Command], it seems the Ochikubo case was not really about George Ochikubo, or his loyalty to the United States, or the danger that he--or, for that matter, Japan--actually posed to the West Coast. The Ochikubo case was instead mostly about making law. It was about creating legal precedent favorable to the unfettered deployment of military power against American civilians on American territory, at a moment that the military deemed an emergency" (Muller 133).

If you are interested in reading more about the book or ordering it from UNC Press, you can go to their website here.

Take a look at it--or take a look at other books that talk about the Japanese American internment. I really do feel this is an important piece of U.S. history that we should ALL know about, wherever we are in the country or wherever we are in the world. Because the Japanese American internment, from the moment it was conceived and implemented to the reparations movement and formal apology, to the current day, is one of the most American stories I know--it's one we should all know and remember.

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