Days of Infamy: How a Century of Bigotry Led to Japanese American Internment

Days of Infamy: How a Century of Bigotry Led to Japanese American Internment
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Release Date
June 07, 2022
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In another unrelenting look at the iniquities of the American justice system, Lawrence Goldstone, acclaimed author of Unpunished Murder, Stolen Justice, and Separate No More, examines the history of racism against Japanese Americans, exploring the territory of citizenship and touching on fears of non-white immigration to the US -- with hauntingly contemporary echoes.

On December 7, 1941 -- "a date which will live in infamy" -- the Japanese navy launched an attack on the American military bases at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The next day, President Franklin Roosevelt declared war on Japan, and the US Army officially entered the Second World War.

Three years later, on December 18, 1944, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which enabled the Secretary of War to enforce a mass deportation of more than 100,000 Americans to what government officials themselves called "concentration camps." None of these citizens had been accused of a real crime. All of them were torn from their homes, jobs, schools, and communities, and deposited in tawdry, makeshift housing behind barbed wire, solely for the crime of being of Japanese descent. President Roosevelt declared this community "alien," -- whether they were citizens or not, native-born or not -- accusing them of being potential spies and saboteurs for Japan who deserved to have their Constitutional rights stripped away. In doing so, the president set in motion another date which would live in infamy, the day when the US joined the ranks of those Fascist nations that had forcibly deported innocents solely on the basis of the circumstance of their birth.

In 1944 the US Supreme Court ruled, in Korematsu v. United States, that the forcible deportation and detention of Japanese Americans on the basis of race was a "military necessity." Today it is widely considered one of the worst Supreme Court decisions of all time. But Korematsu was not an isolated event. In fact, the Court's racist ruling was the result of a deep-seated anti-Japanese, anti-Asian sentiment running all the way back to the California Gold Rush of the mid-1800s. Starting from this pivotal moment, Constitutional law scholar Lawrence Goldstone will take young readers through the key events of the 19th and 20th centuries leading up to the fundamental injustice of Japanese American internment. Tracing the history of Japanese immigration to America and the growing fear whites had of losing power, Goldstone will raise deeply resonant questions of what makes an American an American, and what it means for the Supreme Court to stand as the "people's" branch of government.

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What happened before WWII
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There have been a number of books about the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Fictional titles include Denenberg's The Journal of Ben Uchida: Citizen 13559 Mirror Lake Internment Camp (1999), Garrigue's The Eternal Spring of Mr. Ito (1985), Houston's Farewell to Manazar (1974), Kadohata's Weedflower (2006), and Otsuka's When the Emperor Was Divine (2002). For nonfiction titles, there are Sandler's Imprisoned, Sakurai's Japanese American Internment Camps, and Takei's graphic novel style memoir, They Called Us Enemy. Although this cover looks like one on a graphic novel, this book is a deep dive into the systemic racism that Asian immigrants faced from the middle of the 1800s until World War II, and how that racism allowed the Japanese internment to occur.

While Goldstone is not of Asian descent, he is an expert in constitutional law and has done a great deal of research, Days of Infamy is a well constructed and sympathetic look at the history of Asian immigrants and Asian Americans. Starting with the Gold Rush of 1948, he looks at the various people who came to the US from Asian countries, and how they were treated, especially by the laws. My biggest takeaway is that for many, many years, the constitution was interpreted as pertaining only to white males. Not only that, but even after people pointed out that the term "white" has no clear meaning, people in power chose to define the term in whatever way suited their purposes.
Good Points
Historic event after historic event shows how Asian immigrants were mistreated, even while popular opinion embraced aspects of the culture, shown by events such as the Panama–Pacific International Exposition in 1915. Immigration policies were in place that made it difficult for people, especially women, to come into the country, and other policies made it nearly impossible for people to own land, even if they were born in the US. It was even debated whether or not people who were born in the US to parents who were not citizens were citizens themselves, even when the language was fairly clear. It seems that it is always possible for people to interpret laws in ways that suit their own purposes!

Accompanied by vintage photographs, newspaper articles, and other documents, Days of Infamy paints a clear picture of how the government spent years interpreting laws in ways that made it very easy for President Roosevelt to authorize Executive Order 9066 with little or no opposition. It is an important cautionary tale for a time when it is all to easy to forget the past, during a time when it would be all to easy to repeat it.
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