Years of infamy: the untold story of America's concentration camps is a book by Michi Weglyn that documents Japanese-American concentration camps during the Second World War. As a teenager, the author was among the 110,000 Japanese-Americans interned by the United States government during the conflict. The book is definitely one of the most thoroughly documented accounts of the evacuation to ever be published. In it, Weglyn avoids including a lot of personal experiences and instead focuses on the creation of the policy that saw the large number of people, two-thirds of whom were American citizens, taken to remote detention centers. The book is passionate, powerful, well-documented, and-despite being somewhat rough from a literary perspective,-authentic in its tone.
Weglyn makes the detention appear remarkable in that it took place without any discernible protest whosoever. One month before the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japanese forces in December 1941, a report from the State Department showed overwhelming patriotism and loyalty among the Japanese minority group in America. The author singles out Frank Knox, the Secretary of the Navy, as the force behind the detention, and Col. Karl R. Bendetsen as the person who deflected the event from the Justice Department and questions related to its constitutionality. Milton Eisenhower, who was the National Director of the War Relocation Authority, Abe Fortas, Earl Warren, and Hugo black were all enthusiastic supporters of the plan. Veiled under the claim of military necessity was the United States need for a barter reserve, meaning war hostages.
The book also looks at the little-known facts that Japanese citizens from Latin American countries such as Paraguay and Mexico were exported to the United States. The author discusses how Japanese forces in front-line Hawaii were not harassed much as they were considered economically indispensable. Her voluminous proof is gotten from government sources such as the War Relocation Authority, various collections of oral history, the press, and personal statements.
The author shows her disapproval with the administration of President Franklin Roosevelt together with some bigoted westerners for expelling Japanese Americans from the pacific coast. Most Native American citizens were spurred by the fear of attacks from the Japanese military and racial hostility directed towards Japanese Americans. This situation made them support the US governments successful attempts to detain American citizens inside remote concentration camps. Participants and scholars had already narrated this event before Weglyn published her book. Hence, the title of her book The Untold Story is somehow misleading. All in all, she does make a number of interesting contributions to the previously unmentioned segments of the story.
Weglyn starts by highlighting a report by Curtis Munson written just before the events of the Pearl Harbor attack. Munson had stated that the Japanese Americans were loyal and that they did not pose a problem. However, the author claims that the government suppressed the report while the Second World War was going on; something that kept the favorable perception of the Japanese Americans away from the general public. US citizens were kept in the dark about known facts and public opinion brilliantly manipulated while a massive and cruel government hoax put in place. All in all, it is uncertain whether the publication of Munsons ambiguous report can have done much about the fears and racism present during the early days of the conflict.
The author then puts up a provocative idea of the real reason why the US government rounded up Japanese Americans and placed them in detention. According to her, they were to be used as hostage reserve to ensure that Americans held by the Japanese were not mistreated. Although she admits that this is just her personal opinion, it later came out as a fact. In addition to this idea, she examines the bringing together of Japanese citizens living outside the outside the US-a story that is rarely mentioned in other accounts of the detention. Weglyn also gives a detailed description of the inhuman conditions witnessed at the Tule Lake camp in California, where the government held dissident Japanese Americans. In particular, it is fascinating the way she explains how the dissidents at Tule Lake tried to inform the Japanese government of what they were going through by using the Spanish government to send messages.
It is unfortunate that Weglyn sometimes does not use her sources the correct way. While she does present neat and believable conclusions, she occasionally overstates her case while also citing circumstantial evidence as concrete proof. Also, she fails to clearly explain the change in the governments attitude towards the Japanese Americans in 1944. She claims that President Roosevelt ordered an end to the exclusion programs and detention only after the 1944 presidential elections. She quotes some rather circumstantial evidence to support this point. All in all, Years of infamy: the untold story of America's concentration camps is an excellent book that retells a dramatic narrative. Michi Weglyn excellently reminds readers of past injustice as well as the fragility of the American civil liberties.
Weglyn, M. (1976). Years of infamy: The untold story of America's concentration camps. William Morrow & Co.
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