A social and operational — though somewhat lacking — history of the 110th and 442nd

GOING FOR BROKE: Japanese American Soldiers in the War Against Nazi Germany

GOING FOR BROKE: Japanese American Soldiers in the War Against Nazi Germany

Going for Broke: Japanese American Soldiers in the War against Nazi Germany 

By James M. McCaffrey (Norman, Okla.: University of Oklahoma Press, 2013, 424 pp., $34.95, hard cover)

With another book documenting the experiences of Nisei military participation during World War II, Dr. James McCaffrey’s “Going for Broke” attempts to re-narrate the perseverance, struggle, and triumph of Nisei soldiers, albeit only male soldiers, by providing “a more comprehensive look at the entire story” (xiii). 

Through the narrative of Staff Sgt. Carl Morita, McCaffrey, a professor of history at the University of Houston—Downtown and a prolific writer of U.S. military history, weaves a story of personal voices of Nisei soldiers within larger military battles, maneuvers, and military life predominantly during the European campaign. The story is both a social and operational history of the 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team. 

The book begins with the bombing of Pearl Harbor and McCaffrey demonstrates the various affects it had on the Japanese American community both in Hawai‘i and the U.S. mainland. It then details the formations of the 100th Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion. After, McCaffrey charts the military journey from basic training in Camp McCoy, Wisconsin and Camp Shelby, Mississippi to the different battles in Italy and France. The book concludes with the Nisei soldiers returning home from Europe as military heroes and subsequent leaders of the Japanese American community. 

One of the book’s strengths is that McCaffrey synthesizes the various scholarships on Nisei male military participation during World War II into a one coherent narrative. McCaffrey writes in his preface that “previous publications have confined their discussions to one individual battalion” and “others have confined themselves to the infantry elements of the combat team” (xiii).  By piecing together his narrative, McCaffrey relies primarily on secondary sources and the Internet to explain different social interactions like the buddhahead-katonk relationship (79), experiences with African Americans during basic training of the 100th Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team during basic training in Camp Shelby, Mississippi (83), and racial discrimination in the military to name a few.  However, McCaffrey fails to provide anything novel to the oft-told narrative of the 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team.  

Although a contribution to the historical memory of Nisei military participation during World War II, the book lacks certain elements that have been acknowledged and explored in other works. McCaffrey neglects the presence of Nisei women soldiers in the WAC, does not include the experiences of Nisei soldiers who participated in the war against Japan and subsequent occupation after the surrender of Nazi Germany, refers to the Nisei soldiers from Hawai‘i as “Hawaiian,” and does not fully expand the relationships between the home front in Hawai‘i and U.S. mainland and front lines in Europe. However, if you are interested in learning about the history and experiences of the 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team, “Going for Broke” is surely a good addition to your home library.

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