Noted scholar re-examines landmark Japanese American incarceration cases


THE JAPANESE AMERICAN CASES: The Rule of Law in Time of War

THE JAPANESE AMERICAN CASES: The Rule of Law in Time of War
THE JAPANESE AMERICAN CASES: The Rule of Law in Time of War

THE JAPANESE AMERICAN CASES: The Rule of Law in Time of War

By Roger Daniels (Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2013, 232 pp., $17.95, paperback)

Why another book about the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II? We already have a vast library of literature addressing many different facets of this history, almost more than any one person can adequately cover. Nevertheless, Roger Daniels’ new book, “The Japanese American Cases: The Rule of Law in Time of War,” deserves a prominent place in the literature because of its scope and depth of scholarly research. Daniels is perhaps the foremost historian dealing with matters of the incarceration story and he continues to study, re-examine and monitor all relevant developments.

Asked by the editors of the University of Kansas Press of the series — Landmark Law Cases and American Society — to write about Gordon Hirabayashi and the other cases that made it to the Supreme Court in 1943 and 1944, Daniels gives them top priority in this book and then expands into a re-examination of the whole history up to the present. 

This is an admirable compilation of the many strands and layers of this complex history. What sets this book apart is his tone of understanding and looking at things from the point of view of us, the victims of government policy, admirably illustrated by passages like this: “For the West Coast Japanese Americans the eleven months following Pearl Harbor were an extended waking nightmare as their illusions about their place in wartime American society were inexorably destroyed.” 

Daniels readily admits that there are still many unanswered questions regarding these wartime cases, but as he says, “The inability to answer certain kinds of questions is one of the factors that makes history, in the words of the great Dutch historian Pieter Geyl, ‘a debate without end.’” New evidence does turn up, and a re-examination, especially about the incarceration, is due.

Though the emphasis is on the major cases brought to the Supreme Court (Hirabayashi, Yasui, Korematsu and Endo), this is no dry scholarly volume. What is particularly gratifying is his forthright, plain English approach. For example, he characterizes the actions of the wartime ACLU under the leadership of Roger Baldwin as feeble and confused. As for then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s role in creating the policies, Daniels has this to say: “It seems to me likely that the president’s fear of the political consequences of not taking steps against the West Coast Japanese was more significant than any fears he might have had of invasion or sabotage.” 

As these cases are shown wending their way up the judicial ladder, each judge, each lawyer makes his moves and renders his opinions, and the impression is that there is much foot dragging and delaying tactics to slow the process. By the time Mitsuye Endo reaches the Supreme Court, it is the end of 1944, three years after the initial roundup and incarceration. The Supreme Court justices whose decisions had such a tremendous impact on our lives, seem so distant from us. The dry parsing of legal matters while we were languishing in the concentration camps takes on a surreal edge since we had not been convicted of wrongdoing. I wonder how the justices would have felt if they had come to see the camps, to meet the thousands being held in them. But, it turns out that they decided that it was okay to keep us locked up for years because the military said it was necessary.

One area that Daniels covers in great detail is the Tule Lake, Calif. segregation camp. The story of the camp that held the designated “disloyals” has never been given proper attention. The separation of these individuals from the other camps, the turmoil, clashes, renunciation and its subsequent problems are well told here and lawyer Wayne Collins emerges as a real hero and champion of Japanese Americans in his fight to restore citizenship for the renunciants. 

Postwar years, the struggle for redress, the move to preserve and create national monuments of former campsites, and the National Japanese American Memorial on the Capitol Mall are mentioned in the end, bringing the book up to date. It is quite a history, our history. Daniels is to be thanked for telling it so well.  

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