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A Tragedy of Democracy: Japanese Confinement in North America

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  • Posted July 14, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    A Tragedy of Democracy is a definitive work on the roundup of ethnic Japanese in the Western Hemisphere.

    Greg Robinson's latest book, A Tragedy of Democracy, is worthy of being the definitive work on Japanese American/Canadian wartime experience. As a Japanese American who spent World War II in an internment camp, I have over the past fifty years read nearly every book that has been written on the subject and I wondered what could be added to the mountain of information already available.

    Robinson's work on the Japanese Canadian experience was almost totally new to me. I had read Joy Kogawa's novel, Obasan, and summary accounts of what Canadian Japanese endured during the war, but I was stunned to learn in detail the depth of the animosity and vindictiveness of the Canadian government and the harsh treatment it meted out to the hapless Japanese. It made me think that compared to our Canadian kin, we Japanese Americans had it easy. Much of what he wrote of the Latin American situation was also new for me.

    But I call it a definitive work not simply because it deals with all of North America and much of the Latin American experience. This is the first book that gives coherence to a widely diversified, multi-faceted story. Until now, if someone was seriously interested in the Japanese American wartime experience, I would have recommended several books, some focusing on history, others on politics, law, sociology, psychology and so on. I think I can now say, "Read Greg Robinson's book." Beyond finding an impressive amount of original material, he took full advantage of all that has been written on the subject; he looked down from the mountaintop, so to speak, and provided a broad perspective that has been lacking. Although I already knew a great deal of the Japanese American experience, I found it deeply satisfying to come across even familiar material in a broad and coherent narrative that told the story more completely than anything that I have previously read.

    In his first book, By Order of the President, Professor Robinson gave us a revealing and disturbing psychological profile of FDR, his biases and predisposition for putting all Japanese - he made little distinction between citizens and non-citizens - in "concentration camps" even before the outbreak of war. In this new work, Robinson demonstrates his psychological acumen regarding Japanese Americans struggling with their dual cultural identity. Describing the Japanese American dilemma of having to choose between the country of their parents' origin and of their own is not easy even for Nisei, or perhaps especially for Nisei, but Robinson, aided to some degree by the perspective of time, shows rare and keen insight into the Japanese American mentality.

    Gene Oishi

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