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A Tragedy of Democracy: Japanese Confinement in North America
     

A Tragedy of Democracy: Japanese Confinement in North America

by Greg Robinson
 
The confinement of some 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II, often called the Japanese American internment, has been described as the worst official civil rights violation of modern U. S. history. Greg Robinson not only offers a bold new understanding of these events but also studies them within a larger time frame and from a transnational perspective.

Overview

The confinement of some 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II, often called the Japanese American internment, has been described as the worst official civil rights violation of modern U. S. history. Greg Robinson not only offers a bold new understanding of these events but also studies them within a larger time frame and from a transnational perspective.

Drawing on newly discovered material, Robinson provides a backstory of confinement that reveals for the first time the extent of the American government's surveillance of Japanese communities in the years leading up to war and the construction of what officials termed "concentration camps" for enemy aliens. He also considers the aftermath of confinement, including the place of Japanese Americans in postwar civil rights struggles, the long movement by former camp inmates for redress, and the continuing role of the camps as touchstones for nationwide commemoration and debate.

Most remarkably, A Tragedy of Democracy is the first book to analyze official policy toward West Coast Japanese Americans within a North American context. Robinson studies confinement on the mainland alongside events in wartime Hawaii, where fears of Japanese Americans justified Army dictatorship, suspension of the Constitution, and the imposition of military tribunals. He similarly reads the treatment of Japanese Americans against Canada's confinement of 22,000 citizens and residents of Japanese ancestry from British Columbia. A Tragedy of Democracy recounts the expulsion of almost 5,000 Japanese from Mexico's Pacific Coast and the poignant story of the Japanese Latin Americans who were kidnapped from their homes and interned in the United States. Approaching Japanese confinement as a continental and international phenomenon, Robinson offers a truly kaleidoscopic understanding of its genesis and outcomes.
The confinement of some 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II, often called the Japanese American internment, has been described as the worst official civil rights violation of modern U. S. history. Greg Robinson not only offers a bold new understanding of these events but also studies them within a larger time frame and from a transnational perspective. Drawing on newly discovered material, Robinson provides a backstory of confinement that reveals for the first time the extent of the American government's surveillance of Japanese communities in the years leading up to war and the construction of what officials termed "concentration camps" for enemy aliens. He also considers the aftermath of confinement, including the place of Japanese Americans in postwar civil rights struggles, the long movement by former camp inmates for redress, and the continuing role of the camps as touchstones for nationwide commemoration and debate. Most remarkably, A Tragedy of Democracy is the first book to analyze official policy toward West Coast Japanese Americans within a North American context. Robinson studies confinement on the mainland alongside events in wartime Hawaii, where fears of Japanese Americans justified Army dictatorship, suspension of the Constitution, and the imposition of military tribunals. He similarly reads the treatment of Japanese Americans against Canada's confinement of 22,000 citizens and residents of Japanese ancestry from British Columbia. A Tragedy of Democracy recounts the expulsion of almost 5,000 Japanese from Mexico's Pacific Coast and the poignant story of the Japanese Latin Americans who were kidnapped from their homes and interned in the United States. Approaching Japanese confinement as a continental and international phenomenon, Robinson offers a truly kaleidoscopic understanding of its genesis and outcomes.

Editorial Reviews

Nichi Bei Times - Wayne Maeda
Robinson deftly merges the Pacific Rim experience into one coherent magnum opus.
The Japan Times - Jeff Kingston
A superb history about one of the more shameful chapters in U.S. history.
Times Literary Supplement - Jonathan Mirsky
[A] memorable... revealing book.
Reviews in History - Rachel Pistol
A Tragedy of Democracy serves as a timely reminder of how badly things can get out of control in times of war.
Journal of American Ethnic History - Daryl J. Maeda
In examining the mistreatment of ethnic Japanese Americans and Canadians as a tragedy of democracy, Greg Robinson has produced a triumph of narrative synthesis, one that will stand as the definitive work of its generation.
Nichi Bei Times
tour de force
Canadian Journal of History
A Tragedy of Democracy is a remarkably well-written, extensively researched, and innovatively reasoned history of internment… One wishes that this important book would appear on the shelves of every Justice Department and military lawyer.
The Japan Times
A superb history about one of the more shameful chapters in U.S. history.

— Jeff Kingston

Times Literary Supplement
[A] memorable... revealing book.

— Jonathan Mirsky

Choice Magazine
Robinson has clearly mastered his subject, and this book provides a clear, comprehensive account, including facts both well known and obscure.... Highly recommended.
Choice

Robinson has clearly mastered his subject, and this book provides a clear, comprehensive account, including facts both well known and obscure.... Highly recommended.

Reviews in History
A Tragedy of Democracy serves as a timely reminder of how badly things can get out of control in times of war.

— Rachel Pistol

Journal of American Ethnic History
In examining the mistreatment of ethnic Japanese Americans and Canadians as a tragedy of democracy, Greg Robinson has produced a triumph of narrative synthesis, one that will stand as the definitive work of its generation.

— Daryl J. Maeda

Booknews
Besides Updike, big names contributing include Norman Mailer, Cynthia Ozick, and Arthur Schlesinger. Their approach is not so much institutional history as a cascade of anecdotes illustrating how the US intelligentsia conduct themselves when they think the hoi poloi are not watching. Among the tales are a feud between brothers over which one was worthier, the struggle against modernism in the 1930s that resulted in F. Scott Fitzgerald and H.L. Mencken failing to be nominated, and Gore Vidal declining membership on the grounds that he already belonged to the Diners Club. Lists of past and present members are appended. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Kirkus Reviews
A surprisingly dull collection of essays commemorating Americaþs preeminent institution of arts and letters on its centennial. Editor Updike, in his confusing foreword and his chapter covering the years 1938þ47, sets the tone, managing to make this venerable, stodgy old institution seem stodgy but venerable. Arranged chronologically, the essays are by historians and literary figures such as Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Cynthia Ozick, Norman Mailer, Louis Auchincloss, and Hortense Calisher, artists (Wolf Kahn and Richard Lippold), and the composer Jack Beeson. Founded in 1898, the National Institute was modeled on the Institut de France and its literary chamber, the Acad‚mie fran‡aise. There would be confusion and in-fighting over the rules, domain, and membership status between the Institute and the Academy (an exalted, and much smaller, body within the Institute) until they were þunifiedþ in 1993. The bookþs liveliest passages have to do with the barring of such figures as H.L. Mencken and Theodore Dreiser, and with some pronounced rivalries: William James refused membership in the academy because his þyounger and shallower and vainer brotherþ (Henry) was already in. Interesting and indicative of the character of the Academy-Institute is its decades-long battle against modernism, waged primarily by Robert Underwood Johnson, the secretary, who along with Grace Vanamee, the þpermanent deputy,þ would maintain a staunchly conservative tone. Leave it to Mailer to add a little zest to the proceedings. His chapter, þRounding Camelot,þ covers the period from 1958 to 1967. He laments that even at that late date theAcademy-Institute was þall but wholly incapable of any kind of effective social or political action.þ The organization would loosen up a little, eventually electing writers and artists Johnson would have abhorred. And its gold medals and grants remain highly sought after. Useful, but insufficiently edited. Nearly every entry re-explains who Johnson and Vanamee were or rehashes the early scandals. (85 photos, not seen)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780231129220
Publisher:
Columbia University Press
Publication date:
06/23/2009
Pages:
408
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.30(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are Saying About This

Frank Wu
This book is outstanding. While the experience of Japanese Americans during World War II is the subject of more publications than any other aspect of Asian American history, this volume is likely to become established, quickly and rightly so, as the definitive account. Other scholars have done excellent work, but Greg Robinson's study is original and comprehensive. He uses archival materials that have never been analyzed before and the scope of his work extends beyond the United States to Canada and Latin America and covers everything from the earliest migrants to arrive from Japan to the successful redress movement. Even readers who are experts will benefit from consulting this book. It is excellent.

Arthur Hansen
A magnificent tour de force. This book will achieve the status not only of the best extant study on the topic, but also the one most widely adopted in college classrooms and purchased by the general public.

Meet the Author

Greg Robinson, a native of New York City, is associate professor of history at l'Université du Québec à Montréal and author of By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans.
Greg Robinson, a native of New York City, is associate professor of history at l'Université du Québec à Montréal and author of By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans.

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