Last Witnesses: Reflections on the Wartime Internment of Japanese Americans

Last Witnesses: Reflections on the Wartime Internment of Japanese Americans

by Erica Harth
     
 

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Sixty Years After the Japanese Bombing of Peart Harbor and FDR's Order 9066 incarcerating over 110,000 Americans of Japanese descent (two thirds of them American citizens) one question remains unresolved: Could it happen again? To the writers in this book -- novelists, memoirists, activists, scholars, students, professionals -- the WWII internment of Japanese…  See more details below

Overview

Sixty Years After the Japanese Bombing of Peart Harbor and FDR's Order 9066 incarcerating over 110,000 Americans of Japanese descent (two thirds of them American citizens) one question remains unresolved: Could it happen again? To the writers in this book -- novelists, memoirists, activists, scholars, students, professionals -- the WWII internment of Japanese Americans in the detention camps of the West is an unfinished chapter of American history. Former internees and their children join with others in challenging readers to construct a better future by confronting the past. A fresh look at a compelling story, told by some of the people who lived it, that continues to tarnish the American dream.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
"[T]he American public is still largely uninformed" about the WWII imprisonment of more than 110,000 Japanese-Americans, says Harth, a professor of humanities and women's studies at Brandeis University. Harth, who spent a childhood year at the Manzanar camp (where her mother worked as an anthropologist for the War Relocation Authority), presents essays by former internees, other, non-Asian residents and descendants of internees that explore this shameful episode in American history. Interned with their parents and siblings, Toyo Suyemoto and Mitsuye Yamada offer gaman, or the "ability to bear the almost unbearable," as an explanation for their generation's long-held silence. Jeni Yamada, Mitsuye's oldest daughter, writes about how in marrying a Jew she became entrenched in a culture that is open about past wrongs, and psychologist Donna K. Nagata emphasizes that ongoing discussion is critical for healing. Stewart David Ikeda lyrically describes his insatiable curiosity about his dying grandfather's camp experiences. Activists John Tateishi, national executive director of the Japanese American Citizens League, and Sue Kunitomi Embrey, founder of the Manzanar Committee, describe the view still held by many Americans that Japanese-Americans are the enemy. What is ultimately at stake, Harth reiterates, is the significance of this incarceration for all Americans. Like contributor Allan Wesley Austin, a specialist in Japanese-American internment, Harth is adamant that the government's repeal of the Internal Security Act may not protect groups of Americans from being denied civil rights in the future; only a judicial decree that such an act is unconstitutional will suffice. The treatment ofJapanese-Americans resonates especially strongly since September 11, as public figures like Warren Christopher warn against repeating such mistakes with Muslim-Americans. Photos and illus. (Nov. 7) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
KLIATT
Essays in four sections (Parents and Children, Family Secrets, What We Took From the Camps, and From the Past to the Future) reminisce about the experiences of some 18 authors who were scarred by their years in the internment camps set up for Japanese Americans living on the west coast during WW II. Some 120,000 people, two-thirds of whom were American citizens, were locked up behind barbed wire because of their ethnicity. Some went first into horse stalls at the San Bruno race track south of San Francisco before being dispersed to camps like Manzanar. The voices of these internees, historians, and the children of camp administrators relate in vivid detail the daily lives of people who needed all their gaman (patience or endurance) to survive their demeaning treatment. Food, water, schooling, living quarters, and boredom were all trials to be faced. Pictures and copious notes add to the witness of those, who after the war, kept their internment secret because of the shame attached to it. Erica Harth's anthology of essays adds an important view of this historical misjudgment. Harth herself spent a year at Manzanar, California, where her mother was part of the camp's administration. Recommended for its honesty. KLIATT Codes: SA-Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2001, Macmillan, 303p. illus. notes. bibliog. index., Ages 15 to adult.
— Janet Julian
Library Journal
Harth (humanities and women's studies, Brandeis Univ.) here presents a series of essays about the internment of Japanese Americans and its impact upon the lives of the Nikkei (Americans of Japanese ancestry), both those who were interned and the succeeding generations. The writers include Nisei (children of Japanese immigrants) who were incarcerated in the camps, their children, researchers, college students, and some Caucasians who lived in the camps with parents who worked there. These are fresh voices that haven't been heard in other books about this period, and they reveal the legacy of the camps-from the silence engendered by shame, which affected lives for decades after the war, to the activism fueled by the passion of the Sansei (third-generation Japanese) in the Seventies and Eighties, which led to the 1988 passage of the Civil Liberties Act and monetary reparations. Harth, who lived in the camp at Manzanar, CA, as a young girl, brings together different viewpoints that not only look back but face forward to the future. Personal memoirs, dialogs between generations, research essays, and poetry combine to create a unique volume. Recommended for most public and academic libraries. While Harth's discussion of the postwar years deals mostly with the silence of those incarcerated, Simpson takes a somewhat different tack, arguing that the mass media's presentation of the internment, as published during the immediate postwar years, effaced the racial discrimination and displacement suffered by Japanese Americans. It also set the stage for the Cold War excesses of McCarthyism and for attempts, in the 1950s, to reinforce traditional middle-class gender roles and ameliorate other racial tensions. In five essays, Simpson backs up her arguments by examining specific situations, such as the Tokyo Rose treason case. In all cases, she shows how the internment experience is either ignored or given a positive spin by Caucasian writers, creating the "absent presence" of the internment. Simpson's thesis is unique, and she considers a time period that has not been widely discussed in books about the Japanese American experience. Unfortunately, the dry, academic writing won't appeal to most general readers. Also, because the book is based only on published accounts, it does not take into consideration the vast variety of experience among Japanese Americans. For larger academic and public libraries.-Katharine L. Kan, Allen Cty. P.L., Fort Wayne, IN Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher

“..[the essays] testify to the lasting impact of that traumatic experience on the succeeding generations of Japanese Americans.” —Washington Post Book World

“...the treatment of Japanese-Americans resonates especially strongly since September 11th, as public figures...warn against repeating such mistakes with Muslim Americans...” —Publishers Weekly

“These are fresh voices that haven't been heard...a unique volume.” —Library Journal

“...an often moving, sometimes disturbing collection of essays and memoirs about the internment...” —Rocky Mountain News

“...a seamless chorus that sings the core lessons of a historical error.” —Women's Review of Books

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780312221997
Publisher:
Palgrave Macmillan
Publication date:
11/03/2001
Edition description:
REV
Pages:
286
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.84(h) x 1.07(d)

Meet the Author

Erica Harth is Professor of Humanities and Women's Studies at Brandeis University. She is the author of many publications on early modern France. She spent a year of her childhood at Manzanar, California (one of the relocation centers for Japanese Americans), where her mother was working for the War Relocation Authority.

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