- Hardcover: 368 pages
- Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; First Edition edition (April 21, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0805094083
- ISBN-13: 978-0805094084
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 127 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #346,379 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Infamy: The Shocking Story of the Japanese American Internment in World War II Hardcover – April 21, 2015
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“A compulsively readable, emotionally rich and passionately written account of the internment of 120,000 American Japanese in concentration camps during World War II.... Reeves' excellent Infamy, the first popular, general history of the subject in more than 25 years, reminds us that not only can it happen here, it did.... Every reader who has lived the post-9/11 era will immediately notice the parallels.”―Los Angeles Times
“Highly readable.... The story of this national disgrace, long buried...still has the power to shock. [Infamy is a] vivid and instructive reminder of what war and fear can do to civilized people.” ―Evan Thomas, The New York Times Book Review
“History's judgment is that internment...was wrong. Mr. Reeves's excellent book gives us an opportunity to learn from past mistakes.... Reeves is especially good at bringing to life the social experience of internment.” ―The Wall Street Journal
“Richard Reeves's book on the harsh, prolonged and unjustified internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II is a detailed account of a painful and shameful period in modern American history. Infamy combines Reeves's journalist's training with his historian's eye to give us a page-turner on how hysteria at the highest levels can shatter our most fundamental rights. Brace yourself and read this very important book.” ―Tom Brokaw, author of The Greatest Generation
“For years, the unjust relocation and incarceration of more than 120,000 Japanese Americans living on the West Coast during World War II - the majority of them American citizens - was shrouded in shame and secrecy.... [Infamy's] greatest strength is probably Reeves's masterful use of anecdotes, which enliven an epic story with poignant tales of individual hardship, courage, and endurance.” ―The Boston Globe
“Infamy tells the story of why and how the American government--with the full support of its citizenry--illegally interned Japanese-Americans. Richard Reeves even-handedly examines this dangerous precedent-setting time when the Constitution was trampled by misinformation, prejudice, and fear. Today as Muslim and Hispanic immigrants are being blamed for America's ills, Infamy is a timely and important read.” ―James Bradley, author of Flags of Our Fathers and The China Mirage
“In Infamy, journalist Richard Reeves...provides a sweeping and searching account of this appalling chapter in the history of the United States.... Reeves reserves the heart of his book -- and rightfully so -- for a narrative of the heartbreaking experiences of evacuated individuals and families.” ―San Francisco Chronicle
“Infamy...is perhaps the most thorough history of the relocation to date.” ―The Denver Post
“More than 120,000 Japanese-Americans were locked up during World War II...[and Infamy] tells their tale with energy, compassion and moral outrage.... With meticulous care [Reeves documents] the decisions made in Washington by the world's most powerful men, and how those decisions affected the lives of ordinary Americans whose only crime was to be of Japanese descent.” ―Minneapolis Star Tribune
“The forced relocation and internment of [Japanese Americans during WWII] was a racially based insult to our purported ideals. Reeves, an award-winning journalist, recounts the unfolding of this outrage with a justifiable sense of moral indignation…. This is a painful but necessary and timely reminder of how overblown fears about national security can have shameful consequences.” ―Booklist (starred review)
“Reeves provides unsparing criticism about the racist whirlwind of anti-Japanese feeling fanned by the Roosevelt White House, Congress, state and local governments, and leading media figures ... The testimonies of the uprooted Japanese-Americans, many of whom remained patriotic even as they were forced into the camps, are heartbreaking, courageous, and ironic in light of those who fought valiantly alongside American soldiers while their relatives remained locked away. Reeves's chilling exposé takes a deeper look at one of America's darkest chapters.” ―Publishers Weekly
“An engaging and comprehensive depiction of an essential, but sometimes overlooked, era of U.S. history… Reeves unearths and makes public a painful national memory, but he does so while maintaining the dignity of those held behind barbed wire and unmasking the callous racism and disregard of the people who put them there.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“Essential... Reeves mixes intimate narratives with historical documents to give an authoritative account of one of the darkest periods in American history.” ―Library Journal
About the Author
Richard Reeves, the bestselling author of such books as President Kennedy: Profile in Power, is an award-winning journalist who has worked for The New York Times, written for The New Yorker, and served as chief correspondent for Frontline on PBS. Currently the senior lecturer at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California, he lives in Los Angeles.
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Today, relatively few Americans know anything about the internment of Japanese-Americans. Before the term meaning of the term changed, they were known as concentration camps. Following the Pearl Harbor attack, hysteria, racism, and political expediency all converged to hastily create a policy to round up Japanese-Americans who lived in the west coast states of California, Oregon and Washington and place them in camps in the west, the mountain states and Arkansas. For no other reason than their appearance, 120,313 Japanese-Americans were wrongfully suspected being either active or potential collaborators with Japanese empire. With very few exceptions, they lost their homes, jobs, businesses and financial security. They were transported to isolated areas with harsh, unfamiliar climates. While officials claimed this was done to protect them, the camps were fenced in with the guns of the watchtowers aimed inward.
Reeves’ account is mostly a compilation of anecdotal experiences of those interned: how their abrupt removal was taken advantage of by profiteers (much like European Jews in WWII) what life was like in the camps, how—despite their treatment—many tried to demonstrate their “Americanness” by serving in the military, and how some, especially older persons without family support, actually found comfort and stability in the camps. Some took $75 for cars that had been purchased for thousands just months earlier. Many sold their businesses at low costs with the promise that they could buy them back only to find out that the people they trusted sold them on to others of a big profit. A regiment of Japanese-American soldiers, virtually all who had been in internment camps, that was sent to Europe became the most decorated American battalion in WWII. On the other hand, older, first generation Japanese-Americans were forced to leave the camps—everyone who was released was given a train ticket to their destination and $25—because they realized that they had no place to return, some committed suicide.
Much like the survivors of the Holocaust in the two decades that followed WWII, most internees did their best to hide their experiences from the public. Even the best movie about greed of those who profited off the internment polices, Bad Day at Black Rock didn’t portray the plight of the Japanese-American community (but it did have one of the best fight scenes in the history of cinema). While a few internees later were elected to Congress and sponsored legislation to garner a national apology and grant minimal reparations of $20,000 per internee after more than 30 years, the national monument to them, while stunningly beautiful and touching, is the hardest to find in Washington, DC, nestled on a small triangular block near the foot of Capitol Hill. And the racism encountered by Japanese-Americans still exists in parts of the U.S.
There was little that was new to me. I was fortunate to have had a great professor who taught about the Korematsu case that reached the Supreme Court, which challenged the constitutionality of internment. It was unsuccessful. Together with the infamous Dred Scott decision that upheld slavery prior to the Civil War and Plessy vs. Ferguson, which maintained Jim Crow laws, Korematsu is one of the great stains on American constitutional law. The attorney general of California, Earl Warren, used his support of internment to propel himself to the governorship. He would later become the greatest Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (and most hated by conservatives) who led the most progressive decisions in U.S. history including the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education case that led to the desegregation of public schools. He rarely spoke of internment and broke down crying when asked about it in a 1971 interview.
As Reeves recounts in his conclusion, President Harry Truman wrote to Eleanor Roosevelt, “These disgraceful incidents almost make you believe that a lot of our Americans have a streak of Nazi in them.” An awareness of the history of concentration camps like those of the Boer War, the Nazi death camps, and the Japanese internment camps is more important today than ever. Consider the responses of Fox News (sic and sick) to the June 3, 2017 London terrorist attacks: these “pundits” actually raise the foolish, sick (not sic) idea that the United Kingdom should consider creating internment camps!
I gave it three stars because I realized that I had a greater knowledge and understanding of this history than I thought I did. It read like a long newspaper article that spent no time on the “whats,” “hows,” and “whys” behind the stories. What, for example drove the individuals behind these decisions, how were they made, and why were none of them held accountable? More cynically, it had the feel of a well-known author who strung together bits of information that research assistants were feeding him in assembly line fashion. Perhaps I would give it three stars for adults who are completely ignorant of this episode and four stars for high school students and young adults. It has lofty goals but falls far short of its promise.
Couldn’t happen here? Well, it did.
On April 21, 1942, the front-page story in the Oakland Tribune was headlined, “‘Japs Given Evacuation Orders Here.’ The article reported, ‘Moving swiftly, without any advance notice, The Western Defense Command today ordered Berkeley’s estimated 1,319 Japanese, aliens and citizens alike, to be evacuated to the Tanforan Assembly Center by noon, May 1.” These Berkeley residents were among a total of about 120,000 Japanese Americans who were interned, two-thirds of them United States citizens — including the adopted Japanese children of Caucasian parents.
No doubt you’re aware that, not long after Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the removal of all American Japanese from a broad swath of California, Oregon, and Washington bordering the Pacific and moved them into what even many at the time called “concentration camps.” However, chances are you don’t know the half of it. I certainly didn’t.
In Infamy, Richard Reeves brings the full story to light for the first time, working from one-on-one interviews, unclassified files, records of legislative hearings, and published sources to put a human face on this shameful episode in American history. His accounts of the families who lost everything, the children who grew up bitter, and the courageous soldiers of the all-Nisei 442nd Regimental Combat Team are profoundly moving.
Today, many are aware that “the 442″ was the most decorated unit in the history of the US Army and famously rescued the so-called Lost Battalion trapped behind German lines, losing as many as nine out of ten of its own men in some units to bring the surviving Texas National Guard members to safety. However, “[f]or most of the American reporters, the rescued not the rescuers, white men not Nisei, were the focus of the story.” The New York Times ran the headline “‘Doughboys Break German Ring to Free 270 Trapped Eight Days.’ The article did not mention that the ‘doughboys’ were Japanese Americans.”
FDR didn’t act alone in setting all this in motion. Far from it. Reeves unmasks the powerful people who lobbied and spoke out for the evacuation. My jaw dropped as I tallied the list: Earl Warren, then Attorney General, later Governor of California and Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court. Edward R. Murrow and other prominent broadcasters. Secretary of War Henry Stimson. Artist and writer Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss). Walter Lippmann and other, less influential but then-famous newspaper columnists. Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy (“‘The Constitution is just a scrap of paper to me'”), later president of the World Bank, chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations, and member of the Warren Commission. Plus every member of the Congressional delegations from California, Oregon, and Washington.
Warren, McCloy, and Lippman appear to have been the most influential in channeling into terms that could persuade the President the upwelling of vicious racism triggered by the attack on Pearl Harbor and early Japanese victories in the Pacific. (However, FDR himself was by no means immune to racism, as indicated by his decisions that adversely affected African-Americans and Jews.) Most of the nation’s newspapers — even the allegedly liberal New York Times — editorialized in favor of the evacuation. Within the Army, which managed the evacuation, the driving force was an ignorant and deeply prejudiced general named DeWitt and his top aide, a pathological liar named Bendetsen.
Why did they do this? Those who championed the evacuation argued that “[t]he Pacific Coast is in imminent danger of a combined attack from within and without.” But economic motives figured in as well: the evacuees were forced to sell their homes, their farms, and their businesses for a pittance to their neighbors or other profiteers, who benefited hugely from the opportunity their government had given them.
There was dissent, but not much of it at first. The Navy objected because they knew perfectly well that the threat of invasion was an absurd fantasy; there was a single Japanese submarine off the Coast of California. Eleanor Roosevelt spoke out in her newspaper column. J. Edgar Hoover didn’t like the idea because he had already arrested everyone the FBI had tagged as potential spies and saboteurs starting the day after Pearl Harbor, and he wanted the credit; of course, Hoover’s idea of a “Suspect Enemy Alien” was wildly distorted. In the upper reaches of the Administration, only the Attorney General, Francis Biddle, spoke out forcefully and repeatedly in opposition — at Cabinet meetings and in letters to the President.
In 1943, a year after the evacuation, some of its erstwhile backers realized they had made a huge mistake. Despite continued opposition from the Army, regulations were steadily relaxed at most of the camps, with 4,300 young Japanese-Americans released to attend those colleges that were willing to take them and 4,000 more were recruited into the Army to form the 442. (Those 4,000 men “had to be replaced nearly 2.5 times. In total, about 14,000 men served, earning 9,486 Purple Hearts.”) Meanwhile, Lt. General DeWitt and Colonel Bendetsen were quietly relieved of their duties and promoted. The general even received a fourth star.
Roosevelt charged McCloy and Stimson with drawing up the evacuation order with great care to avoid giving the impression that the action was racist. Naturally, that’s exactly what it was. There were no concentration camps for German and Italian immigrants on the East Coast.
Reeves documents in abundant detail the hysterical wave of racism that swept through the West — in newspaper editorials, speeches by public officials, confrontations between whites and Japanese-Americans, and in the occasional violence directed at individual families.
Infamy fills a void in documenting a vital example of the racism that has scarred American history from the time the Pilgrims landed until the present day. The evacuation of American Japanese in World War II paled against slavery or the genocidal war against Native Americans. However, if the shameful treatment of immigrants over throughout our history — Irish, Germans, Italians, Jews, Chinese, and others — were to be ranked in order of severity, the incarceration of more than one hundred thousand Japanese-Americans would top the list. And after the war, thousands of the internees were deported to Japan!