Guest Host: Tom Gjelten

Members of the Japanese-American Mochida family in Hayward, California, awaiting re-location to a camp.

Members of the Japanese-American Mochida family in Hayward, California, awaiting re-location to a camp.

Shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the U.S. began rounding up tens of thousands of Japanese Americans. They were sent to concentration camps in the western U.S. For nearly four years, men, women and children spent their lives enclosed behind barbed wire, watched by armed guards in towers. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and those who supported his executive order that paved the way for the camps said they were a military necessity. It was, after all, a time of war. But today many consider it to be one of the most shameful periods in American history. We look at how internment camps affected the lives of Japanese Americans for generations.


  • Richard Reeves Journalist and author of "President Kennedy" and "Daring Young Men." His newest book is "Infamy: The Shocking Story of the Japanese American Internment in World War II."
  • Julie Otsuka Author of the novels "The Buddha in the Attic" and "When the Emperor Was Divine," which explores the experiences of Japanese Americans in World War II.

Featured Excerpt

Excerpted from “Infamy: The Shocking Story of the Japanese-American Internment in World War II” by Richard Reeves. Copyright 2015. Henry Holt and Co. All Rights Reserved.

Poster: Report For Internment

Listener Jody Lee sent us a poster pinned up in 1942 in San Francisco, asking Japanese-Americans to report for internment.She received it in the late 1980s.
“It was a gift – I wrote my college honors thesis on literature by Japanese-Americans who were interned,” she says.
some text


  • 11:06:54

    MR. TOM GJELTENThanks for joining us. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR sitting in for Diane Rehm. She hopes to be back in this chair next week. During World War II, the U.S. placed more than 100,000 people of Japanese descent in prison camps on U.S. soil. Two-thirds of them were American citizens, many born and raised in this country. They were often given just days to pack up their belongings and relocate to the camps with their families.

  • 11:07:19

    MR. TOM GJELTENJoining me in the studio to talk about that dark episode in American history, Julie Otsuka, whose novel "When The Emperor Was Divine" draws from her family's experience in the camps. And from a studio in Portland, Oregon, Richard Reeves, he's the author of a new book, "Infamy: The Shocking Story of the Japanese American Internment in World War II."

  • 11:07:43

    MR. TOM GJELTENWe'd like to hear from you as well, especially those of you who, like Julie Otsuka, had family members interned or have some personal connection to the camps. You can call us at 1-800-433-8850. You can email us. Our address is Of course, you can reach us via Facebook or Twitter. I promise to bring you into the conversation. Julie Otsuka, thanks for coming in.

  • 11:08:11

    MS. JULIE OTSUKAMy pleasure.

  • 11:08:11

    GJELTENAnd hello to you, Richard Reeves, there in Oregon.

  • 11:08:16

    MR. RICHARD REEVESGood morning.

  • 11:08:17

    GJELTENSo Richard, you open your book with the story of -- did you grow up in the West coast? You lived in California for many years and you write at the beginning of your book of driving by the site of one of the concentration camps from World War II. Tell us what your thoughts were as you drove by that several times and, you know, what connection those thoughts had to your decision, finally, to write this book.

  • 11:08:44

    REEVESWell, I actually am a New Yorker, though I teach at the University of Southern California. To get skiing in California from Los Angeles, from Southern California, you drive through the wasteland that is the old Owens Valley and each time you pass the gatehouse and a sign saying, Manzanar War Location Camp. And each time, you think, God, I wish I knew more about that because in the East, we certainly knew nothing about it and somebody in the back seat will say, isn't that where they put the Japanese, and yes, it was.

  • 11:09:20

    REEVESThey put 18,000 Japanese American -- American Japanese in that camp. So I'd always been curious to know what really went on out there in the high desert and then the timing of recent events, you know. The Japanese incarceration wasn't an isolated event, really. American history is filled with stories of people being brought over to build railroads or steel mills, work in slaughter houses. Irish need not apply. Discrimination against Jews. And all of those people, we thought, were not like us until they were us.

  • 11:10:06

    REEVESAnd that was the book I wanted to write and I wanted to write it in the context to do my bit that it would not happen again because the laws that made it possible in 1942 are still on the books now.

  • 11:10:19

    GJELTENWell, let's review how it did happen. You write that this came in the immediate aftermath of Pearl Harbor. The attack was on December 7, 1941. What happened right after that?

  • 11:10:31

    REEVESWell, after that, the FBI had a list of several thousand people, some of them were Germans and some were Italians, after Germany and Italy also declared war on us. And those people, Issei, first generation Japanese, were all aliens, enemy aliens because Japanese could not become American citizens from 1924 until 1952. So those people were swept up by the FBI and put -- they were community leaders, the teachers, the journalists, the priests, anybody with any influence. It was like a Rotary Club list.

  • 11:11:11

    REEVESAnd they were put in federal prisons. Often, their families did not know for months and even years where they were. Then, in a second wave after February 19, 1942, when Franklin Roosevelt signed executive order 9066 declaring the West coast, west of the Sierras and the Cascades, to be a war zone, giving the military the right to remove anyone they wanted to. Well, they wanted to move -- driven by the press and by West coast politicians, by racism, by greed, by real fear, by lies in the press, the only people they removed were the Japanese Americans.

  • 11:12:01

    GJELTENAnd just to clarify, Richard, that order only applied to people in the West. Were Japanese Americans in the East relatively more protected?

  • 11:12:12

    REEVESThey were totally protected. It only applied to Oregon, Washington, California, parts of Arizona and Colorado.

  • 11:12:21

    GJELTENAnd tell us what you learned about that camp that you drove by often on your ski trips, Manzanar. What actually did you find out about what life was like in that camp?

  • 11:12:36

    REEVESWell, life was terrible in that camp. It was both terrible and hopeful. The Japanese Americans were fiercely patriotic and loyal to the United States. There were Americans on both sides of the barbed wire and the Japanese Americans were told that they were being moved into these camps, terrible places, for their own protection. But when they got there, of course, the machine guns, search lights, the guard towers were pointed in, not out and they were moved into tar paper barracks in places where the temperatures ranged from 120 in the summer to 30 below in the winter.

  • 11:13:18

    REEVESAnd almost miraculously, not with much help from the outside either, they built these camps first into small American towns full of baseball leagues, high schools, boy scout troops, sock hops. The kids were like -- it was Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland time. And those were the pictures that came out of the camps and, to a certain extent, it was the Japanese Americans who dictated that. They did not want to be seen as victims. They saw themselves as adding to the war effort by allowing themselves to be locked up that way.

  • 11:13:56

    REEVESBut they were living in tar paper barracks without water, without cooking facilities, with outdoor latrines, and a single light bulb, an 18X12 tar paper shack with six to eight people inside. It was a prisoner of war camp. Sorry.

  • 11:14:14

    GJELTENRight. It was a prisoner of war camp and Julie Otsuka, your family, your mother, your uncle and your grandmother spent three years in one of those camps and your grandfather was one of those who was arrested.

  • 11:14:31

    OTSUKAHe was arrested in the first roundup right after Pearl Harbor was bombed. He went to work on the Monday following Pearl Harbor and he was a general manager for an import/export company in San Francisco so he was a business leader, fairly prominent in this community. And he never came home that day, that Monday, December 8. And my grandfather, his wife, didn't know where he was for a few days until she received a postcard about five days later from the immigration detention center in San Francisco saying that he'd been arrested.

  • 11:15:00

    OTSUKAAnd I've actually seen letters that he'd written to her during the first year of the war, which we actually found in my grandmother's fireplace that she wanted to burn many years later. But he refers Italians and Germans as well being imprisoned with him. Most of the men were Japanese, but there were a few Germans and Italians. And he was sent first to Missoula, Montana, and then to three other camps that were run by the Department of Justice.

  • 11:15:28

    GJELTENAnd what evidence was there for him being a spy? What evidence did they produce or did they even bother?

  • 11:15:33

    OTSUKAI mean, there were these sham loyalty hearings, but we requested his FBI files. Nothing. I mean, he had been the secretary of the Japanese Association of Alameda, but I mean, there was no evidence that any of these men were spies. But it was as if the community was just -- it was emasculated in that first round of arrests. All their leaders were taken away, all their men were taken away, but it was known that these men were not guilty of any crimes.

  • 11:16:07

    GJELTENAnd it was -- just by being a male leader of the community was enough to get you arrested.

  • 11:16:12

    OTSUKAYes, a prominent male leader, um-hum.

  • 11:16:15

    REEVESNot only male.

  • 11:16:16

    GJELTENGo ahead, Richard.

  • 11:16:16

    REEVES13 women were rounded up in California that first day, but they were women who ran shops and things like that, widows and -- with children, their children were never told where their mothers were. Their fathers were gone.

  • 11:16:34

    GJELTENAnd Richard, did you see any -- Julie just said that there was no evidence ever presented against her grandfather or anyone else that she knew of. You did mention a Navy lieutenant commander, Kenneth Ringle, who came up with some of these lists.

  • 11:16:49

    REEVESYou probably know his son. He was a reporter for "The Washington Post." He came -- Lieutenant-Commander Ringle was fluent in Japanese, which was extremely unusual among Caucasians. He had spend six years as an officer in the U.S. embassy in Tokyo. He had a lot to do with picking up the list, but most importantly, he advised both the Justice Department, the military and the president of the United States that basically the Japanese Americans were no threat.

  • 11:17:26

    REEVESAnd one of the reasons he was able to do that was that we was allowed to use safe crackers from San Quentin to break into Japanese consulates -- it didn’t start with Watergate -- to find out what the Japanese -- Imperial Japanese themselves were saying. And what those papers said was that we cannot trust the American Japanese. They're loyal. Let's go after Negroes and Communists if we want spies.

  • 11:17:53

    GJELTENRichard Reeves is a longtime and famous journalist. He's the author of "President Kennedy and Daring Young Men." His newest book is "Infamy: The Shocking Story of the Japanese American Internment in World War II." We're gonna take a short break right now. Stay tuned.

  • 11:20:01

    GJELTENWelcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR sitting in for Diane Rehm. And we're talking in this hour about the internment of Japanese Americans in World War II, something that too few Americans really know about. But Richard Reeves has a new book on that episode. It's called "Infamy: The Shocking Story of the Japanese American Internment in World War II." It's one of the first popular histories of the Japanese internment. And he is on the line with us in a studio in Portland, Ore.

  • 11:20:39

    GJELTENI'm also joined here in Washington by Julie Otsuka who is author of the novels "The Buddha in the Attic," and "When the Emperor was Divine." And that second novel explores the experiences of Japanese Americans in World War II, including her family. And, Julie, before the break you were saying that your grandfather was one of those Japanese men who was arrested on December 8, 1941, the day after the Pearl Harbor attack. What then happened to his wife and your mother?

  • 11:21:12

    OTSUKAWell, they were panicked of course for a few days. And then they were sent away end of April, 1942, along with the other Japanese members of Berkeley. And they went first to Tanforan, a temporary assembly center, south of San Francisco. And then they were sent to Topaz, Utah. And my mother was ten at the time. Her younger brother was seven. And I think they had no idea what was about to happen to them. And they did as they were told. And I think for the family and for so many Japanese American families it was just -- it was a really, utterly devastating experience in so many ways.

  • 11:22:03

    GJELTENHow did you learn about what life was like? Did your mother share these experiences with you as you were growing up?

  • 11:22:12

    OTSUKANo, she -- I mean, they were -- camp was always referred to. It was a word. But I don't think I understood as a child what the word stood for. I knew that my mother had been to camp in her -- what seemed to me, her long ago youth. There were some objects around the house that had come from camp. There were some old forks in the back of the silverware drawer that had numbers that were inscribed on them. And those were camp forks. And there were some sleeping bags that my grandfather had used that were Army issue sleeping bags that he had been issued in camp. So these things were around the house, but as kids we didn't really understand what kind of camp it was that my mother had been sent to.

  • 11:22:57

    GJELTENSo you really didn't talk about the day-to-day experiences?

  • 11:22:59

    OTSUKANo. And I think that was very -- no, no, it was very typical I think also of many survivors of the camps to really repress that experience and not talk about it at all.

  • 11:23:09

    GJELTENHow did you go about researching that experience then to form the basis for your novel?

  • 11:23:14

    OTSUKAWell, I mean, I was much older when I began research the camps. And I thought I'd be able to mine my mother for information, but she was -- when I began writing my novel, she was then in the early stages of Alzheimer's, so actually I just read a lot of -- I immersed myself in history, and I realized that there was so much that I didn't know. I mean, I think maybe osmotically I did absorb a lot just from having grown up in my family and being in the Japanese American community. But I think when I finally began to write, I realize that I really knew very, very little.

  • 11:23:47

    GJELTENAnd, Richard Reeves, when you wrote your book, could you find -- did you find people who had experiences in these camps who were willing to share those stories with you? Or did it take a lot of digging to come up with the detail that you have in your book?

  • 11:24:00

    REEVESWell, some of the digging had been done. I want to mention one thing about those forks. One of the things that happened was the camps were based on models for prison of war camps, which meant that there were outdoor latrines and there was mess hall dining. And mess hall dining broke the Japanese American families. The kids would eat with their friends. They wouldn't eat with their parents anymore.

  • 11:24:26

    REEVESWhat happened -- I agree with totally with Julie. By the way, half the people I talk to recommended that I read her book, and I did, and wonderful writer. People didn't talk about it, just like combat soldiers don't talk to their families about what they saw and did. They were ashamed of it. What happened then was when the black civil rights movement began, and when young people began to question the system, to question their families, to question their oppressors, that was taken up too among young Japanese who began to ask their parents what had happened, what was this thing.

  • 11:25:11

    REEVESAnd then Japanese Americans organized wonderful resources of oral histories, particularly an organization called And since many of the people were old and many of them were failing, as Julie said, there's a wonderful archive, which was only compiled 40 years after all this happened. And you were able to use that plus survivors and people on both sides, it's an American story after all, people on both sides were Americans. Two-thirds of the people in the camps were American citizens. You're able to piece together this awful dark corner of American history.

  • 11:25:59

    GJELTENDark corner of American history. Richard, one of the things that really caught my attention, and I thought I knew something about this episode, was the list of people that we now regard as liberal heroes who endorsed this internment. People like Edward R. Murrow who became famous in the '60s for his journalism about migrant workers, for example, and who was one of the most esteemed figures in American journalism, was one of those you say who essentially endorsed this, along with Walter Lippmann, another famous liberal writer.

  • 11:26:34

    GJELTENEven the ACLU, some of the leaders of the ACLU. How do you explain that these people whose reputations are so solid now actually were able to approve what was happening to Japanese Americans during that time?

  • 11:26:49

    REEVESWell, as for the journalists, Lippmann and Murrow, I might add the cartoonist for PM Magazine who was Dr. Seuss...

  • 11:26:58

    GJELTENDr. Seuss.

  • 11:26:59

    REEVES...were hysterical. Theodor Geisel was his name, but Dr. Seuss, his handle. The press became hysterical, and that includes Lippmann, who always denied. He always said that he did it to protect the Japanese, but you only have to read what he said to know that that's not true. And Roosevelt himself was a racist. The west coast was fear of the Japanese. Racism, greed. Caucasians wanted the Japanese land, the Japanese homes, and they took them. They got them because Japanese bank accounts were frozen. They couldn't pay mortgages or insurances. But the -- so Roosevelt believed that the Japanese were aggressive because of the shape of their skulls...

  • 11:27:53


  • 11:27:54

    REEVES...which was common in the 1920s. And he thought it would take them 2,000 years to reach the civilized level of we Caucasians. And he was pushed by Lippmann and by Earl Warren, who was then the attorney -- Earl Warren in some ways is a great villain of this book and of this part of history. He was the attorney general of California. He came up with the theory that because there had never been a single incidence of Japanese sabotage on the mainland or in Hawaii, that that meant there was a planned effort, a fifth column effort that there would be a single explosion planned from Tokyo.

  • 11:28:40

    REEVESThat actually was ludicrous, but he sold that to the country. And going farther, there's no doubt in my mind that Earl Warren's actions in 1942 led to his decisions as Chief Justice of the United States in Brown v Topeka, the desegregation case. And if anyone announced that they can read the oral histories at Berkeley, the University of California, when a woman named Amelia Fry questioned Warren for six days. And on the last day asked him, I want to talk to you about the events of 1942. And Warren broke into tears and walked out of the room and didn't come back. So he knew what he had done. And there's no doubt in my mind that he felt his redemption came in 1954 and 1956.

  • 11:29:40

    GJELTENI have to ask you about a couple of other figures. Eleanor Roosevelt visited the camps. And, of course, just a couple years later she was the moving force behind the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. What did you learn about her view of that experience?

  • 11:29:57

    REEVESEaster, 1943 Eleanor Roosevelt visited three of the camps. She had written about it in her column "My Day." She had a newspaper column in those days. That same Easter her husband, the president, visited three Army bases in the west. By then there were Japanese Americans, again, serving in the Army. They had all been discharged on December 8th, but then when we needed them, particularly as interpreters and things, they were back. But when Roosevelt went to those camps, the Japanese American soldiers were rounded up and taken ten miles outside the camps and held under guard and lock and key in airplane hangars so that the president wouldn't see them and they wouldn't see the president.

  • 11:30:45

    GJELTENJulie Otsuka, Richard, I wanted to ask you, and I'll get to it later, Richard, also about Harry Truman. But, Julie, Richard just mentioned that Earl Warren, for example, felt great remorse over what he was responsible for during the war. And yet Japanese Americans continued to experience really harsh prejudice for years after the end of the World War. There wasn't some overnight change in the attitude toward Japanese Americans, was there?

  • 11:31:15

    OTSUKANo, I mean, in fact, I think that the anti-Japanese feeling was even stronger towards the end of the war. You were getting reports in the newspapers of torture of American GIs and Japanese POW camps. And many of the Japanese were afraid to come home because they'd also heard of some -- Japanese started to come back in January of '45, and some of them had been victims of violence, shootings. So they were terrified. I think actually for many families the hardest part was not actually surviving the camps, but coming home and beginning their lives from scratch after they lost everything.

  • 11:31:57

    GJELTENFrom scratch. And some of them really didn't even know how to begin their lives again. In fact, some didn't even want to leave the camps. Is that right?

  • 11:32:03

    OTSUKAWell, many of them had no homes to return to because Japanese were not allowed to own property. And so many of them returned and they lived in temporary camps for a while. And many of them financially were just devastated. And so my family was luck in that they had a house to come back to, but it had been completely trashed. And my grandfather was not in good health after the war, and my mother -- my grandmother had to go to work as a cleaning woman because her husband could no longer support the family, so...

  • 11:32:40

    GJELTENAnd he had been a prominent business leader before the war.

  • 11:32:43

    OTSUKAYes. And they had -- actually they had a very comfortable life before the war, but then things were just turned upside down.

  • 11:32:50

    GJELTENAnd what was the rest of their lives like then?

  • 11:32:53

    OTSUKAIt was hard. I mean, my grandfather had -- he had three strokes right after coming back to California. And then my grandmother worked for the next 30 years as a cleaning lady and put her children through school. They were able to go to college. But I remember my mother telling me that when she came back to Berkeley from camp, she was starting her freshman year at Berkeley High, and none of her friends asked her where she had been. And these were kids that she'd been in school with since she was in kindergarten. So it was a lot of silence surrounding their absence.

  • 11:33:25

    GJELTENJulie Otsuka wrote a novel about the experience of her family in World War II and it's called "When the Emperor was Divine." I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Richard Reeves, I'm looking for some heroes here, some Americans who actually stood up for the rights of Japanese Americans during this time. You write that the famous photographer Ansel Adams wanted to document what was going on in the camps through his photography. What happened to him?

  • 11:34:00

    REEVESBoth he and Dorothea Lange, who was equally famous, they ran into two problems. One is that everything that came out of the camps was censored by the military. The other was the pride of the Japanese. They did not -- Japanese Americans. They did not want to be seen as victims, so that Ansel Adams again and again would appear at a family, maybe six people living in a 12 by 18 space with sandstorms ripping through the tar paper. But when he got there, they would be decked out in their best clothes and sitting there pridefully as a family. And those were the pictures that the Army would let be released.

  • 11:34:43

    REEVESHe tried to put the work together in a book, but again it was censored. And as well-known as he was, the book was a total failure. America was not willing to accept that these things were going on.

  • 11:34:56

    GJELTENLet's go now to Peggy who's on the line from Welfare, Texas. Peggy, thanks for calling "The Diane Rehm Show." And you have a story about your knowledge of what was going on in the camps.

  • 11:35:10

    PEGGYThank you for taking my call, and good morning. It's a great show. Yes, I was about five years old. I grew up in Twin Falls, Idaho. A few miles away there was a relocation camp just outside Shoshone, Idaho. The different food providers in Twin Falls took turns provisioning the camp. And my father managed a meat packing company. When I was about five he let me ride along to deliver meat one time. And that camp had been plunked down in some of the ugliest land in southern Idaho. Yellow sandstone, greasewood, black rock, not a blade of grass or a tree. It was horrible. And these funny, awful, little prefab buildings.

  • 11:35:57

    PEGGYAs we drove past that, my dad looked out at that and he said, this is a travesty. Those people are some of the finest gardeners in the world. And if you'd allow me just one quick other story that's positive. There was a Japanese family in Shoshone who ran a restaurant. Right after Pearl Harbor, the old man went back to Japan, but his two sons were still trying to run that restaurant. They'd grown up there. They weren't interned, but their banking privileges were shut off and they couldn't of course run their business. But the citizens of Shoshone banded together, petitioned and got their banking privileges restored.

  • 11:36:40

    GJELTENPeggy, let me ask you, what did you -- you told that story of what your father said to you when you were five years old. What did you -- as you grew up, what more did you learn about what had happened in that camp?

  • 11:36:52

    PEGGYI didn't ever get any more details, but I grew up with a horror of what Americans could do to Americans. I still -- my heart is very heavy about that black period.

  • 11:37:03

    GJELTENAll right, thanks very much for your call.

  • 11:37:05

    PEGGYThank you. Goodbye.

  • 11:37:08

    GJELTENWe're going to take a break here. And when we come back, we're going to resume this discussion. I want to hear from listeners like Peggy who has some memory of what happened, some thoughts about what it means for Americans and how we treat people who don't necessarily look like us. My guests are Julie Otsuka, and she is a novelist who's written about her family's experience, and Richard Reeves, author of "Infamy: The Shocking Story of the Japanese American Internment in World War II." Stay with us.

  • 11:40:00

    GJELTENAnd welcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR, sitting in for Diane Rehm today, and we're talking about the Japanese-American internment in World War II, and we've just been overwhelmed by phone calls and emails from listeners, many of you with personal experiences from this period. I'm going to read a few here, and we're going to get to the phones. First of all, for a somewhat different take, Chip writes an email, saying for those of you who like to wax sanctimonious about all this, try to imagine yourself part of a West Coast public with little or no knowledge of Japanese capabilities and the kind of fear that might entail following the worst and most daring assault on the U.S. ever. Unless you had the knowledge then that we have today, you have no business passing any judgments.

  • 11:40:51

    GJELTENAnd very quickly, Richard...

  • 11:40:53

    REEVESCan I answer that a bit?

  • 11:40:53

    GJELTENYeah, I was going to go to you.

  • 11:40:55

    REEVESThe government, the government, beginning with the president, did have the information.

  • 11:41:00


  • 11:41:01

    REEVESAnd the true information was withheld from the American people, and they were lied to about all sorts of things, particularly the fact that the Japanese did not have the capability to attack the mainland, and the president and everyone below him knew it.

  • 11:41:20

    GJELTENThat's the point I was going to make, that it's wrong, in a sense, to blame those Americans who didn't know what was going on, and it is proper to put the accountability here on, as you say, the senior government officials that allowed this myth to continue.

  • 11:41:36


  • 11:41:39

    GJELTENI have, here's another email. This is from a Japanese-American woman. She writes, I am a 78-year-old woman, born in Oakland, California. I was interned with my family from May 1942 until June 1945. For three months, my family, a father, mother, two older sisters, my paternal grandfather and I, who was five at the time, were interned in a temporary assembly center at a racetrack near Oakland. In August, we were taken by train on a long, hot trip to Delta, Utah. From there, we were taken by bus to the internment camp about 15 miles away, called Topaz, a name that led the teenagers in the camp to dub it the Jewel of the Desert.

  • 11:42:21

    GJELTENAnd Topaz, Julie, that's where your family was, as well.

  • 11:42:24

    OTSUKAThat is, yes.

  • 11:42:25

    GJELTENHave you heard of them, anyone calling it the Jewel of the Desert?

  • 11:42:29

    OTSUKAThere was a book called "Topaz: The Jewel of the Desert," yes. And I wanted to the wax sanctimonious guy, I mean, I want to say, I mean, since when do we lock people up because they scare us? I mean, there is something called the Constitution.

  • 11:42:44

    GJELTENWell, I'm glad you mentioned that because I'm reading this email from this woman named Ayako (PH), and she continues. During the Iran crisis, in the 1980s, a co-worker, excuse me, who was an Iranian engineer, an Iranian engineer, asked me about my experience with great concern. His attorney had warned him to be prepared for a similar circumstance. I told him then that such a thing would not happen again. Now, with the cacophony of the voice of ignorance and bigotry that are heard in our country, I am not certain that I can be that confident.

  • 11:43:18

    GJELTENSo Richard Reeves, here we have a Japanese-American woman reassuring her Iranian co-worker that nothing like what happened to her family in the 1940s could happen again. Now she's not so sure. And you share that concern, as well.

  • 11:43:34

    REEVESI'm not so sure at all. I could see us doing it to Muslims, and most importantly, although after 1944 some Japanese-American habeas corpus court cases came to the Supreme Court, and though the Japanese-Americans won the case, the laws that made this possible, the War Zone Laws concocted by the military and by people like John McCloy, are still on the books. And as Justice Robert Jackson said, they are a loaded gun on the Constitution. And by that he meant we could do this again tomorrow, and it is obviously unconstitutional, but the courts have never ruled it unconstitutional.

  • 11:44:29

    GJELTENIn fact, you write that the courts protected, justices may have known it was unconstitutional but sort of deliberately avoided those cases in order to protect the president.

  • 11:44:39

    REEVESEverybody, William O. Douglas, Hugo Black, the great liberals, postponed those cases so that they would not be heard before the 1944 election. Roosevelt was afraid of losing California to Thomas E. Dewey in '44, and then two days after he was re-elected, he said this is an outrage, we have to something about these camps.

  • 11:45:04

    GJELTENLet's go now to Jim, who is on the line from Tacoma Park, Maryland. Hello, Jim, thanks for calling "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 11:45:08

    JIMGreat. My father, Jay Burns (PH), was the chief engineer of the guayule, G-U-A-Y-U-L-E, Emergency Rubber Project, that grew natural rubber to replace - the Japanese had captured all the natural rubber in the world, and rubber was important because it's the only thing we could line airplane gas tanks with that would catch the bullets. Artificial rubber wouldn't do that.

  • 11:45:37

    JIMWell, anyway, my dad was the chief engineer in that project, and he went to several of the internment camps, including Manzanar, and he persuaded the great expert scientists and engineers in those camps to help on that project, and they all did (unintelligible).

  • 11:46:01

    GJELTENJim, what did your father tell you about the conditions in those camps, if he visited them himself?

  • 11:46:06

    JIMHe didn't get into that kind of detail. I was a kid. I was in -- I was born in '38, so I was a pretty young kid then.

  • 11:46:15


  • 11:46:17

    JIMSo he didn't go into that kind of detail. But clearly the belief of him and his colleagues was that this is a terrible thing that was done to the Japanese people.

  • 11:46:27

    GJELTENOkay, thanks very much, Jim. Now Richard, Jim's observation about his father raises the question, and you mentioned it earlier, that so many of these Japanese-Americans were patriotic Americans, and many Japanese-Americans fought, you have a whole chapter in your book, describing their contributions in the war. Tell us about that.

  • 11:46:51

    REEVESRight. Thirty thousand Japanese-Americans served in Europe in World War II. There were 18,000 casualties among those 30,000. There were also, secretly, 6,000 Japanese-Americans fluent in Japanese who served in something called the Military Intelligence Service as interrogators, translators and cave flushers. Cave flushers were the people who, unarmed, went into caves where imperial Japanese soldiers were armed and prepared to kill themselves, and talked them into coming out.

  • 11:47:31

    REEVESCharles Willoughby, who was the chief of intelligence for Douglas MacArthur, said those 6,000 men alone, secretly, shortened the war by two years and a million lives so that the heroism of the Nisei, second-generation American citizens from the mainland and Hawaii, was staggering. But even then, for instance, they were the first unit, after a famous incident in which they rescued something called the Lost Battalion, a Texas unit, and they were -- and the New York Times reported this wonderful, dramatic rescue and said it was done by doughboys, never mentioning those doughboys were Japanese-Americans.

  • 11:48:20

    REEVESAnd then the 442nd Regimental Combat Team was the first American unit to get to the outskirts of Rome, the first axis capital we were about to capture. And then they were told to wait there for two days so that white troops could be brought up to march through the city, and the Japanese were taken in trucks around the city. Dan Inouye, who lost an arm and won a Medal of Honor, later became a U.S. senator, obviously, in Italy, on his way home, with one arm, with a Congressional Medal of Honor on his uniform, couldn't get a haircut in San Francisco. We don't cut Jap hair.

  • 11:49:05

    GJELTENJulie have you -- what stories can you share about the kind of discrimination that your family faced? And you mentioned that in your view it even got worse after the war, when American soldiers, who had been imprisoned, prisoners of war in Japanese prison camps, came back and told them their experience. And you said that your family felt, and other Japanese-Americans felt, that discrimination was even worse.

  • 11:49:31

    OTSUKAI mean, they had nothing to come home to, and their livelihoods had been just -- I mean, my grandmother and her husband had also started a soy sauce factory, and that had been confiscated by the FBI, as well, and they'd sunk about $10,000 into that, and I think they maybe received a check for a couple hundred dollars after the war.

  • 11:49:54

    OTSUKASo, and, you know, nobody was really willing to help them, which is, I think, why my grandmother ended up becoming a maid. But it's not only discrimination, but really nobody wanted to hear their story. I mean, I think nobody really wanted to know what had happened to them. I mean, I think people did know. And one of the things that I'm always surprised at how many people who were alive back then, on the West Coast, say that they didn't know.

  • 11:50:20

    OTSUKABut I mean, there were signs on the telephone poles when the evacuation orders first were posted, and I wonder, you know, I wonder why there aren't more dissenting voices. And I mean, the stories that I hear from my mother are very -- I mean, I remember her saying, this is actually before the war, that she was shopping in downtown Oakland with her mother, and a man came, this is shortly after the outbreak of the war, and a man came up to my mother.

  • 11:50:47

    OTSUKAAnd she was nine or 10, and her mother, and said, are you a Jap or a Chink. And so of course the correct answer was Chink, which she yelled that, and then she ran away. But it was just, it was a very, very, very difficult time.

  • 11:51:00

    GJELTENLet's go now to Jim (PH), who's on the line from - no, sorry, Ian (PH), who is on the line from Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Hello, Ian.

  • 11:51:09

    IANHi, good morning to you. Yes, I'm really pleased to hear this program. I used to live in California, and we visited Manzanar in the Owens Valley twice there, and we found it a very moving experience. But one of the things that did disturb me is right outside the entrance to the camp is a memorial to American veterans who died in the Pacific campaign, fighting the Japanese. And I found this in the first instance to be just rather distasteful.

  • 11:51:48

    GJELTENSo it's almost as if, it's almost as if the administrators or whoever put that memorial there wanted somehow to counter...

  • 11:51:56

    IANExactly, exactly. I found it as offensive as John Paul II's cross outside Auschwitz and the Carmelite convent there. I understand that we fought the Japanese, but we didn't fight these people, who were taken to the camps, many of whom were American citizens. And even now if you go into the Owens Valley, a lot of people will say, oh, they were just held there for their own safety, you should see the pictures quoting the Ansel Adams travesty, and say look, they were just there for their own protection, and it wasn't a concentration camp.

  • 11:52:38

    IANAnd finally when I moved to the East Coast, I was in Washington, D.C., one time, and the Smithsonian had an exhibition of the artwork from these camps. And not only did I learn that there were so many more other than Manzanar, but the artwork made from found objects, little bits of domesticity that they took with them, that they turned into some of the most beautiful art that I've seen, and certainly of art of what you would called primitive art in art historical terms.

  • 11:53:11

    GJELTENWell, thank you very much for that call, Ian. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Richard Reeves, Ian mentioned this memorial to American service members who were killed in the Pacific being placed right outside the camp at Manzanar. Do you know anything about that?

  • 11:53:31

    REEVESThe same kind of fights happened at every camp, the 10 relocation camps where the Japanese wanted, say -- these political fights still go on. The Japanese-American survivors want to memorialize the camps. Local groups, chambers of commerce, et cetera, want to say that this was just another American resort, as it were. But the truth is that one of the most beautiful places in this country is Mount Hood, Oregon, between the Columbia River Gorge and Mount Hood.

  • 11:54:06

    REEVESThere were 231 Japanese-Americans living there before the war and as citizens and prosperous farmers. Hood River apples were famous all over the country. When they were away, 18 men from town, Japanese-Americans, served in Europe. Three of them were killed. There came a night when the local American Legion post marched on the local courthouse and blacked out the names of the Japanese serving overseas on the kind of honor board there was in every town in America.

  • 11:54:52

    REEVESAnd the Army literally, at the end of the war, had to send in people to let the Mount Hood residents, who had been incarcerated, back into their homes if their homes still existed. And the heroes, as Julie mentioned, were the people, they weren't government people so much as neighbors, who were friends were Japanese-Americans and who preserved their property and saved the profits for the real, true owners.

  • 11:55:22

    GJELTENI actually have an email that goes just to that point. Sara writes that her grandfather, whose name was Paul Ecky (PH), was a California poinsettia grower just north of San Diego and himself a German immigrant. He harvested his Japanese farming neighbors' crops and kept the money in escrow for them, as well as stored their farming equipment on our family ranch until the war was over.

  • 11:55:50

    GJELTENAnd Richard, you're saying that fortunately, this was not a rare story, not a unique story.

  • 11:55:57

    REEVESIt's not a unique story, but it's a rare story.

  • 11:55:59


  • 11:55:59

    REEVESIn most cases, people took the land and used it for themselves, took the houses or burned them down or blew them up. Greed in California, the Japanese were producing 40 percent of the agriculture product, Japanese-Americans, of California, and also controlled much of the fishing ports, Terminal Island, strawberry industry, Bainbridge Island. Bainbridge Island was an exception. The people there protected the Japanese-American property. But in general, they ravaged what the Japanese-Americans owned.

  • 11:56:45

    REEVESAnd they did own -- someone said they couldn't own property. They did own property because they could do in their children's names. However, they lost that property when they couldn't pay the taxes and couldn't pay the mortgages, and the state of California took the land and distributed it among the Caucasians.

  • 11:57:08

    GJELTENWell, Richard, you wrote in your book that the story of the Japanese internment is a tale of the best and the worst of America. I was going to ask you what you meant by that, but I think you have just explained it quite eloquently. Richard Reeves is a journalist and the author of President Kennedy" and "Daring Young Men." His new book is "Infamy: The Shocking Story of the Japanese American Internment in World War II." I've also been joined by Julie Otsuka, who is a novelist. Her novel, "When the Emperor Was Divine," explores the experiences of Japanese-Americans in World War II. Thank you both so much for sharing your experiences.

  • 11:57:42

    OTSUKAThank you.

  • 11:57:43

    REEVESThank you.

  • 11:57:43

    GJELTENI'm Tom Gjelten, thank you for listening.

Related Links

Topics + Tags

Most Recent Shows

A Push To Improve America’s Nursing Homes

Thursday, Sep 28 2023The Biden administration has released a proposal  to raise standards in nursing homes. Why one expert calls it the most significant development for the industry in decades -- and why it might still not be enough.