It has been over 6 decades since the incarceration of Japanese Americans and Japanese Canadians took place during WWII, and in the last decade or so, there has been a relatively constant stream of publications and films about these events. This stream is unlikely to dry up in the near future. If anything, the later books are stronger in their scholarship and depth as they tackle particular facets of this history. “American Inquisition:The Hunt For Japanese American Disloyalty in World War II” (Eric L. Muller) and “Judgment Without Trial: Japanese American Imprisonment During World War II” (Tetsuden Kashima) come to mind. Stephanie Bangarth’s “Voices Raised In Protest: Defending North American Citizens of Japanese Ancestry, 1942-49” is another book that looks deeply into that history. Bangarth tells the story of those who protested the internment, in Canada and the US. Though few in number and relatively ineffectual at that time, Bangarth shows how, over the long run, their actions did a great deal to advance the causes of human rights and civil liberties in both the US and Canada.
It is becoming clear that the Internments turned out to have greater significance than many of the earlier historians were willing to acknowledge. The legal and cultural ramifications resonate to the present day for we continue to encounter situations such as the scapegoating of Muslims and Arab Americans after the 9/11 attacks. But mass incarceration has not taken place, and perhaps greater public knowledge about the forced incarceration of Japanese Americans and Canadian Japanese helped to avoid this.
The Canadian and the American experiences are quite similar but there were some major differences that are well explored by Bangarth. Her lucidity in dealing with complex issues within the law, the governments, and of the individuals involved, make this a valuable reference work, one that illuminates the development of human rights history in our lifetime. For instance, the role that the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) played during WWII on internment has never been so clearly told. The attempt by the Canadian government to deport most of their internees at war’s end is fascinating reading, and the church’s role in fighting for the Canadian Japanese—all these issues are thoroughly covered. It is good to know that there were people who were well aware of the injustices and the hardship that fell on us and who organized to fight on our behalf.
Another book of photographs of the remains of the ten American concentration camps is “Placing Memory”. In his introduction, photographer Todd Stewart poses the rhetorical question: “Does place hold memory?” Yes, it can, and Stewart shows how photographs of the campsites today, even though little remains of those artificially created “cities”, can be potent. At Manzanar, he was struck by the immediacy of the experience. “Although the landscape had been abandoned for fifty years, the presence of ten thousand internees was unmistakable.” Undoubtedly, places do hold memory. This beautiful book of photographs has an emotional charge that goes beyond mere images or even words. Time, events and a myriad of feelings that come up with these photographs and they both disturb and resonate with their power.
Interspersed with archival pictures and with a few essays, Placing Memory is an aesthetic way of approaching the internment experience and if it succeeds in raising questions on the subject, then all to the good. Preserving memory in this way is very strong.