Friday, February 18, 2011

Robinson on Japanese Confinement in North America

Columbia University Press has posted an excerpt of Greg Robinson, A Tragedy of Democracy: Japanese Confinement in North America (2009). It's taken from Chapter 5: Military Service and Legal Challenges, and is about the imposition of martial law in Hawaii. You can access it here. (For a fuller sense of the scope of the book, see the TOC, here.)

The Press has also posted a brief interview with the author. Robinson (l'Université du Québec à Montréal) addresses why we need a new book on a topic that seems to be well covered and why this history is relevant today.

I found interesting his explanation of why he uses the word "confinement" rather than "internment":
In technical legal terms, the word “internment” refers to the imprisonment of enemy aliens by governments in time of war. The Justice Department did intern a few thousand Japanese aliens, as well as a similar number of German and Italian aliens, in this manner. All such aliens were granted hearings soon after they were taken into custody, and only those individuals considered dangerous were actually interned. In Canada the federal government interned hundreds of Italian Canadian aliens in addition to some citizens and only later granted them hearings. However, this differs greatly from the shoddy treatment received by West Coast Japanese Americans and Japanese Canadians, where entire populations consisting predominantly of native-born children were taken away with no hearings and locked away in remote areas despite the fact that they were citizens. The word “internment” is even less useful for Mexico’s treatment of Japanese since people were forced to move themselves. That there is no exact term to define these actions reveals how unprecedented and extralegal they were, although both governments invented euphemisms such as “evacuation” for them. In order to avoid confusion and promote understanding, I chose to use the words “removal” and “confinement” because they give a reasonable sense of what occurred and are also inclusive enough to cover the gamut of policies that were put in place in different countries.
You can read the rest of the interview here.

Image Credit; Hat tip: bookforum