Five Books on the Japanese American Internment

"We were in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong faces."

These words, which might resonate with some Guantanamo Bay detention camp prisoners whose stories are told in Mavhish Khan's My Guantanamo Diary, are spoken by Alice Takemoto in Nisei Memories: My Parents Talk About the War Years. This book about the Japanese American experience during World War II is a montage of oral histories by Niseis (second generation) Ken and Alice Takemoto, letters, newspaper stories, photographs, and National Archives documents, compiled by their Sansei (third generation) son, Paul Howard Takemoto, and published in 2006 by the University of Washington Press as part of its Scott and Laurie Oki Series in Asian American Studies.


Alice Setsuko Imamoto was a fifteen-year old high school student in Norwalk, California when World War II began and her parents were arrested. She and her three sisters were taken to the Santa Anita Racetrack assembly center, where they rejoined their mother. They were transferred to a camp in Jerome, Arkansas, where they reunited with their father, becoming part of the 120,313 Japanese Americans forcibly isolated from mainstream America behind barbed wire. After the war she went to Oberlin College on a music scholarship and became a concert pianist and piano instructor.

Kaname (Ken) Takemoto, was a twenty-one year old sophomore at the University of Hawaii when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941. Though classified as an "enemy alien," he served in the U.S. Army as part of the Varsity Victory Volunteers and as a combat medic with the highly decorated 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team in Italy. A recipient of a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart with an Oak Leaf Cluster, Ken Takemoto passed earlier this year after a 32-year career as a virologist and lecturer with the National Institutes of Health.

Ken and Alice met in Washington, D.C., after the war.

"I kept it out of my mind that an injustice had been done to me," Takemoto said of moving forward after her release from camp. "It was a defense mechanism. Otherwise it would have crushed me."

"I get very upset because the same kind of thing is happening to Middle Easterners today. How many people have been incarcerated? How many are innocent?"

Following are a few of the many other excellent books that document the Japanese American internment:
1. Lost and Found: Reclaiming the Japanese American Incarceration by Karen L. Ishizuka. Curator of the Japanese American National Museum exhibition America's Concentration Camps: Remembering the Japanese American Experience, author Ishizuka presents a thoughtful, engaging blend of first person experiences from the relocation camps, historical perspective and artifacts, photographs, and broad analysis and reflection.

2. Impounded: Dorothea Lange and the Censored Images of Japanese American Internment, edited by Linda Gordon and Gary Y. Okihiro. Renowned as one of the great documentary photographers for her Depression photographs, Lange, who died in 1965, was commissioned by the federal government to photograph the internment. She was opposed to the internment, personal friends being among the incarcerated. Her photographs--97 percent of which were previously unpublished and all of which were suppressed for the duration of World War II--are presented as a collection for the first time.

3. Just Americans: How Japanese Americans Won a War at Home and Abroad: The Story of the 100th Battalion/442d Regimental Combat Team in World War II, by Robert Asahina. To prove their patriotism, thousands of Japanese American young men joined the Army to defend the country that denied them their constitutional rights as citizens. Asahina reconstructs the story of what Gen. George C. Marshall called "the most decorated unit in American military history for its size and length of service," through interviews with surviving veterans, exhaustive research, maps and photos.

4. Placing Memory: A Photographic Exploration of Japanese American Internment, by Todd Stewart. Color photographs of the ten relocation camps as they appear fifty years later are interspersed with black and white War Relocation Authority pictures. "We cannot tell you the damage done to our souls at the sight of the future facing us in those desolate desert surroundings," says John Tateishi, who was a child internee at Manzanar Relocation Center, in his afterword. "And thus, 'a picture is worth a thousand words.'"

5. Serving Our Country: Japanese American Women in the Military during World War II, by Brenda L. Moore. A valuable record of the contributions of Japanese American women who served in the military in the Women's Army Corps, and also as doctors and nurses in the Army Medical Corps, during World War II, based on first person interviews (supplemented with personal diaries), interviews conducted by the National Japanese American Historical Society, and extensive research of government, newspaper and museum records.

If you know of others, please add them to the list.

By Mary Ishimoto Morris |  June 4, 2009; 1:24 PM ET Mary Morris , Nonfiction
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