Pearl Harbor and Japanese Internment

9 reviews on the December 7th, 1941 surprise attack.

book covers

Asada, Sadao. Culture shock and Japanese-American relations: historical essays. Missouri, 2007. 290p ISBN 9780826217455, $44.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE April 2008

Asada (emer., Doshisha Univ., Kyoto) is the foremost Japanese historian of Japanese-American diplomatic relations. This first collection of his historical essays in English focuses on these relations in the first half of the 20th century. The essays address important themes: mutual images and perceptions between Americans and Japanese before 1945; the impact of Alfred Mahan on Japanese strategic thinking; the impact of the atom bomb on Japan’s decision to surrender; and the history of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) leading up to Pearl Harbor. Asada’s greatest contribution, perhaps, is in this last area, because his essays on the IJN between the wars broke new ground at a time when most scholarship was focused on the Japanese army. Showing for the first time that the IJN, like the army, was wracked by internal factions and debates over strategy, tactics, national policy, weapon systems, and foreign alliances, Asada punctured the myth of a pro-US pacifist-leaning navy reluctantly agreeing to war with the US in the face of a determined, pro-German, aggressive army. The essay on the shock of the atom bomb and its impact on Japan’s decision to surrender is a model of meticulous scholarship that should be required reading in all discussions of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers/libraries. —M. D. Ericson, University of Maryland University College

Christianity, social justice, and the Japanese American incarceration during World War II book cover

Blankenship, Anne M. Christianity, social justice, and the Japanese American incarceration during World War II. North Carolina, 2016. 282p index ISBN 9781469629193, $85.00; ISBN 9781469629209 pbk, $29.95; ISBN 9781469629216 ebook, $24.99.
Reviewed in CHOICE May 2017

During WW II, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which incarcerated 120,000 Japanese in internment camps. The tragedy is that nearly two-thirds were US citizens. Blankenship (American religious history, North Dakota State Univ.) explores the Christian response to these civil rights violations. Though scholarship on race tends to focus on black-white race relations, the incarceration of Asian Americans more fully exposes the broader racial tensions in the US. Many Christians recognized that Japanese incarceration undermined US moral supremacy and mirrored the racist policies of imperial Japan and Nazi Germany. Part of the reason for Christian sympathy was that many missionary agencies had ties to Japan and were some of the few Americans to consistently interact with Japanese Americans. Of course, not every American agreed with these sentiments, and many saw racism as warranted because of the events of Pearl Harbor. Though these policies were driven by fears of internal Japanese traitors, none were ever found. Blankenship examines how a collective moral and national vision helped inspire ecumenism among Protestants and Catholics. In conclusion, this important work argues convincingly that to understand Japanese incarceration, it is essential to incorporate the role of protest movements within the US religious community. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. —M. S. Hill, Liberty University

Dower, John W. Cultures of war: Pearl Harbor/Hiroshima/9-11/Iraq. W.W. Norton, 2010. 596p ISBN 0393061507, $29.95; ISBN 9780393061505, $29.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE March 2011

Dower (emer., MIT), author of over a dozen books, mostly concerning the history of Japan, has produced an exceedingly impressive study that compares the events surrounding Pearl Harbor with the most recent US adventure in Iraq. Dower examines how Americans reacted to both surprise attacks (Pearl Harbor and 9/11), how failures in communication in both instances led to catastrophic results, and how the government dealt with the postwar challenges in Japan from 1945 to 1952 and in Iraq from 2003 to the present. Dower’s knowledge of Japan’s postwar history is impressive, but he also brings a sophisticated understanding to the actions of President Bush and his advisers in their poorly planned response to the post-Saddam era in Iraq. Dower is highly critical of Bush’s faith-based policy approach to helping Iraq transition to a new independent country. This is a highly recommended and exceptionally well-done comparative history working with large themes and complex issues. Summing Up: Essential. All levels/libraries. —E. A. Goedeken, Iowa State University

Encyclopedia of Japanese American internment book cover

Encyclopedia of Japanese American internment, ed. by Gary Y. Okihiro. Greenwood, 2013. 342p ISBN 9780313399152, $89.00; ISBN 9780313399169 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE December 2013

During WW II, Japanese Americans were forced to relocate to internment camps throughout the US. Because of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which authorized the mass detention of 120,000 Japanese Americans, of whom two-thirds were US citizens. They were forced to live in barracks because of their race and alleged affiliation with Japan. They left behind their homes, belongings, and jobs. This one-volume encyclopedia includes comprehensive entries about major events and biographies of people who played an important role in Japanese American internment. Also included are a narrative history, a chronology, and primary documents. Although the encyclopedia is about Japanese American internment, the chronology includes Japanese Americans, Asian Americans, and other people of color to highlight the shared history among these groups in the US. Entries are concise and forthright and include references; some contain images. This will be a valuable resource for a variety of audiences interested in Asian American history. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Academic, research, and public libraries; lower level undergraduates and above; general readers. —T. S. H. Chan, SUNY Oswego

Hoshida, George. Taken from the Paradise Isle: the Hoshida family story, 1912–1945, by George Hoshida and Tamae Hoshida; ed. by Heidi Kim. University Press of Colorado, 2015. 288p bibl index afp ISBN 9781607323396, $29.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE February 2016

The bibliography on Japanese (as well as German and Italian) American internment after Pearl Harbor is voluminous.  It will continue to grow because each documented case exposes particular effects of FDR’s infamous Executive Order 9066.  Most works incorporate oral histories or passages from internees’ writings because their voices directly express their experiences and hardships.  But few rely solely on the internees’ own words and works, as does this one.  By judiciously compiling and editing the Hoshida family letters, diaries, and artwork (as well as some official documents), Kim (English and comparative literature, Univ. of North Carolina) brings this family’s experiences to life.  The Hoshidas’ stolid submission to this forced wartime injustice stands cheek by jowl with their persistent applications for their civil and personal rights during incarceration.  From George’s measured stoicism to wife Tamae’s hardships, the documents show the family nonetheless fixating on an anticipation of being reunited and returning to their Hawaiian home.  George’s excellent drawings provide a surreally calm depiction of life in the camps, sometimes countered by his diary narrative, sometimes supported by it.  Kim helpfully supplements the Hoshidas’ story with photographs, a time line of events, the transcripts of George Hoshida’s hearing, and other related material. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. —J. B. Wolford, University of Missouri–St. Louis

Japan 1941: countdown to infamy book cover

Hotta, Eri. Japan 1941: countdown to infamy. Knopf, 2013. 320p index ISBN 9780307594013, $27.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE April 2014

Despite the volume of literature examining the outbreak of the great Pacific War in 1941, almost all of it published in the US concentrates on politics and decisions in Washington, DC. Now, Hotta provides a riveting account of the simultaneous process in Tokyo. Her book is not an attempt to justify or whitewash Japan’s responsibility for the war. Rather, it recounts the discouraging story of a dysfunctional government continuously stumbling, miscalculating, and blustering its way toward a war that almost all its leaders knew was unwinnable. Japanese diplomats, military leaders, and politicians remained too focused on their own ideological misconceptions and superficial awareness of the outside world to halt the drift toward war. As the inertia increased late in 1941, anyone urging caution or attempting to find a way out was likely to be accused of cowardice and defeatism. Hotta concludes that in Japan, “none of the top leaders, their occasional protestations notwithstanding, had sufficient will, desire, or courage to stop the momentum toward war.” This important book should be in every major library. It will interest anyone attempting to make sense of Pearl Harbor, the Pacific War, or bureaucratic dysfunction and its possibly tragic consequences. Summing Up: Essential. All public and academic levels/libraries. —C. J. Weeks, Southern Polytechnic State University

Rosenberg, Emily S. A date which will live: Pearl Harbor in American memory. Duke University, 2003. 236p ISBN 0-8223-3206-X, $24.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE July 2004

In her thoughtful and well-researched case study of the cultural and political significance of historical memory, Rosenberg (Macalester College) explores the highly contested meanings Americans have associated with the words “Pearl Harbor.” The December 7, 1941, surprise Japanese attack on the US Pacific Fleet brought the US fully into WW II. “Pearl Harbor” became a rallying cry for a nation seeking revenge against a treacherous foe. Since then, “Pearl Harbor” has served as a metaphor for the need for constant military vigilance in a dangerous world. Official government inquiries and numerous popular and academic histories have considered and reconsidered the question of who was to blame for the military debacle at Pearl Harbor. Some assign responsibility to the local commanders in Hawaii; others target FDR and his top advisers in Washington. In light of an ongoing “memory boom” centered on the so-called “Greatest Generation”–those Americans who came of age during WW II–the cultural (and financial) stakes in remembering Pearl Harbor have intensified in recent years. Rosenberg concludes with chapters on the 2001 blockbuster film, Pearl Harbor, and on how memories of Pearl Harbor informed interpretations of the events of September 11, 2001. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels and libraries. —L. Maley III, University of Massachusetts at Amherst

Life behind barbed wire: the World War II internment memoirs of a Hawai'i Issei book cover

Soga, Yasutaro (Keiho). Life behind barbed wire: the World War II internment memoirs of a Hawai’i Issei, tr. by Kihei Hirai. Hawai’i, 2007. 252p ISBN 9780824820336 pbk, $24.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE May 2008

This is a notable work for several reasons. It is a valuable memoir translated from Japanese of a Japanese immigrant journalist from Hawai’i during WW II. The experiences of these noncitizen Americans of Japanese descent have received considerably less attention than those of the mainland Japanese American population that was subjected to mass internment in relocation camps. Especially important are the rare descriptions and insights that the memoir provides of the arrest and removal of Japanese nationals from Hawai’i, Alaska, the mainland, and South America to Justice and War Department camps in Hawai’i, California, and New Mexico following the attack on Pearl Harbor, and of the everyday lives and experiences of those incarcerated. Tetsuden Kashima’s introduction provides useful background information about the detention and internment programs and specific information about the narrative. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. —P. Watanabe, University of Massachusetts at Boston

White, Geoffrey. Memorializing Pearl Harbor: unfinished histories and the work of remembrance. Duke, 2016. 340p bibl index afp ISBN 9780822360889, $94.95; ISBN 9780822361022 pbk, $26.95; ISBN 9780822374435 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE December 2016

White (emer., anthropology, Univ. of Hawai’i) examines the continuing evolution of the USS Arizona Memorial as an American icon. Originally intended as a sacrosanct monument for the 1,177 sailors and Marines who died there in December 1941, it is now a large complex that attracts about 1.8 million visitors a year. With the progressive passing of the WW II generation and the fading of historical memory of the Pacific War, the role and purpose of the shrine have been in flux. Japanese Americans and Indigenous Hawaiians want to include their historical experience at the monument. Japanese tourists are interested in visiting the site where their nation first embarked upon a tragic disaster. Meanwhile, all stakeholders in the Pearl Harbor project, including the National Park Service, the US Navy, military families, historians, and politicians, seek input into what and whom the monument represents as well as the “lessons” it teaches. Complicating matters, any deviations from original postwar historical interpretations are likely to be labeled as examples of “political correctness” in polarized US society. This well-researched, provocative study, written for specialists rather than general readers, will be of considerable interest to students of ethnography, public history, and museum studies. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. —C. J. Weeks, Kennesaw State University