David J. Weber, Book Review Editor
Concentration Camps U.S.A.: The Japanese Americans and World War II. By Roger Daniels. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1971. Bibliography. Illustrations. Index. Maps. Notes. 188 pages. Softbound. Price not listed.
Reviewed by Donald H. Estes, Instructor of History and Political Science at San Diego City College. Mr. Estes is presently researching a book on the Japanese experience in San Diego from their arrival to 1941.
Within the past several years a number of works dealing with the World War II experiences of Japanese Americans have been published. These books run the gamut from the scholarly to the purely emotional. Perhaps the most readable of these recent attempts has been written by Roger Daniels under the intriguing title Concentration Camps U.S.A. The author is a professor of history at the State University of New York at Fredonia, and brings to this endeavor his experience gained from writing the highly regarded Politics of Prejudice which deals with the anti-Japanese movement in California.
The present work focuses on the events and more specifically on the personalities who were involved in the decision to remove 110,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans (70,000 of whom were American citizens) from the West Coast in the spring of 1942. Daniels leads the reader through the anti-Japanese movements in the West to the pre-war “Yellow Peril” era, thence to the “evacuation” with all the accompanying social dislocation, and finally to a discussion of the government’s bungling attempts to determine the “loyalty” of its new wards. In one of the most interesting and indicting chapters of the book, Daniels outlines the struggles of liberal jurists to approve a measure that many of them knew was motivated by racism and not, as the government suggested, by “military necessity.” The work concludes with a chapter on the period following the war, and an epilogue.
One of the important contributions that this book makes is the brief but very perceptive view of the personalities of the men most directly responsible for the decision to put the camps into operation. By skillfully using materials from the National Archives, Daniels builds a telling case study of the racism that existed among major military and civilian leaders at that time. The role of Lieutenant General John L. De Witt is already known, but the author brings his actions into clearer perspective. This is done mainly by examining the parts played by the Army Provost Marshal General Allen W. Gullion, and his proconsul on the West Coast, Colonel Karl Bendetsen. Bendetsen was recently interviewed for a television special on the camps and took the position that he was only a soldier doing his duty. His statement stands in stark contrast to Daniels’ well-documented view of the Colonel’s role as the Army’s prime mover for the “evacuation” and the internment.
In his pursuit of the reasons behind the decision for the removal, the author makes a case for his belief that Franklin Roosevelt was anti-Japanese and harbored “deeply anti-Japanese prejudices.” This view of Roosevelt is supported in Barbara Tuchman’s recent work on General Stilwell, wherein she describes the President’s attachment to China because of family contacts on the Delano side, and his feelings towards Japan.
Daniels’ book is not without problems. The work could have been immeasurably helped by the inclusion of a Japanese American perspective of the “evacuation.” For the most part the account is presented on the level of the major decision-makers and only lightly touches on the experiences of those persons most directly involved — the Japanese Americans. Even when they are mentioned, the author’s citations indicate he used secondary source material which leads the reader to the conclusion that he did not utilize this very important primary source. The role of the objective historian notwithstanding — the sense of humanity or lack of humanity was just not present.
Another concern of the reviewer is Daniel’s tendency to generalize about matters that are admittedly complex. For example, he suggests that the Japanese community agreed to the relocation because of the Nisei (second generation) oriented Japanese-American Citizens League (JACL). This is a thesis that the author has publicly held at least since 1970 when he presented a paper on the Heart Mountain, Wyoming, camp to the American Historical Association. This idea that the JACL was responsible for the community’s acceptance of the removal appears to ignore the very factors that Daniels properly cities in chapters one and two of his book. These are the climate on the West Coast, brought on by almost a hundred years of anti-Asian racism, coupled with the shock of Pearl Harbor. The evacuation must be seen in the context of these larger forces.
Another generalization is the author’s classification of all those Japanese and Japanese Americans who resisted the War Relocation Authority (WRA) and the military draft as “leftist radicals.” This classification overlooks the fact that there were specific differences in these resistance groups and lumping them together is a scholarly disservice. However, Daniels should be recognized for opening up the subject of the resistance within the camps. This is a worthy area for future study, and needs to be done to dispel the myth that the internees submitted meekly and quietly.
Other concerns, but of lesser importance, are the author’s failure to mention the repeal of Title II of the Internal Security Act of 1950. Additionally, he mispelled the first name of Tokutaro Slocum (spelled as Tokataro).
Finally, a reviewer cannot help but wonder if this good book might not have been an excellent one if it had not originally been part of a series (Berkshire Studies in History), and as such probably limited to a specific number of pages. However, the problems cited above notwithstanding, Concentration Camps USA represents an important contribution to the growing literature on the Japanese experience in the United States.
I find myself in complete agreement with Daniels when he states that the root cause of the relocation must be laid not only at the door “of a peculiar racism of a region . . . but to the general racist character of American society.”