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Response to Review no. 1078

Overall this review is so splendid in analysis, depth of understanding, and literary construction that it almost seems ungenerous of me to offer dissenting comments. However, never let it be said that, afforded a Malet Street soapbox, I was shy about expressing my thoughts.

In the third paragraph, the reviewer wrote that it was misleading of me to suggest ‘on pages 171 and 172 of his book [pages 126–7 in the print edition]’, that the Japanese American prisoners held in the Colorado concentration camp were allowed to find work outside the camp as a result of Colorado Governor Carr’s influence. The reviewer states: ‘In fact, internees from all of the ten internment camps were able to undertake paid agricultural work outside camps subject to vetting procedures and demand from local farmers’. I concur that some prisoners at other camps were eligible to leave the camps to find work, but it is one thing for the entity in charge of the camps to declare eligibility for work release and quite another thing for a hostile public to allow it to take place. At the time in question, Colorado was populated with pockets of right-wing extremists, similar to America’s modern-day ‘Tea Party’ movement, and unlike the governors of the other states Governor Carr stood up to the extremists and enforced a safe exit from the camp for those Japanese Americans who wanted to find work. I do indeed give him credit for courage under those circumstances. There were instances in other jurisdictions in which workers who left the camps were shot or otherwise harassed, as I pointed out on page 108 of the book:

There were instances at other camps where military police shot prisoners for various reasons, but only at the camp in Jerome [Arkansas] was a prisoner shot by civilians. It happened while three prisoners were out on work detail. Two of the men were shot and wounded by a vigilante tenant farmer on horseback who mistakenly identified them as escapees.

Governor Carr’s vocal support of the rights of Japanese Americans was unique for the times and largely contributed to his defeat for reelection.

The reviewer calls me to task for comparing 19th-century Native American reservations to 20th-century internment camps, calling the comparison ‘perhaps a stretch too far’. Argues the reviewer: ‘Internees are held within confined areas and threatened with the prospect of death if they try to escape. Reservations, while of a limiting nature, are not guarded in the same way as an internment camp, and any comparison of this nature should be undertaken with great care …’ Actually, 19th-century reservations were much worse than any 20th-century internment camps. There are numerous examples of reservation atrocities that I could name, but the one at Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890, at the Pine Ridge Indian reservation in South Dakota was one of the most egregious. As documented in Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West (1), the Seventh Calvary of the US Army killed almost 300 men, women and children in an effort to suppress the Ghost Dance, which forecast the arrival of a new world in which non-Indians would be destroyed and urged Native Americans to look beyond the boundaries of their reservations. I would argue that it was the threat of death that kept the Second World War internees behind barbed-wire fences just as it was the threat of death that kept Native Americans confined to reservations. In both instances those threats were carried out.

I want to commend the reviewer for providing the most thoughtful and intelligent review that I have yet received for the book. Sometimes reviewers criticize authors or praise them for all the wrong reasons, a clear indication that they have missed the point of the book. In this instance, the reviewer perfectly understands not only the book’s thesis, but the author’s vision for the book. From my experience, that is a rarity. 

Notes

  1. Dee Brown, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West (New York, 1971).<Back to (1)