Just Americans: How Japanese Americans Won a War at Home and Abroad by Robert Asahina
With his new book, influential New York editor Robert Asahina shows how Japanese Americans won equal citizenship through military service. He describes these draftees' contribution to America's effort in the Second World War with incomparable richness and detail; his account is all the more stunning when we realize that at the time nearly all black Americans were denied combat roles (other than in the Air Force).
The book breaks with Eric Muller's Free to Die for Their Country (2001), which claimed that the real heroes of the World War II relocation were the Japanese-American draft resisters, who allegedly followed the American political tradition of wartime dissent. (In fact, they followed the wishes of their old-country families, not their new-country traditions, however understood.) Though rejecting Muller, Asahina hews to the standard and increasingly inadequate line about the racist impulse behind the relocation. He does not take seriously how Japanese expatriates and even American citizens of Japanese ancestry might have served the needs of Japanese foreign policy; and he dismisses the possibility of significant disloyalty among ethnic Japanese, even while acknowledging the pull of nationalism. He does not confront Michelle Malkin's polemical In Defense of Internment (2004; see Charles A. Lofgren, "Hardships of War," CRB, Summer 2005) or Brian Hayashi's scholarly Democratizing the Enemy (2004). These books argue that there was substantial evidence of disloyalty among the ethnic Japanese population, though the volumes come to opposite conclusions about the relocation policy itself.
Nonetheless, Asahina shows movingly how these Japanese-American soldiers, by their courageous service, helped to reaffirm the equality of duties and rights as America's central idea.
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This article appeared in the Fall 2006 issue of the Claremont Review of Books