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Haunting New Book Revisits Japanese Internment Camps

Richard Cahan and Michael Williams’s Un-American: The Incarceration of Japanese Americans During World War II captures a grim part of American history.

Of the more than 100,000 Japanese Americans tossed into 10 stateside prison camps during World War II, 70,000 were U.S. citizens. That scourge on American history is the subject of a haunting new book, Un-American: The Incarceration of Japanese Americans During World War II, by Chicago authors Richard Cahan and Michael Williams (November 15). “As Americans and humans, we are very capable of making shortsighted decisions based on fear,” says Cahan, who worked with Williams to gather poignant images by such iconic photographers as Dorothea Lange and Ansel Adams—and track down some of their subjects. “I want people to understand what we, as a society, are capable of.”

A truck packed with Japanese residents of San Pedro, California
A truck packed with Japanese residents of San Pedro, California, leaves the city for an temporary detention center on April 5, 1942  Photo: Clem Albers
Manzanar Relocation Center
Manzanar Relocation Center in central California  Photo: Ansel Adams
Mamoru “Mamo” Takeuchi and his family
6-year-old Mamoru “Mamo” Takeuchi, in uniform, waits with his family for a truck to take them to an internment camp.  Photo: Dorothea Lange
Arriving at Santa Anita was a bewildering experience. The sight of barbed wire and armed guards shocked many Japanese Americans, who had no idea what to expect or how long they would be incarcerated.  Clem Albers
Tatsuro Masuda had a sign declaring that he was an American put up at the grocery store, Wanto Company, he owned in Oakland, where he was born. “I paid for it the day after Pearl Harbor,” he told Dorothea Lange. Newly married, Masuda and his wife were incarcerated at the Gila River Relocation Center in Arizona. They never returned to the store.  Dorothea Lange
Moriki Mochida (back row, left) and his wife, Masayo (middle row, right), had just started a nursery with five greenhouses in San Leandro when they were ordered to report. “Dad was never the same,” said daughter Kayoko (now Kayoko Ikuma). “His confidence was really shaken. He could not provide for his family.”  Dorothea Lange
Akira Toya, 23, relaxes in his quarters at Salinas with his mother, Aki.  Clem Albers
Mounds of baggage are dropped off at the Salinas Assembly Center, a converted rodeo grounds in the northern part of the city. Baggage followed Japanese Americans to their temporary detention camps and later to their permanent camps.  
Families arrive at Turlock Assembly Center, formerly a fairground, and wait for baggage inspection.  Dorothea Lange


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