- Japanese American Relocation in World War II: A Reconsideration by Roger W. Lotchin
Roger W. Lotchin's Japanese American Relocation in World War II: A Reconsideration attempts to revise decades of research on the experiences of persons of Japanese ancestry in the United States during World War II. National security, he argues, was the driving force behind mass incarceration in internment camps and motivated the actions of American officials and the general public. Conversely, Lotchin states that racism, which the overwhelming majority of scholars believes was a major ideological force behind mass incarceration, did not factor into the decision-making processes. Lotchin's work fails to deliver the revisions of the current historical literature that he believes his work engenders. Rather, in his dismissal of the role of racism during the war, he instead adopts the fig leaf of national security that was used to justify racist and nativist actions of the United States during World War II.
The book is divided into three sections with a preface, an introduction, and an appendix written by the late Zane L. Miller. In the preface, Lotchin cites John W. Dower's War without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War (New York, 1976) for his "metaphorical" definition of anti-Japanese racism and argues that national security was the real reason that Japanese Americans were targeted (p. xiii). In the appendix, Miller affirms Lotchin's assessment of his work's significance and adds that the monocausal argument that pervades "orthodox" interpretations needs to be challenged (p. 314). Unfortunately, rather than providing an alternate view, Lotchin works hard to absolve the United States from responsibility for its treatment of persons of Japanese ancestry during the war.
Lotchin's first section addresses the prewar years and the impact of racism on the Japanese American community. In this section, Lotchin spins many racialized incidents in such a way as to ignore the nature of American race relations at the time. For example, he notes that "[nisei] were winning the residential turf war" prior to World War II, with "at least 20 percent of the [Los Angeles] area housing stock . . . open to Japanese Americans," ignoring the 80 percent of housing that was still segregated (p. 19). The second section explores the experiences in and terminology surrounding "concentration camps," which other scholars have debated because of the term's use to describe Nazi death camps (p. xi). Lotchin believes that the term is a misnomer for the American camps because they were "more humane" (p. 120). He also documents many organizations and individuals who questioned the morality and legality of internment. This section would have had the most potential to add to the historical literature, if Lotchin had chosen to look at the variety of responses to internment, similar to Lon Kurashige's Two Faces of Exclusion: The Untold History of Anti-Asian Racism in the United States (Chapel Hill, 2016). The final section addresses the departures from camps and their eventual closing. Lotchin attempts to lessen the responsibility of the United States by noting how easily people could leave camp, as long as they did not return to the West Coast and pursued certain jobs (such as military service or farm labor) or attended college. [End Page 498]
In sum, Lotchin's book, similar to conservative political commentator Michelle Malkin's In Defense of Internment: The Case for "Racial Profiling" in World War II and the War on Terror (Washington, D.C., 2004), tries to use historical sources to justify nativist and racist attitudes and practices in behalf of the United States. The fact that Japanese American Relocation in World War II was published in 2018 reflects its political moment, one in which actions that target specific groups are excused using the rhetoric of national security. Border walls and Muslim bans, both of which conservatives argue protect Americans from criminals and terrorists, are products of much the same logic used in...