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From Internment to Containment: Cold War Imaginings of Japanese Americans in Go for Broke Edward Tang


[1] Dore Schary, Heyday: An Autobiography. (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1979), 226-227.

[2] Several works on internment include: Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. Forward by Tetsuden Kashima (Washington, D.C.: The Civil Liberties Public Education Fund; Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997); Roger Daniels, Concentration Camps U.S.A.: Japanese Americans and World War II (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971); Michi Nishiura Weglyn, Years of Infamy: The Untold Story of America's Concentration Camps, Updated Edition (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1996); Brian Masaru Hayashi, Democratizing the Enemy: The Japanese American Internment (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004); Tetsuden Kashima, Judgment Without Trial: Japanese American Imprisonment during World War II (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2003).

[3] A deeper history of racial hatred and oppression spurred internment. Since the mid-nineteenth century, white nativists portrayed Asians as a "yellow peril," a dangerous horde that if allowed to remain in the United States would undermine society with their allegedly foreign and unassimilable ways. Out of this collective phobia emerged a host of legal restrictions placed on Asians regarding immigration, citizenship, property ownership, education, interracial marriage, and job opportunities. Much of the history of Asian exclusion in the United States dates back to the 1790 Naturalization Act, which declared that only "free white persons" could become American citizens. With regard to Japanese immigrants, several U.S. and state laws restricted their ability to enter the country, earn citizenship, or obtain property. The 1875 Page Law barred contract laborers as well as prostitutes and criminals. The 1907 Gentlemen's Agreement made between President Theodore Roosevelt and the Japanese government ensured that Japan would deny passports to its laborers if the United States was their destination. The 1913 Alien Land Law passed by the California legislature prohibited Japanese immigrants from buying or leasing land in that state. The 1924 Immigration Act (or National Origins Quota Action) barred all Asian immigration to the United States, except for Filipinos who were colonial subjects. Scholarship on the history of legal restrictions on Asians in America, as well as their resistance against these measures, is quite lengthy and beyond the more specific purposes of this essay. For brief discussions about the obstacles faced by the Japanese up to their internment, see Personal Justice Denied, 27-46; Ronald Takaki, Strangers From a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans, Updated and Revised Edition (New York: Little, Brown, and Co., 1998), 42-53, 179-229; Sucheng Chan, Asian Americans: An Interpretive History (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1991), 45-61, 81-100; Roger Daniels, Asian America: Chinese and Japanese in the United States Since 1850 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1988), 100-282.

[4] In February 1943, the U.S. government decided to register the 21,000 eligible Nisei men in the internment camps for possible military service. As part of this process, Army officials circulated a loyalty questionnaire. Of particular importance were Question 27, which inquired about the Nisei's willingness to serve in the armed forces, and Question 28, which asked for a swearing of their allegiance to the United States. (This latter question also applied to those in the camps' general population who asked for work leaves or resettlement in non-restricted areas.) Not surprisingly, many Japanese Americans were outraged at the motives behind the document, even so far as to answer "No" to both questions. See Personal Justice Denied, 185-212; Weglyn, Years of Infamy, 134-73; Eric L. Muller, Free to Die for Their Country: The Story of the Japanese-American Draft Resisters in World War II (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2001).

[5] During the Second World War, Hollywood was already producing feature films that glorified democracy in its struggle with fascism. See Bernard F. Dick, The Star-Spangled Screen: The American World War II Film (Lexington: The University of Kentucky Press, 1985); Thomas Patrick Doherty, Projections of War: Hollywood, American Culture, and World War II (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993); Philip D. Beidler, The Good War's Greatest Hits: World War II and American Remembering (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1998).

[6] Benjamin L. Alpers, Dictators, Democracy, and American Public Culture: Envisioning the Totalitarian Enemy, 1920s-1950s (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2003). War movies in particular focused on stories of multiethnic platoons (usually including white soldiers from Jewish, Slavic, or Italian backgrounds) working in common cause against the enemies of democracy. See Richard Slotkin, "Unit Pride: Ethnic Platoons and the Myths of American Nationality," American Literary History 13 (Fall 2001): 469-498.

[7] Film critics, literary scholars, and others have given more recent attention to the topic of Asian Americans in film and other mass media, although little has been written about Go for Broke. For some general works on Asian American film, see Moving the Image: Independent Asian Pacific American Media Arts, ed. Russell Leong (Los Angeles: UCLA Asian American Studies Center and Visual Communications, Southern California Asian American Studies Central, Inc., 1991); Countervisions: Asian American Film Criticism, eds. Darrell Y. Hamamoto and Sandra Liu (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000); Jun Xing, Asian America Through the Lens (Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira Press, 1998); Peter X. Feng, Identities in Motion: Asian American Film and Video (Durham: Duke University Press, 2002); Screening Asian Americans, ed. Peter X. Feng (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2002).

[8] Keith Osajima first traced the rise of the "model minority" stereotype to a 1966 article by sociologist William Peterson in the New York Times Magazine entitled "Success Story, Japanese-American Style." See Osajima, "Asian Americans as the Model Minority: An Analysis of the Popular Press Image in the 1960s and 1980s," in A Companion to Asian American Studies, ed. Kent A. Ono (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2005), 215-225. Refer also to David Palumbo-Liu, Asian/American: Historical Crossings of a Racial Frontier (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999), 149-181; Frank H. Wu, Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White (New York: Basic Books, 2002), 39-77; Karen Kurotsuchi Inkelas, Racial Attitudes and Asian Pacific Americans: Demystifying the Model Minority (New York: Routledge, 2006).

[9] Robert G. Lee, Orientals: Asian Americans in Popular Culture (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1999), 146.

[10] Ibid., 153-161. Not until the 1960s with the rise of the Civil Rights Movement and the 1970s when the Asian American Movement became institutionalized did Japanese Americans openly challenge or lend their voices to the stories about internment. See William Wei, The Asian American Movement (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1993); Diane C. Fujino, Heartbeat of Struggle: The Revolutionary Life of Yuri Kochiyama (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005).

[11] In 1947, Survey Graphic depicted the Japanese Americans' attempts to integrate into postwar life as a lesson of "model minority" behavior for all Americans, including whites. After closing the internment camps, the War Relocation Authority found temporary housing for some Issei and Nisei in a New York City hostel. The hostel director noted that his guests were "polite, quiet, friendly, and confused . . . but they do not complain — they just keep trying." Indeed, as the director continued, "Many members of the famous 442nd Battalion have come to the hostel. They come gratefully, almost silently. A Caucasian American in their position would be bitter." See "Between Moves: Glimpses of a Japanese American Hostel." Survey Graphic March 1947: 199.

[12] In his essay on Go for Broke, Tak Fujitani delineates the contradictory impulses of domestic racism and national narratives of democratic triumph. See Fujitani, "Go for Broke, the Movie: Japanese American Soldiers in U.S. National, Military, and Racial Discourses," in Perilous Memories: The Asia-Pacific War(s), eds. T. Fujitani, Geoffrey M. White, and Lisa Yoneyama (Durham: Duke University Press, 2001), 239-266. Fujitani, however, does not put his convincing discussion into an international context regarding U.S. foreign policy in Asia.

[13] Christina Klein, Cold War Orientalism: Asia in the Middlebrow Imagination, 1945-1961 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 47.

[14] Ibid., 19-60. Klein's work coincides with a number of others that emphasize the concept of American orientalism. Derived from Edward Said's influential books, Orientalism (1979) and Culture and Imperialism (1994), this group of attitudes, values, and behaviors reveals how white mainstream society in the United States imagined Asians as racially different and inferior to reinforce the nation's dominant social structures. Yet even as "orientalism" became integrated into these social structures through writings, fashion, material objects, or media, Asians contested or complicated this idea through their voices or bodily presence. For instance, see John Kuo Wei Tchen, New York Before Chinatown: Orientalism and the Shaping of American Culture, 1776-1882 (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999); Colleen Lye, America's Asia: Racial Form and American Literature, 1893-1945 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005); Sheng-Mei Ma, The Deathly Embrace: Orientalism and Asian American Identity (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000); Mari Yoshihara, Embracing the East: White Women and American Orientalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003); John R. Eperjesi, The Imperialist Imaginary: Visions of Asia and the Pacific in American Culture (Hanover, NH: Dartmouth College Press, 2005).

[15] Scholars who have written separately on internment and on U.S. imperialism have used the phrase "absent presence" to describe how these significant historical events could be downplayed or forgotten within American collective memory. Because internment or American expansion into the Pacific presented troubling inconsistencies within the national narrative of liberty and democracy, the intentions behind these movements became selectively ignored even as they were quite apparent in the very makeup — the history, language, and imagery — of the United States. For example, internment had been so widely reported, so much on the forefront of the nation's mindset, and yet the phenomenon had to be dismissed, rendered invisible, when commemorating the "Good War." Similarly, American military interventions in the Philippines, China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam (beginning from the 1890s to the 1970s) were also well-known within American public culture, yet blithely discounted as empire-building efforts. On the "absent presence" of internment, see Marita Sturken, "Absent Images of Memory: Remembering and Reenacting the Japanese Internment," positions 5 (1997): 687-707; Caroline Chung Simpson, An Absent Presence: Japanese Americans in Postwar American Culture, 1945-1960. (Durham: Duke University Press, 2001). See also Elena Tajima Creef, Imaging Japanese America: The Visual Construction of Citizenship, Nation, and the Body (New York: New York University Press, 2004). For work that discusses the "absent presence" of American imperialism and its relation to Asian American studies, see Victor Bascara, Model-Minority Imperialism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006). Bascara expands on the work of William Appleman Williams and Amy Kaplan. Refer to Williams, The Tragedy of American Diplomacy (1959; New York: Dell Publishing Co., Inc, 1972); and Kaplan, "Left Alone with America: The Absence of Empire in the Study of American Culture," in Cultures of United States Imperialism, eds. Amy Kaplan and Donald E. Pease (Durham: Duke University Press), 1993), 3-21; idem, The Anarchy of Empire in the Making U.S. Culture (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002). See also Michael Rogin, "'Make My Day!': Spectacle as Amnesia in Imperial Politics [and] The Sequel," in Cultures of United States Imperialism, 499-534. My essay places the "absent presence" of internment and American overseas efforts within the same historical moment during the 1950s.

[16] Major General Charles Willoughby, "Tribute to Japan." Reader's Digest Feb. 1952: 57.

[17] George Grim, "'We Deeply Feel Honored.'" Reader's Digest Sept. 1950: 72.

[18] Kan Tagami, "Recollections of the Japanese Occupation." http://njavc.org/projects/occupationessays/kantagami.pdf (accessed 10 Jan. 2007); Harry K. Fukuhara, "Military Occupation of Japan." http://njavc.org/projects/occupationessays/harry fukuhara.pdf (accessed 10 Jan. 2007); Yoshito Fujimoto, "Occupation." http://njavc/projects/occupationessays/yoshitofujimoto.html (accessed 10 Jan. 2007). The Nisei's memories of winning Japanese hearts and minds lacked any mention or overt condemnation of internment, even though some of them or their families had been incarcerated in the camps.

[19] Christopher Rand, "A Reporter at Large." New Yorker 16 Nov. 1957: 135.

[20] On the topic of those Japanese Americans who renounced their citizenship as a protest to internment, see Mae Ngai, Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), 175-201; David E. Collins, Native American Aliens: Renunciation of Citizenship by Japanese Americans during World War II (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1985).

[21] "Editorial." Christian Century 4 May 1949: 547; Bradford Smith, "Test of American Democracy." Saturday Review 7 June 1947: 20, 21.

[22] Albert Q. Maisel, "The Japanese Among Us." Reader's Digest Jan. 1956: 192.

[23] Jobo Nakamura, "A Nisei Visits Japan." Holiday Feb. 1954: 68-70.

[24] Ibid., 55.

[25] For historical background, see Akira Iriye, Power and Culture: The Japanese-American War, 1941-1945 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981); John W. Dower, Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1999).

[26] Eric Johnston, "Japan: Partner or Problem?" Look 5 April 1955: 104.

[27] Helen Mears, "Japan: Challenge to Our Prestige." Harper's Magazine July 1950: 73; "Reluctant Ally." Nation 10 Sept. 1955: 215.

[28] "Japan: Costly Base for U.S." U.S. News & World Report 17 Feb. 1950: 27; "Another Ally Grows Restive." U.S. News & World Report 17 Dec. 1954: 45; Peter Kalischer, "Japan." Collier's 2 March 1956: 58. See also Demaree Bess, "The Japs Have Us on the Griddle Now." Saturday Evening Post 4 April 1953: 24-25, 68, 70-71.

[29] Bradford Smith, "A Blot on Our Escutcheon." Saturday Review 20 Aug. 1949: 16.

[30] B.R. Crisler, "Van Johnson in 'Go for Broke'; Alan Ladd Stars in Melodrama." Christian Science Monitor 14 June 1951: 4; "The Current Cinema." New Yorker 2 June 1951: 93. See also Bosley Crowther, "The Screen in Review." New York Times 25 May 1951: 31; J.D. Spiro, "Hollywood Digest." New York Times 17 Sept. 1950: 113.

[31] Schary, Heyday, 226, 227. The New York Times also noted in October 1950 and June 1951 that Schary wanted to frame the narrative through an interracial romance between a Nisei woman and a white man. Schary rejected this idea because it would stir controversy and, in his words, be a "poor remake of 'Madame Butterfly'." See James W. Merrick, "Shooting the Works." New York Times 15 Oct. 1950: X5; Robert Pirosh, "Everything Went According to Plan Exceptã". New York Times 3 June 1951: 99. For a more developed discussion of the "Madame Butterfly" stereotype, see Gina Marchetti, Romance and the "Yellow Peril": Race, Sex, and Discursive Strategies in Hollywood Fiction (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993).

[32] Schary, Heyday, 158-67.

[33] Ibid., 227.

[34] "Remember Pearl Harbor." Commonweal 10 Feb. 1950: 479; Demaree Bess, "California's Amazing Japanese." Saturday Evening Post 30 April 1955: 83.

[35] Thomas F. Brady, "Filmland Strategy." New York Times 9 July 1950: X5.

[36] Yukiko Koshiro, Trans-Pacific Racisms and the U.S. Occupation of Japan (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 77-79.

[37] Depicting the Japanese and Japanese Americans as loyal and hard-working citizens in the 1950s did not stop those in the U.S. government or within mainstream society from now suspecting Chinese Americans as communist agents or sympathizers with ties to China. See Daniels, Asian America, 283-316; Gloria Heyung Chun, Of Orphans and Warriors: Inventing Chinese American Culture and Identity (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2000), 71-96; Xiaojian Zhao, Remaking Chinese America: Immigration, Family, and Community, 1940-1965 (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2002), 152-184.

[38] J.D. Spiro, "Hollywood Digest." New York Times 17 Sept. 1950: 113. See also New Republic 4 June 1951: 23.

[39] Bradford Smith, "Education of Earl Warren." Nation 11 Oct. 1958: 206, 208. Although Warren never publicly apologized for his role in internment, as Supreme Court Chief Justice, he did confess to his law clerks his utmost regrets about it. That he could support integration in Brown v. Board of Education rested, ironically, on his reference to the Court's 1944 ruling in Korematsu v. United States. Here the majority upheld the government's incarceration of Japanese Americans, deciding that racial classifications could be used when national security was at stake. Segregating African Americans, Warren argued a decade later, had nothing to do with national security. See Jim Newton, Justice for All: Earl Warren and the Nation He Made (New York: Penguin/Riverhead Books, 2006), 138, 320.

[40] John W. Dower, Japan in War and Peace: Selected Essays (New York: New Press, 1993), 179-189.

[41] Peter Biskind, Seeing is Believing: How Hollywood Taught Us to Stop Worrying and Love the Fifties (New York: Pantheon Books, 1983), 59.

[42] Ibid., 61.

[43] Service statistics can also be found in Personal Justice Denied, 258. For a map of the locations and number assembly centers and internment camps, see Only What We Could Carry: The Japanese American Internment Experience. Ed. Lawson Fusao Inada (Berkeley: Heyday Books, 2000), 418. For estimates on Japanese American financial losses, see Daniels, Asian America, 290-92.

[44] See "New Films," Newsweek 28 May 1951: 89; Bosley Crowther, "Getting to Know Them." New York Times 10 June 1951: X1; Merrick, "Shooting the Works," p. X5.

[45] Bess, "California's Amazing Japanese," 38-39.

[46] Maisel, "The Japanese Among Us," 182.

[47] Ben Funk and James Monahan, "Happy Where Heart Is." Reader's Digest June 1954: 3; Bess, "California's Amazing Japanese," 83.

[48] Kalischer, "Japan," 59.

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Edward Tang is Associate Professor of American Studies at the University of Alabama.

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