President Franklin Roosevelt called December 7, 1941, the day Pearl Harbor was bombed, “a date that will live in infamy.” Historian Richard Reeves may have riffed on that phrase to call his new book Infamy: The Shocking Story of the Japanese American Internment in World War II. Reeves captures the history of arrest and relocation, as well as the stories of individuals and their families who were imprisoned in the 10 camps. The book is page-turning history at its best. Readers will likely gasp at the historic events and put themselves in the places of the internees, old and young, who were forced to leave homes, schools and businesses with just a few days’ notice and a few belongings.
The internment is quite startling in its disregard for civil rights. After Pearl Harbor, panic spread about the danger and disloyalty, even without proof, of Japanese Americans. Racism played a part in the eventual incarceration of more than 120,000 Japanese Americans who lived on the west coast.
As people were rounded up, they were placed in assembly centers before being shipped, via train, to the camps. Many Japanese Americans living locally in the San Gabriel Valley were sent to a center at Santa Anita Racetrack and lived in the horse stalls, in unbearable and unsanitary conditions. Nicknamed San Japanita, one youngster who lived there was George Takei, who went on gain fame acting the role of Mr. Sulu on the original Star Trek TV show.
Reeves bring Infamy full circle as he describes how the government eventually allowed young people to prove their loyalty and volunteer for the military. The 442nd regiment, composed almost entirely of Japan Americans was one of most decorated brigades during World War II. The internment ended in 1945, but remains a heart-wrenching event in American history.