Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project <http://www.densho.org>. Created and maintained by Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project. Reviewed Nov. 30 - Dec. 7, 2004.
A More Perfect Union: Japanese Americans & the U.S. Constitution <http://www.americanhistory.si.edu/perfectunion/experience/>. Created and maintained by the Smithsonian Institution: National Museum of American History. Reviewed Dec. 2 - 7, 2004.
Life Interrupted: The Japanese American Experience in wwii Arkansas <http://www.lifeinterrupted.org>. Created and maintained by the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and the Japanese American National Museum. Reviewed Dec. 2 - 7, 2004.
The exile and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II remains strikingly relevant today, as the precedents established then have become meaningful in the post-9/11 world and the ongoing “war on terrorism.” Not surprisingly, given this context, many Web sites have appeared that complement the existing historical scholarship on this topic. Although each of the Web sites reviewed here has limitations, students, scholars, and teachers looking to develop or enhance their understanding of the Japanese American wartime experience and its contemporary meanings can turn to thoughtful Web sites such as Densho (a Japanese term meaning “to pass on to the next generation”), A More Perfect Union, and Life Interrupted. These Web sites are logically designed and relatively easy to navigate, although the latter two occasionally use text that is difficult to read when placed against dark backgrounds.
All three Web sites, although clearly sympathetic to Japanese Americans, rely on sound, current scholarship; however, the Web sites have different strengths in presenting clear, if limited, narratives grounded in the Japanese American experience. Densh�� bases its historical interpretation on the 1983 report of the Commission on the Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians and excels at presenting the role of racism in the decision for mass incarceration. A More Perfect Union, if lacking a detailed accounting of economic causes, complements this work with its examination of the Issei (or first-generation Japanese American) experience. Life Interrupted adds little to these more comprehensive and interpretive histories, relying on only a timeline to tell the story of the Arkansas concentration camps at Jerome and Rohwer. All three Web sites include bibliographies. A More Perfect Union includes an especially useful annotated bibliography, although it is in need of some updating (to include, for example, Eric Muller’s Free to Die for Their Country , an essential book for a Web site focusing on Japanese American military service and constitutional issues).
Despite these accomplishments, the abbreviated history presented by each of the Web sites leaves occasional���and sometimes important���gaps. For example, both Densho and A More Perfect Union cover the Supreme Court cases resulting from Japanese American exile and incarceration too quickly. Densho discusses the case of Fred Korematsu (1944) but fails to present the larger legal history. A More Perfect Union examines the most important cases briefly but states that the Supreme Court ruled in Ex parte Endo (1944) that the military had exceeded its legal authority in “imprisoning loyal American citizens,” optimistically implying that such a decision meant that incarceration could not continue for long (and, by logical extension, could not happen again). Scholars are generally less sanguine about the ruling. Roger Daniels, for example, has noted that in the Endo decision the Supreme Court ignored meaningful constitutional issues, arguing that only the War Relocation Authority had broken the law in not allowing persons it conceded to be loyal to leave the camps. The Web site ignores the fact that the precedents established by these cases, which would require citizens to surrender their property and liberty at military order without resistance, continue to stand.
Life Interrupted also misses opportunities to educate visitors further. Its timeline covers the national story and notes interesting incidents in Arkansas. For example, locals thought that arriving Japanese Americans were enemy paratroopers. Still, it fails to exploit fully what should be its strength: an in-depth examination of how the Arkansas camps, the only ones in the South, compared to others. For example, Thomas Bodine, an outside observer who visited all ten camps while working for the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council, described an intense animosity between staff and inmates in the Arkansas camps that resulted from a combination of white prejudice and Japanese American disdain. A more detailed local study would enhance the importance of this Web site.
Another important issue covered unevenly by the Web sites is language. Densh�� addresses this topic directly and consistently by providing a link for terminology that correctly explains that language was (and, of course, is) a ���powerful tool��� employed by the government to promote euphemistic images of the concentration camps during the war. While acknowledging the contemporary debate on the proper terms, Densh�� explains why it avoids government euphemisms and encourages viewers to think about the issue critically. A More Perfect Union and Life Interrupted are less careful with their word choices. Both tend to move back and forth from, for example, the use of “internment” (an entirely euphemistic and inappropriate description of incarceration) and “imprisonment” (a more accurate description of what occurred).
Despite such imperfections, teachers should find all three Web sites useful. All pre-sent a wide variety of primary documents that personalize the written histories. Densho includes excerpts from videotaped interviews and allows access to interviews and images that humanize the Japanese American experience in ways that written texts simply cannot. Although individuals must register by mail with Densho to view its archive, such effort is rewarded. A More Perfect Union employs oral histories, government documents, flyers, political cartoons, gum cards that depicted “The Horrors of War,” excerpts from autobiographies, and stunning artwork produced by the inmates. Life Interrupted adds to this collection of primary sources with a photo gallery of life in Jerome and Rohwer. All three Web sites also provide lesson plans or links to lesson plans for teachers wanting to use new media dealing with exile and incarceration in the classroom.
All three Web sites are also informative and pedagogically useful because they connect the wartime Japanese American experience to current events. Each site hopes to educate Americans and thus avoid repeating what the journalist John Chancellor describes in A More Perfect Union as “a big and tragic error.” Densho explicitly discusses the ongoing controversy with a link to the current debate over Michelle Malkin’s recent book, In Defense of Internment (2004). Densho allows Malkin and her publisher to speak for themselves, although it does provide more responses from critics of her book, including prominent individuals and scholars as well as groups such as the Japanese American Citizens League and the Historians Committee for Fairness. In connecting exile and incarceration to the post-9/11 world, these Web sites present students and teachers with engaging materials that will help further their understanding of the past, their contemporary world, and the meaningful connections between the two.
Allan W. Austin