This article was originally published in the CPOW newsletter, Beyond the Wire, in September 2021. Additional articles by Prof. Meadows are listed following this piece.
INTRODUCTION It has been more than 76 years since I was among the nearly 4,000 American and other Allied-country nationals who were liberated from Manila’s Santo Tomas Internment Camp (STIC) on 3 February 1945. Despite that passage of time, however, I continue to harbor two grievances concerning the U.S. coverage of two related but separate and distinct subjects linked to World War II (WWII): (1) The American public’s virtually total ignorance of the subject of Japan’s WWII American civilian captives, or internees; and (2) the sharp contrast between that lack of coverage and the extensive (and continuing) amount of attention accorded in the U.S. to the subject of U.S. government treatment of WWII Japanese-American internees. This analysis will discuss each grievance in turn, focusing on the main reasons for the contrasting nature of the coverage, and on how that difference contributed to the failures and successes, respectively, of the American and the Japanese-American efforts to achieve restitution. Lastly, this study will examine certain neglected aspects of the subject at issue in the concluding section.
Before proceeding, several distinctions and clarifications should be cited, for the sake of accuracy (and to forestall potential criticisms); but brevity dictates that not all of them will be used here. They include the following: (1) In the context of this survey, the term “Japanese-American” is not always appropriate, as not all those of Japanese descent in the U.S. and in the then Territory of Hawaii were U.S. citizens during WWII. (2) The word commonly used to include all diaspora ethnic Japanese, regardless of their citizenship, is Nikkei; a term used herein, though not comparable, is “Japanese-American community.” (3) Because not all Japanese-Americans were interned, it would be inaccurate to refer to them — although I do so — as “internees” (as distinguished from military prisoners, or “POWS”). (4) To simplify, instead of using the terms “former internees” or “ex-internees,” they will be referred to simply as “internees.” Finally, a note to emphasize that my grievances are not personal; this survey is the outcome not of prejudice, antipathy and/or bitterness, but rather of an examination of the historical record.