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'From Truman to Trump: Presidents’ Use and Abuse of the Incarceration of Japanese Americans'

From Harry Truman to Barack Obama, both Republican and Democratic presidents have recognized the injustice suffered by Japanese Americans incarcerated under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066, offering apologies and redress, including the 1988 Civil Liberties Act signed by Ronald Reagan. This article contextualizes the vast gulf between Donald Trump's use of this contested history and all postwar presidents before him and finds that Trump embodies a changed Republican Party that refuses to honor and learn from the injustice of Japanese American incarceration during the Second World War.

Asian American responses to Donald Trump’s anti-Asian rhetoric and misuse of the history of Japanese American incarceration

Since 2015, Donald Trump, his administration and supporters have repeatedly abused the history of Second World War Japanese American incarceration. In contrast to preceding Presidents who recognised the miscarriage of justice authorised by Franklin Roosevelt, Trump and his administration have used this history to justify racism. All post-war presidents before Trump, regardless of political affiliation, agreed what happened under Executive Order 9066 was wrong and should never be repeated. Donald Trump and his administration have, by contrast, not only failed to condemn the incarceration but instead attempted to use test cases brought against the United States government during the war as questionable legal precedent to justify racist policies. The travel ban for those travelling to the USA from Muslim majority countries was compared to Executive Order 9066; Trump’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents and placing them in separate detention centres was disturbingly similar to the internment of orphans of Japanese parentage at Manzanar children’s village; and Trump’s use of terms like ‘China virus’ during the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in attacks on Asian Americans. This article considers Asian American responses to these three case studies of Trump’s anti-Asian rhetoric and abuse of the history of Japanese American incarceration.

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Internment During the Second World War:

A Comparative Study of Great Britain and the USA

In the first comparative history of internment in Britain and the USA, memoirs, letters, and oral testimony help to put a human face on the suffering incurred during the turbulent early years of the war and serve as a reminder of what can happen to vulnerable groups during times of conflict. Internment during the Second World War also considers how these 'tragedies of democracy' have been remembered over time, and how the need for the memorialisation of former sites of internment is essential if society is not to repeat the same injustices.


'As the first volume to compare at length the official confinement of civilians in Great Britain and the United States, this book not only breaks new ground but propels readers into reflections on prejudice, citizenship, and ethnicity.'


Greg Robinson, Professor of History at the Université du Québec à Montréal, Canada


'The internment of 'enemy aliens' (those of German, Italian and Japanese origin) in Britain and America during the Second World War remains little known. In this superbly researched account, Rachel Pistol provides the first comparative study explaining why such illiberal policies were implemented. This books allows understanding of the processes, experiences and memories of internment with disturbing relevance to the twenty first century and the world of Donald Trump and Brexit.'


Tony Kushner, Marcus Sieff Professor of the History of Jewish/non Jewish Relations, University of Southampton

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Shinzo Abe's visit to Pearl Harbor

Sky News

December 26, 2016

1988 Civil Liberties Act

BBC World Service History Hour

First broadcast December 12, 2018

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Excluded and Interned

American History Too

December 17, 2017

Discover more about the so-called ‘Yellow Peril’, Japanese Internment during World War II, and why these issues are still relevant to modern day America.

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