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Concentration Camps on the Home Front

Japanese Americans in the House of Jim Crow

Without trial and without due process, the United States government locked up nearly all of those citizens and longtime residents who were of Japanese descent during World War II. Ten concentration camps were set up across the country to confine over 120,000 inmates. Almost 20,000 of them were shipped to the only two camps in the segregated South—Jerome and Rohwer in Arkansas—locations that put them right in the heart of a much older, long-festering system of racist oppression. The first history of these Arkansas camps, Concentration Camps on the Home Front is an eye-opening account of the inmates’ experiences and a searing examination of American imperialism and racist hysteria.

While the basic facts of Japanese-American incarceration are well known, John Howard’s extensive research gives voice to those whose stories have been forgotten or ignored. He highlights the roles of women, first-generation immigrants, and those who forcefully resisted their incarceration by speaking out against dangerous working conditions and white racism. In addition to this overlooked history of dissent, Howard also exposes the government’s aggressive campaign to Americanize the inmates and even convert them to Christianity. After the war ended, this movement culminated in the dispersal of the prisoners across the nation in a calculated effort to break up ethnic enclaves.

Howard’s re-creation of life in the camps is powerful, provocative, and disturbing. Concentration Camps on the Home Front rewrites a notorious chapter in American history—a shameful story that nonetheless speaks to the strength of human resilience in the face of even the most grievous injustices.

Read an excerpt.

356 pages | 20 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2008

Asian Studies: East Asia

Culture Studies

Gender and Sexuality

History: American History

Sociology: Social Psychology--Small Groups


“This splendid study is a meticulous, piercing account of the two detention camps set up in Arkansas for Japanese Americans during World War II. John Howard has an unusual array of gifts. He’s a brilliant researcher, a stylist of clarity and wit and a writer with rare narrative skill. He is also astonishingly well informed on a wide array of subjects, and superbly contextualizes his given subject. Combining an activist’s conscience with a scholar’s precision, Howard has produced a moving, even searing work about American racism and imperialism.”

Martin Duberman, author of The Worlds of Lincoln Kirstein

“The great strength of John Howard’s book is that he not only asks new questions about the familiar story of the camps, but also that he has done a great deal of original research in material that has been largely unexploited. This is not a standard kind of camp history but something else—more imaginative but deeply rooted in the sources created by administrators and inmates. This is an important book, often gripping, and sure to be controversial.”

Roger Daniels, author of Prisoners Without Trial: Japanese Americans and World War II

“John Howard brings fresh perspectives to the literature of Japanese-American incarceration during World War II, introducing readers to the two camps in the segregated South and lending us his sharp eye for issues of race, sexuality, and empire. His insightful meditations on those themes, his focus on individual people, and his lively writing make this book as enlightening and exhilarating as its subject is painful and frightening. Scholars of the topic and those like me, who teach about it, will discover brand new angles; more general readers will encounter profound challenges to conventional ideas about America.”

Susan Strasser, author of Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash

“John Howard offers a powerful and even daring reinterpretation of the incarceration of people of Japanese ancestry during World War II. Howard, one of the best historians of gender and sexuality writing today, has done significant and imaginative research that transforms the familiar tale of patriotic Americans fallen victim to wartime excess into something much more complex.”

Beth L. Bailey, author of Sex in the Heartland: Politics, Culture, and the Sexual Revolution

"[The book] holds up a critical lens to American society and values, raising such hot-button issues as race, family, gender politics, capitalism, individualism, immigration and nationalism. As such, it is a valuable contribution to the scholarship of the Japanese-American relocation and internment."

Jay Feldman | Truthdig

"The subject [of US treatment of its citizens of Japanese descent during WWII] offers the opportunity for a useful discussion of race and the interplay of Caucasian-African American and Caucasian-Japanese relations in the context of de jure segregation in the mid-20th-century South. The subtleties of those interactions are sometimes submerged in the book's additional themes. Summing up: Recommended."


Table of Contents


Unnatural but Not Un-American

Not American, Not Again

Human Differences, Human Rights

1. Expansion and Restriction

Christian Empire

Self-Sufficiency, Sandalwood, and Sugar

White Citizenship, Racial Hierarchy

2. Subversion

Perverse Sexuality

House Un-American Activities

Segregation versus Extermination

3. Concentration and Cooperation

Collective Living

Cooperative Enterprises

Competitive Sports

Participatory Democracy

4. Camp Life

Gendered Spaces

Caucasian Environments

Unusual Places

5. Race, War, Dances

Complicating the Color Line

Courting within the Color Lines

Authorizing Gender Roles

6. Americanization and Christianization

Schooling in the Nation

Drawing Out the Nation

Safeguarding Buddhism

Worshipping of the Nation

7. Strikes and Resistance

Disputes over Pay and Conditions

The Woodcutters Strike and the Death of Seizo Imada

The Motor Repair Strike

The General Strike and the Death of Haruji Ego

8. Segregation, Expatriation, Annihilation

Neither a Trial nor Inquisition

Tule Lake


9. Resettlement and Dispersal

Normal American Communities

The Suicide of Julia Dakuzaku

Plantation versus Cooperative Colony

10. Occupation and Statehood

Adopting the American Way

Queering the Empire

Rock ’n’ Roll and Redemption


Democracy Is for the Unafraid

Clichés of American Happiness





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