Patriotism: Do We Know It When We See It?

In a small, triangular plot, a short distance north of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., is the recently dedicated “National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism.” One of the primary purposes of the memorial is to recall publicly the forced removal of Japanese Americans from the Pacific coast at the beginning of World War II and their imprisonment in government internment camps for the duration of the war. The incident is worth recalling, of course, if for no other reason than as a constant reminder that we must not let a similar tragedy befall any other group of Americans. But one is at a loss to know why it is called a “Memorial to Patriotism.” Is it patriotic to be stripped of all of one’s dignity and earthly possessions and forced into exile/imprisonment solely because of one’s race or ethnicity? Is it patriotic for a citizen of this country to be regarded as the enemy based on one’s race aloen? Is it an act of patriotism to bow to the command of the President, literally enforced by the U.S. Army, when there is no apparent alternative? That many Japanese Americans evacuated by force from the West coast choose to call their obedience to that unconstitutional act patriotic sixty years later highlights the schism within the Japanese-American community that Professor Eric Muller explores in his book. This modest volume that expands on a footnote to history can be read on several different levels. It tells the story of a small group of Japanese American men of draft age and of the consequences they knowingly faced. The evacuation and internment of all persons of Japanese ancestry, citizens as well as aliens, from the Pacific coast at the start of World War II is a well-known episode of our recent past. Professor Muller does not go into detail, but he provides some of that background and the historical context of the evacuation and internment. He then launches into his tale.