January 11, 2010
One of the most divisive legacies of the World War II incarceration remains the issue of loyalty. The loyal/disloyal divide continues to haunt the memory and interpretation of Japanese American history, as many in the community still grapple with what has become such a stigmatized and controversial label. We examine what scholar Eric Muller calls the “loyalty bureaucracy” — the registration and segregation program implemented within the camps to measure the “loyalty” of the imprisoned population. While Muller and other scholars have done important work in highlighting the absurdity of this premise, less explored are the varying ways in which Japanese Americans reacted to the government’s efforts. In looking at the wrenching decisions Japanese Americans were forced to make during this time, we come to understand that these decisions were not expressions of “loyalty” or “disloyalty,” but measured responses to difficult and often extreme circumstances.