December 16, 2015

Who would have thought that as 2015 came to a close, we’d be debating World War II incarceration again? First it was Mayor David Bowers’ ill-advised invocation of Japanese American incarceration. Then, on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, Donald Trump called to ban all Muslim immigration to the U.S., along with the claim that WWII incarceration set a positive historical precedent. Today, a poll revealed that 48% of Trump supporters in Iowa endorsed World War II incarceration, with only 21% saying they opposed it. 

As shocked as we are to see Japanese American incarceration in the news again, it’s becoming sadly evident that awareness of WWII incarceration is still sorely lacking. However, we at Densho want to see this as a moment of opportunity and education. Here are four ways to either expand your own knowledge or help empower others to learn about Japanese American incarceration history. Even if you know the history, please share these ideas widely!

1. Share the Japanese American WWII Core Story

In six installments of mini-documentaries and short essays, learn the basics of Japanese American history, from the late 19th century to today. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt cited military necessity as the basis for incarcerating 120,000 Japanese Americans—adults and children, immigrants and citizens alike. Decades later, a congressional commission found the justification of military necessity to be false. Click through the story to learn the true reasons for this unprecedented denial of civil liberties and why it still matters today. Shareable link:

2. Help make WWII incarceration history part of every classroom.

We offer free training and educational materials promoting critical thinking skills that will help the next generation lead with civility and justice. If you’re an educator, take action to help your students learn about the perils of turning to bigotry and xenophobia in times of fear. Parents, let your children’s teachers know about the course and why you think it’s important. Also, contact your local school board and let them know that Japanese American incarceration should be part of every child’s education. Shareable link:

3. Read or gift a book about WWII incarceration to the young people in your lives. 

Jan Kamiya, a young adult librarian in the Hawaii State Public Library System and regular contributor to the Densho Encyclopedia, recommends eight essential books about Japanese American WWII incarceration that will keep the young readers in your life engaged in learning beyond the classroom. Shareable link:

4. Share this video. 

This is a quick introduction to WWII incarceration, but it asks a question that is all too timely: “What Does an American Look Like?”