An American Author Answers Americans Asking, “When can we go back to America?”
Reviewed and Recommended by Don DeNevi
“When Can We Go Back to America?”, by Susan Kamei, Foreword by Secretary Norman Y, Mineta. Simon & Schuster; 736 pp, Amazon $20.49.
By the time the few antiaircraft guns protecting the airways over the Hawaiian Islands had cooled on the morning of December 7, 1941, the people along the Pacific West Coast of America were in a near-state of terror. Not only did most fear war would be long and bloody, waged across the Pacific against an adversary far stronger than anyone thought, but also that a Japanese invasion was to occur immediately, primarily through Central California to fan across the nation.
Well-read, knowledgeable Americans, especially the military professionals of our armed forces, understood the nation was strong, that we would recover, re-arm, recoup, rethink our losses, and move forward to win the war. Seven months later, the U.S. Navy victory over the Japanese carrier fleet off Midway Island on June 3, 1942, confirmed that.
Within hours of Californians receiving the 11:37am, Sunday morning, emergency news alert that an unbearable debacle had occurred at Pearl Harbor, shouts from San Francisco to the highest hamlets in the Sierra Nevada ranges could be heard wailing, “Remember Pearl Harbor!”, “You’re a Sap, Mr. Jap”, etc.
Sadly, vague uneasiness, doubt, suspicion, and, in some instances, pure, outright paranoia, augmented by 8:00 pm nightly blackouts by, family rationing cards, scarcity of simple commodities, restricted travel, entered the minds of many mundane citizens and their everyday lives and activities. It was inevitable. “The damn Japs, regardless of being American, have to leave their homes, their ranches, farms, and businesses, right now! We don’t want them around here!”
Military strategists and their officials, political figures, and the influential chosen to mobilize America for war would see to it that a high penalty would be paid, even if unjust, by the Nisei, Americans of Japanese ancestry. Payback would consist of relocating every single one of them, forcibly if necessary. By what excuses? Exaggerated spy stories, rumors of Fifth Columnists organizing subversion, claims that Nisei farmers in the San Joaquin Valley were sabotaging their own food crops, etc., including vapid, insipid greed to confiscate the coveted acreage of immaculately maintained Japanese American fruit and vegetable orchards. Racism and xenophobia sided with bold, unadulterated theft. “Internment” was the perfect solution for such a “pro-Japan people”. Put them in “camps” behind barbed wire guarded by American boys in gun towers gripping machine guns!
Author Susan Kamei’s mesmerizing new book, “When Can We Go Back to America?”, is unequivocally the most important portrait yet written on what it meant to be a Japanese-American citizen whose ethos and ethnicity identified them as “foreigner”, “un-American”, “alien”. And, with the United States at war, cast them away for the duration.
With his moving, endorsing Foreword, Norman Mineta, the U.S. Congressman with an impeccable public service record, adds immeasurably by introducing the heroic Nisei wartime history, which Susan narrated so cogently. Readers are present to eyewitness the very hour Japanese Americans heard the grievously distressing news of that “dastardly” December morning attack in 1941, to post war, late 1945, in somber realism for many returning home to resettle, reintegrate, and regain economic parity. Susan has provided us with a magnificent, nonpareil, 700-plus page compendium for every family library today, then their families and heritages to come.
From an inordinate number of personal stories, Susan, you have provided us with a significant, thrilling, hitherto unknown experience. An extraordinarily fine job accomplished! Mom and dad, I’m certain, are so, so proud.