Scapegoat Cities: New Podcast Explores Japanese American Incarceration

Podcast logo by Kelsea Bauer. The design combines a bonsai tree with the scales of justice.

The following guest blog post, announcing the launch of a new podcast exploring the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans, is contributed by Eric Muller, a law professor and longtime friend of the museum.

After the election of Donald Trump, many people were asking themselves: “How can I help counter what lies ahead?” I decided to create a podcast called Scapegoat Cities, which is launching today.

The idea is simple. Over the course of two decades of deep research in the National Archives for my books and articles, I’ve gathered many touching but unknown stories of the forced removal and imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II—stories that put a human face on the gross miscarriage of justice. Scapegoat Cities lets me tell a handful of those stories in an accessible and compelling way.

I believe that if we want to ensure that something never happens again, we need to first ensure that we really know what it was that actually happened. That’s what this podcast is for: to help listeners know in detail and also feel how Japanese Americans experienced unwarranted confinement by the US government. My hope is that this will contribute in some small way to resisting the dangerous religious and ethnic profiling that the policies of the Trump administration threaten to enact. It will remind people of the real human costs of these seemingly abstract policies.

The first two episodes, available now, give a good idea of what the podcast will do. “The Desert Was His Home” tells the story of the disappearance and death of Otomatsu Wada, an elderly Issei, from the Gila River concentration camp in Arizona. In “The Irrepressible Moe Yonemura,” an extraordinary young man defies all odds and becomes one of the most popular and respected members of his class at UCLA. He brings the same indomitable spirit to his time at the Heart Mountain camp—and then he volunteers for wartime service as part of the renowned 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Both of these stories are based on real events that took place at those two camps. Each of the stories, in its own touching way, reveals something important about the nature and impact of confinement.

It’s surprising how much information survives that helps me tell these stories. I learned the story of the disappearance of the Issei gentleman from the records left behind by Gila River’s “Project Attorney,” the white government lawyer who both helped run the camp and who served as a legal adviser for inmates. The story was also extensively covered in the camp’s newspaper and in Arizona newspapers. I first learned about Moe Yonemura from the pages of the Heart Mountain Sentinel, the camp’s newspaper, and then discovered the UCLA campus newspaper and yearbooks and the narrative records of his battalion’s service in Italy online.

There are lots of ways to listen to the podcast. The easiest is to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or wherever else you like to find your podcasts. You can also go to the podcast’s website, which has each episode available for download along with additional background information, including photographs and suggestions for further reading.

I hope people enjoy the podcast, and that those who do will leave a review on iTunes and tell their friends!

Eric Muller is a law professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The son of a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, Muller has for two decades focused his research and scholarship almost exclusively on the wartime removal and imprisonment of Japanese Americans. He’s published two monographs and a third edited volume as well as many academic articles. He’s also proud to have led the creation of the main historical exhibit at the site of the Heart Mountain concentration camp in Wyoming, which won museum awards.

3 thoughts to “Scapegoat Cities: New Podcast Explores Japanese American Incarceration”

  1. There were so few supporters of the Japanese Americans after the Hawaii attack, so here a real hero back on December 12, 1941. Superintendent Mr Hicks of the El Monte Union high School District comments to the district students over the public address system, which included Japanese American students, like Ike Hatchmonji.
    This was copied from the El Monte high School paper, the Lion’s Trail.
    This morning all us are thinking about the same thing n, one thing only, namely, the treacherous and unprovoked attack by Japan upon Hawaii. It was a shock to all of us equal to an earthquake of gigantic proportions. It is not so much the destruction of life and property that shocks us, and yet that is a terrific blow, but stuns us as a people that a nation with whom we were at the time conducting peace talks, would secretly and without warning attack in such a brutal manner.
    Now, the thing which concerns us here in our high school is the unhappy and unfortunate position in which our Japanese-American students have been placed. But somehow
    I feel I know you boys and girls; I have implicit trust in you, in your love for justice and fairness. You will recognize that these Japanese-Americans citizens, fellow classmates, are in no way responsible for the dastardly, cowardly, treacherous act the military faction of Japanese yesterday. I know that you are going to maintain the same happy, friendly relationships with the Japanese-American students.
    Let us remember that they are American citizens just the same as you and I. Being american citizens they have just as much right to the protection of old glory as do you and I. We are all American citizens. The fundamental freedoms guaranteed to us through the Bill of Rights are also guaranteed to them. Let us respect these rights. Let us treat these Japanese boys and girls as would like to be treated were we placed in a similar circumstance. the Golden Rule is a rule which can and should be applied in all occasions and under all circumstances. It is not something which can be cast aside at will. Now, to you Japanese-American boys and girls. You have been placed in a trying position, but all us have faith in you, and your integrity, in your acceptance of the American way of life, the Democratic way. Don;e waver from that integrity, from that sincerity. Be careful that no word from your mouths would ever cause any one to question your loyalty. You can afford to go the second mile to show it. Don’t take offense if some thoughtless crude remark is made to you. Consider the source. Just bear in mind that a lady or gentlemen will never insult you; no one else can.e
    These days are days of testing. The goats will soon be separated from the sheep. In the separation process, let us be sure that justice be done to all.

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