Thursday, December 07, 2006

Pearl Harbor--and Infamy

Today is the 65th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack--the day President Roosevelt said would live in infamy. But another infamy followed that attack, too--namely, the internment of over 100,000 Japanese on the West Coast.

Carey McWilliams was serving in state government during that time, and although he worked behind the scenes to forestall the evacuation and internment, he didn't publicly oppose it while he was chief of California's Division of Immigration and Housing. After all, his Democratic governor supported it, and a Democratic president ordered it.

But soon after the 1942 election turned him out of office, he spoke out against the internment and wrote Prejudice in 1944. It's an extraordinary book that demolished every argument for the evacuation and internment. The same year, it was cited four times in a Supreme Court dissenting opinion, when the court upheld the constitutionality of the internment--a position it later reversed for the reasons laid out by McWilliams.

Unfortunately, Prejudice is out of print now, even though it's one of McWilliams's most amazing books. I hope the McWilliams family will work with a publisher to get that remarkable title back into print.

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