Canadian & Japanese During the Second World War
by Patricia E. Roy, J. L. Granatstein, Masako Iino, Hiroko Takamura,
Post Your Opinion
by Frank Moritsugu
THIS IS Tiff FIRST major work on the Japanese-Canadian wartime experience not written by a member of the community since Forrest La Violette`s 1948 sociological study The Japanese Canadians and World War 11. What might have resulted was a fresh, insight-filled scrutiny of the Japanese-Canadian experience during the 1940s. Instead, the book is a disappointing muddle, still searching for some kind of raison d`etre.
On the plus side, this book does offer useful additions to the history of a Canadian minority group that under-went unique official treatment under the stress of our war with Japan. Its assiduous research adds much humanity and colour to the account of what it was like for the people expelled from the Pacific coast to live in interior detention centres from 1942 to 1945. And for the first time, a solid account is given of how an elementary school system was created and implemented in those centres where local boards were nonexistent or unable to take on the responsibility of educating hundreds of children suddenly brought into their midst.
But the title hardly suggests that such rewards might be found within. Worse, it is quite misleading. This is not a comparative history of the treatment accorded to enemy peoples by Japan and Canada during the Second World War. Less than 20 per cent of the book is devoted to Canadian military and civilians under Japanese captivity in Hong Kong and Japan. As a result, the book ends up being mainly another version of the official mistreatment of Japanese Canadians in this country.
The authors admit quite early in their preface that a comparative history was not possible because archival records on the Japanese side were either inaccessible or unavailable. And unlike the German or Italian POWs, no Japanese military were ever prisoners in Canada. According to the authors` estimate, the Canadian civilians in Japanese hands amounted to "probably" less that a thousand; given these facts, why persist with such a misleading title?
The title`s wording could also have been more fastidious. In certain contexts, it makes sense to use the generic "Japanese" to refer to Japanese Canadians. But calling the victims in this country "Japanese" in comparison to the "Canadians" who were captured or interned in the Far East is confusing usage, to say the least. Two-thirds of us who were deprived of our civil rights from 1942 to 1949 were Canadians, too.
Among the disappointments is the fact that hardly anything new is uncovered about the experiences of Canadians in Japanese hands. Some live interviewing to supplement the exclusive dedication to written archives might have produced better-quality material. As for what happened to the Japanese Canadians in this country, the chapter titled "The Decision to Evacuate` includes the material that caused a furor when a variant under J. L. Granatstein`s byline appeared in Saturday Night in 1986, which incurred many rebuttals from historians and Japanese-Canadians.
In this book, Granatstein`s arguments that there might have been good reasons for the mass evacuation of 22,000 person of this racial minority -- enemy national`s and citizens alike -- are presented more moderately. But his two main points remain: there was a real possibility of traitorous activities by Japanese Canadians living on the West Coast in the event of a Japanese invasion; and even if there hadn`t been, the authorities were justified in moving the people wholesale because of the danger of hostile attacks from their neighbours.
The evidence is flimsy and dubious. For instance, if Japanese Canadians couldn`t be trusted in the case of attack by Japan, why were the able-bodied men, 18 to 45, first sent to camps along the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific transcontinental main lines in the B.C. interior. If the men sent away were Suspect in their loyalties, why did the authorities tempt military security by giving them direct opportunity to sabotage key transportation links in our country? And why is it that with the release of wartime documents and the archival research that has gone into this and other recent works, no evidence has been uncovered of any Japanese-Canadian attempts to sabotage the war effort?
Granatstein also argue,,, that authorities moved Japanese Canadians en masse because they feared we would suffer reprisals and attacks on the coast if Japan became threatening. This has a plausible ring to it. After all, during the months following the attack on Pearl Harbour, the anti- Japanese rhetoric of the politicians, the various organizations, and the press became quite inflamed.
But what evidence was there of real danger? When Japan attacked Pearl Harbour, captured Hong Kong, and then later Singapore during the early months, what happened in Vancouver besides raising the volume of the "Get-rid-of-the-Japs" tirades?
I covered the scene in December as a reporter for the New Canadian, the Japanese-Canadian newspaper. All that could he found to report were some Stones thrown through windows of Japanese-Canadian-owned businesses in outlying areas. And some racist slogans done in soap on windows, a la Hallowe`en.
So, this is a strange, lopsided book. It can`t help but he bettered soon, because more books on Japanese Canadians are forthcoming in the aftermath of the redress settlement of September 1988.