Nature Behind Barbed Wire: An Environmental History of the Japanese American Incarceration

Item # 154206.

By Connie Y. Chiang.

The mass imprisonment of over 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry during World War II was one of the most egregious violations of civil liberties in US history. Although scholars and commentators acknowledge the harsh environmental conditions of these camps, they have turned their attention to the social, political, or legal dimensions of this story. Nature Behind Barbed Wire shifts the focus to the natural world and explores how it shaped the experiences of Japanese Americans and federal officials who worked for the War Relocation Authority (WRA), the civilian agency that administered the camps.

The complexities of the natural world both enhanced and constrained the WRA’s power and provided Japanese Americans with opportunities to redefine the terms and conditions of their confinement. Even as the environment compounded their feelings of despair and outrage, they also learned that their willingness (or lack thereof) to transform and adapt to the natural world could help them endure and even contest their incarceration. Ultimately, this book demonstrates that the Japanese American incarceration was fundamentally an environmental story. Japanese Americans and WRA officials negotiated the terms of confinement with each other and with a dynamic natural world. Hardbound: 328 pp.

Collections: Books & Media, Year of Rat

Type: book

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