Americanism Behind Barbed Wire

Nanzan Review of American Studies, Vol. 31, 2009

UNC Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1476885

19 Pages Posted: 22 Sep 2009 Last revised: 5 Nov 2009

See all articles by Eric L. Muller

Eric L. Muller

University of North Carolina School of Law

Date Written: September 22, 2009


The standard narrative about Americanism in the twentieth century tells of a robust debate early in the century between "anti-hyphenates," who preached an intense and highly racialized assimilationism, and cosmopolitans, who imagined new Americans' preserving, rather than abandoning, their ethnic and cultural legacies. On this view, World War I put an end to the cosmopolitan project, and the incarceration of Japanese Americans in World War II was the high-water mark of a racist and xenophobic definition of who could count as "American." The cosmopolitan project, in the standard narrative, would not really resume until the 1960s.

This paper presents evidence that at least modestly complicates the standard narrative. It focuses on the varying methods that federal government agencies used to evaluate the loyalties of incarcerated American citizens of Japanese ancestry during World War II. Comparing the methods used by military agencies with those of the civilian War Relocation Authority, the paper demonstrates that the civilian agency used a model of Americanism that was at least modestly cosmopolitan, and far less defined by racial conceptions of loyalty than the standard narrative would suggest.

Keywords: Japanese Americans, World War II, loyalty, Americanism, patriotism

Suggested Citation

Muller, Eric L., Americanism Behind Barbed Wire (September 22, 2009). Nanzan Review of American Studies, Vol. 31, 2009; UNC Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1476885. Available at SSRN:

Eric L. Muller (Contact Author)

University of North Carolina School of Law ( email )

Van Hecke-Wettach Hall, 160 Ridge Road
CB #3380
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380
United States
919-962-7067 (Phone)
919-962-1277 (Fax)

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