Of Coercion and Accommodation: Looking at Japanese American Imprisonment Through a Law Office Window
Law and History Review, March 2017, 1-43, doi:10.1017/S0738248017000086
43 Pages Posted: 10 Apr 2017
Date Written: March 14, 2017
Crucial to the implementation of the War Relocation Authority’s (WRA) regulations of its detention camps for the uprooted Japanese American community of the West Coast were the WRA “project attorneys,” white lawyers stationed in the camps who gave legal advice to administrators and internees alike. These lawyers left behind a voluminous correspondence that opens a new window on the WRA’s relationship with its prisoners, a relationship heretofore understood as encompassing coercion on one side and either compliance or resistance on the other. This article uses the voluminous correspondence of the project attorney at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming as a new lens for viewing the regulatory relationship between the WRA and the imprisoned community. It focuses on three of the many matters about which the project attorney gave advice: the design of the camp’s community government, its criminal justice system, and its business enterprises. Evidence from this one law office suggests that on many key issues, the relationship between the WRA and the internees was marked not so much by coercion as by reciprocal accommodation, with each taking account of some of the preferences of the other. While the data are from just one of the ten WRA camps, they suggest a need to reconsider our understanding of how this American system of racial imprisonment operated.
Keywords: internment, World War II, lawyers, Japanese American, War Relocation Authority, detention
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation