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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

UNC Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2932935

43 Pages Posted: 10 Apr 2017  

Eric L. Muller

University of North Carolina School of Law

Date Written: March 14, 2017

Abstract

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

Muller, Eric L., Of Coercion and Accommodation: Looking at Japanese American Imprisonment Through a Law Office Window (March 14, 2017). Law and History Review, March 2017, 1-43, doi:10.1017/S0738248017000086; UNC Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2932935. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2932935

Eric 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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