Voices Raised in Protest: Defending North American Citizens of Japanese Ancestry, 1942-49
November 4, 2013
Review By Andrea Geiger
Voices Raised in Protest provides a comparative assessment of the incarceration of citizens of Japanese ancestry in Canada and the United States during the Second World War, with a particular focus on dissenting voices that emerged during this period. Bangarth posits that the differing constitutional framework of each country explains differences in the way the rhetoric deployed by dissenters evolved over time. She argues persuasively that the Bill of Rights in the United States allowed dissenters there to invoke civil rights as a basis for challenging the internment of Japanese Americans as unconstitutional, whereas the absence of a constitutional equivalent in Canada forced dissenters, over time, to base their challenges increasingly on broader appeals to universal human rights.
Bangarth contends that domestic policy pertaining to citizens of Japanese ancestry in Canada and the United States was similar in method and intent during its early stages, especially as it pertained to their incarceration, but that it diverged as the war continued. Whereas the US government began to release Japanese Americans from the internment camps as early as 1944, the absence of constitutional constraints in Canada like those articulated in the Bill of Rights made it possible for the Canadian government to proceed with plans to deport Japanese internees and to expatriate citizens of Japanese ancestry born in Canada. One consequence, Bangarth notes, is that, while dissent in the United States was focused primarily on the initial internment and incarceration of Japanese and Japanese Americans in the United States, dissent in Canada only coalesced around the proposed deportation and expatriation of Nikkei. While Bangarth notes the role dissenting voices played in eventually bringing about a policy shift in each nation, a point not explored to the degree it might have been is the extent to which the divergence in the policies of the two governments regarding Nikkei citizens was itself a product of differing constitutional contexts. Somewhat puzzling, as well, is Bangarth’s assertion in the opening chapter that both nations developed “policies that were used to defraud the Nikkei of their property,” seemingly implying that these were similar in nature and scope (3). In fact, as evidence that Bangarth herself cites elsewhere in the text reveals (e.g., 133), there was no equivalent in the United States to Canada’s Custodian of Enemy Property, which enabled the state to seize and sell the property of Nikkei citizens, precisely because of constitutional differences similar to those that she describes with considerable facility in the context of her discussion of dissent – arguably a missed opportunity to extend her discussion of other implications of the differing constitutional constraints limiting the power of government in each country.
Bangarth’s purpose is, in part, to respond to Roger Daniels’ call for comparative studies of the incarceration of citizens of Japanese ancestry in Canada and the United States. As such, it makes a welcome contribution to an evolving discussion comparing domestic wartime policy in both countries, which, in turn, sheds light on the parallels and differences in the ways in which “race” and civil liberties were historically understood in each country. The next step in this conversation may well be to analyze these issues within a broader context still, also taking into account, for example, policy in Australia or other parts of the British Empire and Commonwealth with respect to the internment of those categorized or perceived as enemy aliens in wartime.