Skip to main content


Associate Professor Derek Chang, Department of History and Asian American Studies—Japanese Internment, White Supremacy, and American Nationalism

In February 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, paving the way for the incarceration — without due process of law — of 120,000 men, women, and children of Japanese descent, the large majority of whom were American citizens.  Claiming that Japanese Americans (Nisei) and Japanese immigrants (Issei) were “enemy aliens,” the U.S Government argued for the “military necessity” of its action.  To be sure, this massive violation of civil liberties occurred against a backdrop of America at war, but it also had roots in an American tradition of anti-Asian racism.  This lecture provides a historical context for Julie Otsuka’s novel and argues that the link between racism and American nationalism had particularly tragic consequences during this episode of the Second World War.

Matthew Evangelista, President White Professor of History and Political Science, Department of Government — Human Rights at War

At war with Japan in 1942, the United States government interned more than 100,000 people of Japanese ancestry, the majority of them US citizens. It was not the first or the last time the government would curtail the rights of its citizens in the name of national security. In the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 2001, and as the United States was preparing to launch a war against Afghanistan, the US government again responded by rounding up people it considered potential security threats. Both during World War II and during what President George W. Bush dubbed the “Global War on Terror,” many US citizens suffered violations of their rights. But the citizens of the countries at war with the United States suffered far worse. Tens of thousands of Japanese civilians perished in the firebombing of Tokyo and from the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Comparable numbers have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, some as a result of strikes by drones. How do we make judgments about the value of lives during wartime? Do we have a lesser obligation to protect human rights when at war than at peace? What does our attitude about the rights of people we consider our enemies say about our commitment to rights in general?

Associate Professor Shelley Wong, Department of English and Asian American Studies — In and Out of Time—or, Remembering to Forget

The internment, during WWII, of 120,000 men, women and children of Japanese descent (the majority of whom were American citizens) provides the socio-historical backdrop for Julie Otsuka’s novel.  The positioning, and the meanings, of Japanese American internment within the annals of United States history remain largely under-examined and unsettled.  This lecture, however, addresses the meanings of the internment not from the standpoint of historiography but from the standpoint of experience.  What can the category of experience teach us about the meanings of a given historical moment?  How do the seemingly abstract processes of relocation, dislocation, displacement, alienation, or estrangement take on emotional heft and weight and lodge themselves in the bodies of the internees, like uninvited guests who stay on indefinitely?  How do the respective characters respond or adjust to these strangers within themselves?  What role does memory—in the form of remembering, or failing to remember, or refusing to remember—play in this process? These are a few of the questions and issues to be explored through this lecture.