Academic journal article Journalism History

Japanese American Internment in Popular Magazines: Race, Citizenship, and Gender in World War II Photojournalism

Academic journal article Journalism History

Japanese American Internment in Popular Magazines: Race, Citizenship, and Gender in World War II Photojournalism

Article excerpt

This article analyzes published photographs of Japanese Americans interned in World War II by Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), Ansel Adams (1902-84), and Carl Mydans (1907-2004) in Survey Graphic, U.S. Camera, and Life respectively. Although their work was constrained by the economic and ideological realities of the war's photojournalism, they transcended the medium to provide historians with valuable insights into a controversial chapter in our national history when the government felt it was necessary to curtail civil liberties. In addition to reconsidering the existing scholarship on Lange and Adams, this article explores new ground by analyzing the photojournalism of Mydans. This fresh perspective reveals how photojournalism contributed to the visual construction of race, citizenship, and gender.

After the Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States entered World War II and antiJapanese hysteria gripped the home front. Then, on February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 authorizing the War Department to exclude any group of people from military areas for the duration of the war. This was the legal basis for the evacuation and internment of 1 10,000 Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans from the west coast. Many were forced to sell their homes and businesses, often suffering huge financial losses, and educations, careers, and lives were disrupted, sometimes irrevocably.1

Mainstream American newspapers and magazines portrayed the incarceration of Japanese Americans as a military necessity, adopting the euphemisms "relocation and internment," which was consistent with government propaganda, lor the forced evacuation and confinement. In 1993, Walt Stromer recalled that the media "remained largely silent in 1942 on the issue of the relocation and internment ol Japanese-Americans."7 TThis research suggests, however, that mainstream magazines strongly supported internment, and dissenting opinions were limited to liberal publications.7 Karin Becker Ohrn observed in 1 977 that "the picture magazines steered clear of the Japanese-American internment" as much as possible, and when they did cover it, they took pains not to "plead a cause."4 Nonetheless, this study found significant magazine coverage of Manzanar and Tule Lake, two camps in California.1 As for "pleading a cause," this research indicates that magazine articles supported internment as a required curtailment of civil liberties during wartime.''

Magazine articles gave two main justifications for the internment ol Japanese Americans: military necessity and the Japanese assimilation problem. The media seemed to take its cue from Gen. John Lesesne DeWitt, who was responsible for implementing Executive Order 9066 and who cited these reasons as justifications for the internment. The Japanese American population was concentrated along the west coast, including areas designated as "strategic military areas" after Pearl Harbor. Several articles asserted that the evacuation order was an unquestioned military necessity because officials feared that disloyal Japanese Americans, who leased large tracts of land, could turn them "into a landing field for [Japanese] bombers in an hour or two."7

As a result of such fears, anti-Japanese sentiment was pervasive in the mainstream press. A strident proponent of internment was the newspaper chain owned by William Randolph Hearst.8 Henry McLemore, a syndicated columnist for the Hearst newspapers, wrote on January 29, 1942: "I am for immediate removal of every Japanese on the West Coast to a point deep in the interior. I don't mean a nice part of the interior eirher. Herd 'em up, pack 'em off and give 'em the inside room in the badlands." This type of opinion extended to the Washington Post, where respected columnist Walter Lippmann wrote on February 12, 1942: "The Pacific Coast is in imminent danger of a combined attack from within and without. . …

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