The Art of War

With Executive Order 9066, Franklin Delano Roosevelt ordered the internment of 120,000 ethnic Japanese shortly after Pearl Harbor. Third-generation American-born citizens and new immigrants alike were forced to relocate quickly. 

When they arrived in dusty inland camps, they found only cots in bare barracks. Internees gathered scrap wood, metal, and other oddments to create the inkwells, chairs, jewelry, and sketches showcased in The Art of Gaman (roughly “suffering with dignity”) at the Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C., through January 30, 2011. 

The exhibit is a reminder of the diversity among these people uniformly classified as “the enemy” by a powerful wartime administration. Most heartbreaking are the items created in support of the American war effort, such as the senninbari silk vest—traditional for Japanese men going off to war—made by a foreign-born mother for her citizen son George Matsushita, who was recruited into the U.S. Army directly from the camps and sent to fight in Italy.

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    It was ironic that during WW II there was almost no Japanese fifth column to speak of, wheras the German influence was far more pervasive. In other words, there were a lot more Germans with American ties spying for the Fatherland. Of course, the vast majority of German-Americans were loyal, but those that weren't did more damage. The Japanese were singled out only because of their appearance.

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