American Inquisition: The Hunt for Japanese American Disloyalty in World War II


When the U.S. Government forced 70,000 American citizens of Japanese ancestry into internment camps in 1942, it created administrative tribunals to pass judgement on which of those citizens were loyal and which were disloyal. In American Inquisition, Eric Muller relates the untold story of how military and civilian bureaucrats judged these tens of thousands of American citizens during wartime.

Some citizens were judged loyal and authorized to leave the camps, but one in four was declared disloyal to America and barred from war-related jobs or condemned to repressive segregation. Using cultural and religious affiliations as surrogates for Americans' loyalties, bureaucratic decisions often reflected the clashing needs, preconceptions, and agendas of the agencies that performed them rather than anything that was true about the allegiances and dangerousness of the Americans being judged, Muller explains.

As World War II approached its end, the government was called upon to defend one of its loyalty screening systems in federal court. Muller describes how, looking ahead to future conflicts, military witnesses lied about both the loyalty system and the security of the West Coast in an attempt to secure a judicial endorsement of unreviewable domestic military control over American citizens during wartime.

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