Facing the Mountain: A True Story of Japanese American Heroes in World War II
“Brown provides an exemplary piece of history, thoroughly researched and presented as a coherent, compelling story.”
Daniel James Brown has written a brilliant book, presenting an immense amount of material, from the bombing of Pearl Harbor to the return of Nisei soldiers from combat in Europe. By focusing on several individual Japanese Americans, he weaves a tapestry of lives that together create a gripping story of how Japanese Americans faced suddenly becoming enemies in their own country.
“For all their essential Americanness, the traumatic events of that December [the attack on Pearl Harbor] brought back into focus something they had always known: their place in American society remained tenous. Millions of their countrymen regarded them with an unfettered animosity born of decades of virulent anti-Asian rhetoric spewing forth from the press and from the mouths of politicians. Local ordinances regulated where they could and could not live. Labor unions routinely barred them from employment in many industries . . . State laws prohibited their [Japanese-born] parents from owning real estate.”
There are many strands for Brown to follow: the summary arrest of all Japanese-born men in Hawaii, the horrific rounding up of every Japanese American along the west coast, forcing families into internment camps, the young men who, despite often having their own families behind barbed wire, proved their patriotism by joining what would become the most decorated unit fighting for the United States in WWII, the other young men who refused to sign an oath of allegiance to the country treating them like the enemy rather than like citizens, and through it all, the racism experienced in all of these different situations.
This is a book that provokes outrage, justly so, but it does much more than that by providing a full picture of the Japanese American experience during WWII:
“But in the end, it’s not a story of victims. Rather, it’s a story of victors, of people striving, resisting, rising up, standing on principle, laying down their lives, enduring, and prevailing. It celebrates some young Americans who decided they had no choice but to do what their sense of honor and loyalty told them was right. . . .”
Brown gives us the history that isn’t taught in schools, explaining why Japanese Americans in Hawaii weren’t interned (it would have devastated the pineapple, sugar, and macadamia nut industries that relied on their labor), why Roosevelt succumbed to military pressure to imprison all Japanese Americans on the west coast, despite such people—many of whom were American citizens—posing little to no risk. There are many vivid details that illustrate the rank anti-Asian sentiments behind the policies, too many to start listing in a review.
A much needed balance is provided once the military, in desperate need of young fighting men, decided to accept Japanese Americans into its ranks. In these action-packed, heart-thumping pages, Brown describes the horrors of war and how the all-Nisei unit, the 442nd, faced them, earning respect and admiration not only from their commanders, but at long last from their own country, as news reels featured their daring exploits. Brown provides an exemplary piece of history, thoroughly researched and presented as a coherent, compelling story. This book should be part of every high school curriculum.