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Defining Moments

Japanese-American Internment during World War II

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Less than 48 hours after the Pearl Harbor bombing, the federal government began rounding up Japanese immigrants for questioning. The attack on Pearl Harbor signaled the beginning of a four-year period of turmoil, disruption, chaos, and fear for people of Japanese descent living in America. Within a few months of the Pearl Harbor attack, the U.S. government imposed a mandatory evacuation from the Pacific Coast of all people with Japanese ancestry. All Japanese immigrants and their children—including those who held U.S. citizenship—were relocated from their homes and forced into remote, jail-like facilities called internment camps scattered across the country. As they entered these bleak camps, many wondered if they would ever be accepted as Americans—or if they would ever see freedom again.

Defining Moments: Japanese-American Internment during World War II provides a detailed and authoritative overview of internment, one of the most controversial aspects of America’s otherwise triumphant intervention in World War II. The volume explains how the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor led to the evacuation and internment of Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans; summarizes evacuation and internment procedures; details living conditions in the camps; discusses the economic, emotional, and physical toll of internment on Japanese-American families and communities; and ponders the legacy of internment on American society.

The volume is organized into three distinct sections—Narrative Overview, Biographies, and Primary Sources—which offer a one-stop resource for student research.

  • The Narrative Overview section provides a detailed, factual account of what led up to the internment of Japanese Americans, the events and issues during the era, and its legacy in American society
  • The Biographies section presents valuable biographical background on leading figures associated with Japanese-American internment
  • The Primary Sources section collects a wide variety of pertinent primary source materials from the era, including official documents, speeches, first-hand accounts, letters, memoirs, editorials, and other important works

Other notable features include a glossary of important people, places, and terms; a detailed chronology featuring page references to relevant sections of the narrative; an annotated listing of selected sources for further study; an extensive general bibliography; and a subject index.

Standard Features

  • Library binding, 7 1/4 x 9 1/4
  • 240 pages
  • 30-40 photographs and other illustrations
  • Narrative Overview section: Provides a detailed, factual account of the “defining moment”
  • Biographies section: Presents valuable biographical background on leading figures associated with the event
  • Primary Sources section: Collects a wide variety of pertinent primary source materials from the era
  • Research Topics: Proposes a list of topics suitable for conducting historical research and writing reports, a valuable starting point for student research
  • Source Attribution: Contains references for primary sources and other quoted material that guide users to other historical research resources
  • Glossary of Important People, Places, and Terms: Gives brief definitions for the many terms used in the book
  • Chronology: Highlights the related events in chronological order, along with “see” references that direct the reader to pages in the narrative with additional information
  • Sources for Further Study: Provides annotated citations for selected sources that are most useful to students
  • Bibliography: Lists books, periodicals, web sites, and videos consulted in preparing the volume
  • Subject Index: Includes people, places, organizations, events, and other topics

Research Topics

Each volume in the Defining Moments series covers a wide range of topics that students can use as starting points for further research. Potential research topics for Defining Moments: Japanese-American Internment during World War II are below:

  • Define Japanese Issei and Nissei in America and explain how their experiences and attitudes toward the United States differed
  • What steps did the U.S. government take in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and why, to limit Japanese immigration
  • Compare and contrast the views on internment of Dillon S. Myer and John DeWitt, two prominent U.S. military leaders who were directly involved in the evacuation, resettlement, and internment process
  • Describe a time when subjected to stereotyping (assumptions about your values, morals, personal history, or capabilities) solely because of your ethnic background, skin color, religious beliefs, gender, or family background, and recall how it made you feel
  • Imagine that you are a Japanese-American youngster who had been taken to one of the internment camps during World War II and write a letter to one of your teachers explaining your feelings, your impressions of your new surroundings, and your thoughts about the future
  • Summarize the various reasons that the U.S. government decided to shut down the internment camps and allow Japanese Americans to rejoin the general population
  • Explain some of the reasons why some Japanese Americans volunteered to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II, even though their families had been interned, and offer your own impressions as to the wisdom or foolishness of their choice
  • Debate this issue: since the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, some observers contend that Muslim immigrants and Muslim Americans are at risk of being subjected to the same type of treatment that Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans endured in the early 1940s, while others assert that the situations are totally different, or that additional national security measures directed primarily at people of the Islamic faith make sense
  • Explore the legacy of Japanese-American internment—on the descendents of the internees, on other Japanese Americans, and on American society in general


“A comprehensive overview. … The author’s engaging, simple style, combined with a visually enticing layout, will appeal to young readers, or to older readers who want a quick review. … Excerpts from primary sources (a staple in recently published histories for teenagers) encourage young students to read these sources-when the full texts would otherwise be too daunting. A brief summary and analysis precedes each document. A bibliography gathers references suitable to the book’s target audience-high school students but also sources that would be useful to college students. …. Recommended for public, school, and academic libraries.”

—ARBAonline, 2014

“Contain[s] thorough explanations of the events, including extensive use of period photos, historic primary documents, and eyewitness accounts. Key background information is included, providing the reader with context for the events. Also included are inset pages highlighting notable people or customs. These pages add entertainment value, as well as provide important anecdotal information.”

—VOYA: Voice of Youth Advocates, Aug ‘15