Exile of a Race (book)
|Title||Exile of a Race|
|Author||Anne Reeploeg Fisher|
|Original Publisher||F. & T. Publishers|
|Original Publication Date||1965|
|Current Publication Date||1987|
Originally drafted in the 1940s but not published until 1965, Anne Reeploeg Fisher's book-length study Exile of a Race was the first of the redress-era histories of Japanese American wartime confinement to appear in print.
Exile of a Race was the product of activism by Anne Reeploeg Fisher (1900-94), a member of the Socialist Party and the Interracial Church of the People in Seattle. In mid-1942, Gordon Hirabayashi went to trial in Seattle for breaking curfew regulations and refusing to register for "evacuation" in the wake of Executive Order 9066. Fisher attended his trial and took stenographic notes of the proceedings. She meanwhile wrote to members of Congress during the months that followed in order to secure better treatment for camp inmates. Still, her interest in Japanese Americans remained less central until April 1945, when she went to San Francisco to report on the inaugural United Nations conference for the Socialist newspaper The Call. According to Fisher's account, while in California she attended a meeting of a vanguard of Japanese Americans recently returned from camp. She was surprised to learn of the mounting antagonism against the returnees, and all the difficulties they were having securing housing. She also visited the Manzanar camp during this time, where she found the inmates apprehensive about leaving the relative security of the camps and returning to the larger society.
Once Fisher returned to Seattle, she later related, she began writing an article on the Japanese American question, in order to educate public opinion about the returnees. Once she started, she found more and more to say. After six months of typing twelve hours a day, six days per week, she had an enormous book manuscript, which she then cut in half to make it more salable. In early 1946, Fisher submitted the work for the Scribner Prize in History, a $10,000 award offered by the prestigious Scribner publishing company that also brought with it a guarantee of publication. Fisher received information that the committee had expressed approval of her research and writing, but that an (unnamed) prize-winning historian had objected to the book on political grounds, stating "I did not like reading it—it is a humiliating book." Because the historian felt that detailing such recent injustices was harmful to national pride, he opposed giving a prize to the book. This negative assessment not only helped cost Fisher the Scribner prize, she later claimed, but it was fatal to her chances of publication. Although she received inquiries from the Doubleday Company about publishing, nothing solidified. While Fisher published articles on Japanese Americans in the small progressive magazine The Reporter during the early 1950s, she ultimately withheld publication of the larger manuscript, even as she conducted further research.
It was not until 1965, almost twenty years since her first attempt at publication, that Fisher undertook production of Exile of a Race. By that time, virtually no works on the camps had been produced for the previous decade, and there was voluntary amnesia regarding the wartime events, especially on the West Coast. However, the moment was propitious for a reconsideration. The CBS television special Nisei: The Pride and the Shame and the film documentary The Eleanor Roosevelt Story, both released that year, had discussed mass removal. Using the Peninsula Printing Company, a small British Columbia firm, Fisher produced 2,000 copies to be sold to libraries and schools in Canada, even though the work contained no mention of Japanese Canadians and their wartime treatment. In order to extend copyright, Fisher then produced 1,000 more copies via Seattle's F&T Publishers for sale in the United States. The book was sufficiently popular that she produced a new printing in 1970, and later a new edition with a supplement in 1987.
While Exile of a Race resembled previous studies of the wartime removal such as Morton Grodzins's Americans Betrayed and Jacobus ten Broek et al, Prejudice, War, and the Constitution in underlining the importance of self-interested West Coast nativist and commercial groups in agitating for mass removal, Fisher assigned primary responsibility for mass confinement on President Franklin Roosevelt. On the one hand, following historian Charles Beard and others, Fisher asserted that Roosevelt and his advisors had deliberately lured Japan into attacking Pearl Harbor because of the President's wish to use a Pacific conflict as a "back door" to bring about United States intervention in the war in Europe. Conversely, the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, though it accomplished Roosevelt's ostensible objective of going to war, was devastating to public opinion. In order to conceal their responsibility for Pearl Harbor, at once for provoking the Japanese raid and for being caught unawares, the President and his advisors used Japanese Americans as scapegoats to divert attention from their own failures. The book also differed from previous studies in offering a personal dimension—Fisher spoke of the removal of her Japanese American neighbors from Bainbridge Island and of her visits to the assembly center at "Camp Harmony."
Exile of a Race never achieved the prominence and influence it might have had if it had been chosen for publication by a major mainstream press in the first years after the war. Apart from a brief mention in the Seattle Times shortly after publication, the book received only a single review, in the Seattle Asian American newspaper International Examiner during 1979. The book has been cited in numerous studies of Japanese American wartime confinement, but most often as part of a list of related works rather than for its specific contents. Still, the work heralded by its appearance a series of major studies of Executive Order 9066 in the later 1960s and early 1970s. Anne Reeploeg Fisher lived in Des Moines, Washington, in later years. She was honored by the Seattle JACL in 1979.
For More Information
Fisher, Anne M. "Debt of Dishonor." The Reporter, Feb. 5, 1952, 21-23.
Robinson, Greg. The Great Unknown: Japanese American Sketches. Boulder: University Press of Colorado Press, 2016.