By Richard Reeves
Reeves, R. (2015). Infamy: The shocking story of the Japanese American internment in World War II. New York: Henry Holt and Company.
Infamy recounts the history of Japanese Americans during the World War II era, including historical events leading up to the internment camps, participation of the 442nd infantry regiment, and eventual reintegration into general society. Notable historian Reeves includes a mix of information from government and military communications and actions down to personal accounts of internees. As described further in the Epilogue, his intention is not only to relate events that unfolded in the past, but to use this historical precedent to inform current and future decisions and actions. Reeves parallels these experiences with present day prejudices toward Hispanic and Middle Eastern people in the United States, and he challenges readers to consider how to avoid repeating past mistakes caused by war hysteria and fear.
Quantitative Reading Level
Calculated by running a text excerpt through https://readability-score.com/:
- Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 12.8
- Gunning-Fog Score : 13.2
- Coleman-Liau Index: 12.8
- SMOG Index: 11.8
- Automated Readability Index: 12.4
- Average Grade Level: 12.6
Qualitative Reading Analysis (High for Grades 11-12)
The organization of writing is straightforward with this book, and there is conventional language and sentence structure throughout. Nevertheless, since this is a topic that many students may be unfamiliar with, the knowledge demands are high. Comprehension of the text calls upon extensive subject-specific knowledge regarding World War II in terms of government actions and military history. It may also be unfamiliar for some students to follow the Japanese names and terminology used. Furthermore, the book is chunked with a different focus in each chapter. Some chapters cover high level communications and actions, whereas others share everyday, personal accounts that may be easier for students to understand. Thus, teachers may alternatively consider assigning sections of the book to be read rather than having students read the book in its entirety.
- History-Social Science (World War II, Japanese American Internment, Military History, Government, Political Science)
Content Area Standards
- History-Social Science Content Standards for California Public Schools > 10.8 > Students analyze the causes and consequences of World War II.
- CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.10 > By the end of grade 12, read and comprehend history/social studies texts in the grades 11-CCR text complexity band independently and proficiently.
- Japanese American Citizens League Educational Resources - The organization provides rich resources including comprehensive curriculum guides such as Power of Words, which addresses the concept of euphemisms for further application. Links to primary documents such as the Loyalty Questionnaire could be used with students filling out the questionnaire themselves. There are also other resources linked worth investigating such as Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project.
- Ansel Adam's Photographs of Japanese-American Internment at Manzanar (Library of Congress) - Paired with the account of Ansel Adam's visit to Manzanar (pages 179-180 of Infamy), students may review the photographs archived by the Library of Congress. What was Adams able to capture? How well do you think the photographs reflect and represent everyday life in the camps? Students may connect this with general media literacy to consider how images in social media and the news are curated to portray a certain reality.
- Japanese American National Museum Clara Breed Collection - Clara Breed's relationship with internees is mentioned throughout the book. Students may learn more about Breed by reading letters archived online through the Japanese American National Museum. Working in pairs, students may each adopt a persona, one of Breed and one of an internee. They may then write their own series of letters based on historical facts cited from the book.
- Farewell to Manzanar - Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, author of Farewell to Manzanar, is cited throughout the book. Students may pair reading of Infamy with reading Farewell to Manzanar. How do the different styles of writing portray the experience in different ways? What are the strengths of each approach?
- Muslim Americans Today - Students may connect depictions of Muslim Americans in present day media with primary source materials regarding Japanese Americans during World War II. What similarities exist between World War II and recent wars with the Middle East? Based on lessons learned regarding the internment of Japanese Americans, how might Americans balance national security concerns with fair treatment of all of its citizens? Some articles related to this topic:
- Relatives of Interned Japanese-Americans Side With Muslims (The New York Times)
- Japanese Americans: House hearings on radical Islam 'sinister' (Washington Post)
- Becoming Un-American: Political Othering and Proving Carson Wrong (Huffington Post)
Subjects and Themes
- World War II
- National Security
- Racism and Prejudice
- Learning from History
Links to Supporting Digital Content
- Japanese American Internment Teacher's Guide (Library of Congress)
- Author Interview (Mimi Geerges Show video)
- The National Parks: Manzanar, Never Again (PBS video)
- This Is Us! Manzanar (KTEH video)
- Pioneers of Television: George Takei's Life in an Internment Camp (PBS video)
- Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston Interview with California Reads (Cal Humanities video)
- The War: Fighting for Democracy - Japanese Americans (PBS)
My selection of Infamy was a personal one since my family members interned at the Poston and Jerome concentration camps during World War II. As Reeves mentions in the book, it is common that many Japanese Americans did not talk about their experiences afterward, and that has been the case in my family. I have learned little from my grandparents and great-grandparents over the years (read my blog posting regarding information I recently uncovered), and so I am always interested to learn more from other accounts. While I have read various books on the topic over the years, I found it interesting - although emotionally difficult - to read the quoted statements from various politicians and the media during that time period. I was surprised that there was such a large amount of text dedicated to military history, although it did help broaden the context. Another part of the history that was richly expanded for me were in the final sections. Often emphasis is placed on events leading up to incarceration and the camps themselves, but I had never read so much about the aftermath, including accounts of those who did not want to leave the camps and those who committed suicide. Also, if a teacher does have students only read excerpts, the Epilogue should definitely be included since it is what ties the book to the Civil Rights movement and also present day events, which is what makes the book such a timely and relevant read.
Reviewed in conjunction with San Jose State University's School of Information Fall 2015 INFO 237-10 School Library Media Materials course. Fulfills "non-fiction historical work (memoir or narrative non-fiction)" for Subject Area Blog Assignment.