It Can't Happen Here
Writer and broadcaster Stuart Cosgrove reflects on renewed interest in the documentary photography of the US-Japanese Internment Camps.
Donald Trump's presidency has unleashed prejudices that few thought possible. The days of 'hope over fear' have crashed against the rocks of a new and alarming reality. The alternative-right have cheered Trump into high office and he has rewarded them with positions in high-power and attention seeking policies.
Sinclair's satirical book tells the story of a far-right wing demagogue, Berzelius "Buzz" Windrip, and his rise to power in America.
In February 1942, two months after Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt as commander-in-chief, issued Executive Order 9066, relocating all persons of Japanese ancestry, both citizens and aliens, inland and away from the Pacific coast's military zone.
Families were bundled from their homes, and taken inland by coach and truck to camp sites where in many cases they were expected to build their new homes, makeshift huts that resembled the wooden huts of German Prisoner of War camps.
A community of sorts emerged out of the Japanese internment camps. Remarkably two of America's most gifted documentary photographers – Lange and Adams were granted permission to photograph the camps.
What they found was not always crude repression but images of a society forced to survive in internal exile, required to build a new life away from their own homes. Adams took up brief residence in one of the biggest internment camps the Manzanar Relocation Center, California which as more and more Japanese families were arrested, grew to be the size of a small makeshift town. For a period in 1942 had the biggest population of Japanese in the USA and somehow they preserved a sense of society under duress. The photographs are a unique glimpse into a society under strain where racial profiling, enforced segregation and state planned internment became the norm in a society whose constitution – and democratic narrative – was supposed to defend its citizens.
These images raise the nagging prospect that internment on grounds of race and ethnicity is a recent memory, proof that 'It Can Happen Here'.