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This is a painful book for any decent-hearted American to read. We're all, familiar with the awful internment of Japanese-Americans in WWII, but Ms Russell adds an even more despicable chapter to the story. Essentially, Crystal City was a prison camp for not just Japanese, German and Italian Americans but even for people we basically kidnapped from other countries--many Japanese from Peru--so that we could exchange them for Americans being held by the Axis powers.

Some level of paranoia may be inevitable in wartime and some, especially first-generation, immigrants may have retained some loyalty to their nations or origin, making their detention warranted. But it is inexcusable to have rounded up and detained foreign nationals who owed us no loyalty just for the purpose of using them as bargaining chips.

The story would be terrible enough if the author just related the bare facts of the program. But Ms Russell builds the book around the personal stories of two women impacted and of their lives in the camps and after. This humanizes the tale and makes it all the more appalling.

FDR inevitably and appropriately comes away with his reputation further tarnished. On the other hand, think about how good the story makes George W. Bush look, who sought no reprisals of any kind against Arab-Americans after 9-11 and during the following wars. We may or may not be a better nation than we used to be; but we definitely had a better president this time around.


Grade: (B+)


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Jan Russell Links:

    -BOOK SITE: The Train to Crystal City : FDR’s Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America’s Only Family Internment Camp During World War II by Jan Jarboe Russell (Simon & Schuster)
    -ESSAY ARCHIVES: Jan Jarboe Russell (Texas Monthly)
    -INTERVIEW: South Texas History You Didn't Learn In High School (Jack Morgan, Apr 8, 2015 , Texas Public Radio)
    -PROFILE: Jan Jarboe Russell, author of 'The Train to Crystal City' details a secret World War II government internment camp :The same Alien Enemies Act that today allows the US to hold prisoners at Guantánamo Bay also allowed FDR to hold German- and Italian-American families during World War II, says author Jan Jarboe Russell. (Marjorie Kehe, JANUARY 29, 2015, CS Monitor)
Q. Your book focuses on individuals and families held under the Alien Enemies Act. What were the numbers involved?

During the whole course of [World War II], the US government interned 31,275 alien enemies. Of these there were 16,849 Japanese, 10,905 Germans, and 3,278 Italians. When you’re talking about the alien enemy program the numbers of Japanese and German were pretty close.

Q: Why were these families targeted?

The FBI started by considering people’s occupations. Engineers were targeted because the government thought that people who knew how to build bridges and buildings would know how to blow them up. They [also] relied on the word of anonymous accusers.

The third way they did it, was if you belonged to any German clubs – and many first-generation families did – you were suspect.

Q: Were any charged with a crime?

You didn’t have to commit any crime. The Alien Enemies Act of 1798 says that if you are a citizen of a country we are at war with, then you are an enemy. That is the very same act that both Presidents [George W.] Bush and Obama used to [detain prisoners at Guantánamo Bay]. None of the alien enemy fathers were ever charged with any crime. They couldn’t hire a lawyer. They had about a 15-minute hearing before a small group of civilians and then, based on what the FBI said, they were interned and they couldn’t do anything about it.

To the government it wasn’t personal. But to the people whose lives were literally smashed, it was extremely personal.

    -ESSAY: The Shame of America’s Family Detention Camps (WIL S. HYLTON, FEB. 4, 2015, NY Times Magazine)
    -TELECAST: Book details WWII internment camp in SA's backyard : Author of 'The Train to Crystal City' tells story of camp through eyes of 2 girls (Steve Spriester, April 09, 2015, KSAT 12)
    -PHOTO ESSAY: Photos show South Texas internment camp during WWII (Steve Bennett : January 20, 2015, My SanAntonio)
    -REVIEW: of Last Train to Crystal City by Jan Jarboa Russell (Janet Maslin, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of Crystal City (Evan Thomas, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Crystal City (Walter Vatter, WSJ)
    -REVIEW: of Crystal City (Tasbeeh Herwees, Good)
    -REVIEW: of Crystal City (Odie Arambula , LMT Online)
    -REVIEW: of Crystal City (The Rafu Shimpo)
    -REVIEW: of Crystal City (Steve Bennett, MySanAntonio)
    -REVIEW: of Crystal City (Dallas Morning News)
    -REVIEW: of Crystal City (Eleanor J. Bader, Truthout)

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