A Challenge to Democracy (in the Ephemeral section of Open Video Project. Also, film #509 on Prelinger Archive). [Category: Military & Propaganda]

This stark film explains and attempts to justify the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. It’s a tall order, and the filmmakers seemed to have known it, for despite their newspeak terminology of “relocation” and “evacuation,” they end up not really trying very hard to make this seem any better than what it really was––the forced imprisonment of a group of American citizens based on race. Most of the reassurances the film tries to give that this is not what it appears to be are contradicted at later points in the film. It’s not imprisonment or even internment, the film says, but then it shows us the barbed wire fences and guards around the perimeter. The fact that these people are being “relocated” should not imply that they are disloyal, but then they turn around and say that their presence on the west coast was a “military hazard.” These people, despite their Japanese ancestry, are loyal Americans just like the rest of us, the film keeps saying, then it tells us that the Japanese-American medical personnel in the camps are “supervised by Caucasians,” and even the doctors earn the princely sum of $19 a month. Finally, the film breaks down and admits that it’s hard to teach the “values of Americanism” in a concentration-camp setting. Still, that doesn’t stop them from ending the film by saying that we are fighting the war to preserve the American values of “freedom and equal opportunity regardless of race, creed, or color,” an ending for this movie that makes you want to throw up. Of course, there are many positive scenes of camp life, but you get the impression that these good things were entirely due to the efforts of the internees themselves, with no real help from the government that imprisoned them. The film as a whole, as appalling as it is, is a fascinating historical record of one of the darker moments in the history of our government. It’s definitely required viewing for those who may romanticize our participation in World War II.

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: N/A. Weirdness: ****. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ****.

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