Alexander talks WWII J-A internment at Harborside
By Kelsey Hoff
University of Wisconsin-Parkside History Professor Jeff Alexander admits that it's been a while since he was in a classroom setting like this.
"I haven't been in a high school in over 20 years," Alexander said. "It was interesting!"
Alexander spent several hours on Wednesday, Feb. 29, at Kenosha's Harborside Academy, talking with high school students about the forced internment of JapaneseAmericans during World War II. Kevin Krekling, one of Alexander's former students at UW-Parkside, invited him to speak during his student-teaching hours. Krekling is now attending graduate school.
Students sat, rapt, as Alexander quoted the political figures of the day and used editorial cartoons and contemporary racial propaganda to illustrate the different points of view about Japanese Americans during the war.
Japanese Americans, especially on the west coast, were often painted as a "fifth column," Alexander said; a group of potential soldiers that many then believed had remained hidden until the opportune moment. The American president, responding to overwhelming public outcry, therefore passed Executive Order 9066, which ordered the forced resettlement of Japanese Americans in camps far away from their west coast homes.
Alexander commented that this historical episode is often not studied in American classrooms because no ground combat took place on American soil; our soldiers were fighting overseas, and the actual battles are therefore the chief focus. When they do examine domestic events, history books instead contain images of the labor effort and the sale of war bonds and stamps in the United States.
He stated that students today should learn from these events; that when national tragedies occur and people voice racist ideas, they should avoid overreaction and hasty generalizations about others. Faith and race are no grounds for reprisals.
Although this was Alexander's first talk at a high school, he is well-versed in public speaking. His venues include Harvard and Stanford universities, and from as close as the Racine Public Library to as far away as Tokyo. His Asian history bona fides include the publication of a book about Japan's motorcycle industry and another on the way about the Japanese beer market. He has lived in several Japanese cities, and he took UW-Parkside students to Japan just last summer.
In 2008, he organized lectures at UW-Parkside that hosted three Japanese American internment survivors. Alexander teaches Japanese and Chinese history as well as World History.