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Wisconsin school board panel wants to gloss over mass jailing of Japanese Americans

One member of the board reportedly said the book created an "unbalanced" account of U.S. actions during World War II.


If conservative Americans were as proud of their nation’s history as they claim to be, they wouldn’t be fighting so hard to bury it under lies.

Instead, we’ve seen Republicans nationwide having conniptions when forced to confront America’s grim legacy of discrimination. Book bans and whitewashed school lesson plans are all part of the hysterics, and we seem to hear more of those stories by the day. 

My NBC News colleague Kimmy Yam on Thursday highlighted one such incident in Wisconsin, where members of the Muskego-Norway School Board recently refused to approve a book about Japanese American mass incarceration during World War II for curriculum over claims it wasn’t deferential enough to the U.S. government’s viewpoint. The book is Julie Otsuka’s “When the Emperor Was Divine,” and at least one school board member reportedly said it should be dropped because it’s “unbalanced.” Yikes.

Yam’s report quotes a parent in the district who said a board member told her the book needed to have an “American” perspective. The problem with that is … virtually everyone involved in Japanese mass incarceration (known as “internment” until activists corrected the term) was an American.

Photo Illustration: A U.S. flag flies at the Manzanar War Relocation Center, a Japanese-American internment camp on July 3, 1942.
MSNBC / Getty Images

The policy involved racist U.S. officials abducting Japanese Americans from their homes and forcing them to labor in what were essentially concentration camps. By centering the experiences of people who were incarcerated, Otsuka’s book did provide an American perspective.

But the board member allegedly said the book lacked more of the American government’s perspective. One board member who wasn't on the committee that voted on the book said some of his fellow board members felt the book lacked “some history as to why the citizens of Japanese descent were viewed as a threat and what was the reasoning to have them put into the internment camps.”  

In other words: We gotta hear the oppressor’s side on the whole forced-labor-in-the-name-of-racism thing. (Republicans really, really support that idea.) 

And what’s sick is this incident joins multiple other incidents of historical whitewashing that we’ve seen from conservatives in the last week alone. My colleague Steve Benen wrote for MaddowBlog on efforts we’ve seen in Texas and Florida to whitewash the country's legacy of slavery and its oppressive founding.

Conservatives like to claim it’s progressives who live in the past when we excavate truths about American history. In fact, it’s the right who’ve frozen themselves in the past, trying to litigate the nation’s historic moral failures and depict their self-proclaimed “forefathers” in a positive light.