An Absent Presence

Japanese Americans in Postwar American Culture, 1945–1960

An Absent Presence

New Americanists

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Book Pages: 248 Illustrations: 4 b&w photos Published: January 2002

American Studies, Asian American Studies, History > U.S. History

There have been many studies on the forced relocation and internment of nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II. But An Absent Presence is the first to focus on how popular representations of this unparalleled episode in U.S. history affected the formation of Cold War culture. Caroline Chung Simpson shows how the portrayal of this economic and social disenfranchisement haunted—and even shaped—the expression of American race relations and national identity throughout the middle of the twentieth century.
Simpson argues that when popular journals or social theorists engaged the topic of Japanese American history or identity in the Cold War era they did so in a manner that tended to efface or diminish the complexity of their political and historical experience. As a result, the shadowy figuration of Japanese American identity often took on the semblance of an “absent presence.” Individual chapters feature such topics as the case of the alleged Tokyo Rose, the Hiroshima Maidens Project, and Japanese war brides. Drawing on issues of race, gender, and nation, Simpson connects the internment episode to broader themes of postwar American culture, including the atomic bomb, McCarthyism, the crises of racial integration, and the anxiety over middle-class gender roles.
By recapturing and reexamining these vital flashpoints in the projection of Japanese American identity, Simpson fills a critical and historical void in a number of fields including Asian American studies, American studies, and Cold War history.


“Caroline Chung Simpson’s work provides a fascinating analysis. . . . [C]ompelling. . . . [O]ffer[s] fresh and original perspective on the role of Asian American women in American life. . . . This original interdisciplinary work . . . offers valuable commentary for scholars from a range of fields and serves as a model for further inquiry into how the remembrance and forgetting of the internment has shaped a collective narrative of being American.” — Robert T. Hayahi , Western Historical Quarterly

“Simpson’s thesis is unique, and she considers a time period that has not been widely discussed in books about the Japanese American experience.” — Katharine L. Kan , Library Journal

“This clearly written, challenging work raises new questions about the interpretation of the internment and Japanese American identity. Professional historians as well as college students will find Simpson’s analyses well worth pondering.” — Ann M. Harrington , History: Reviews of New Books

"[A]n engaging and deeply moving account of how remembering and forgetting the history of Japanese American internment have been fundamental to the postwar articulation of the United States as a democratic nation that was to prevail over its cold war enemies. . . . Beautifully written, with eloquence, deft and nuance, this book is a bold statement about the historical rootedness of cold war U.S. liberal ideology in the original violence of Japanese American internment."

— Lisa Yoneyama, Journal of Asian American Studies

"[I]nsightful. . . . Works like An Absent Presence remind us how much of the narrative of American history remains untold and even suppressed. . . ." — Carin Holroyd , Canadian Literature

An Absent Presence is an ambitious, nuanced, and far-reaching analysis of a critical topic that adds much to our understanding of American history and in particular the central role Asian Americans have played in it.” — David Palumbo-Liu, author of Asian/American: Historical Crossings of a Racial Frontier

“This impressive and well-written book presents important new historical and cultural material in an understudied period within Asian American studies.” — David Eng, author of Racial Castration: Managing Masculinity in Asian America


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Caroline Chung Simpson is Associate Professor of English at the University of Washington.

Table of Contents Back to Top


1. “That Faint and Elusive Insinuation”: Remembering Internment and the Dawn of the Postwar

2. The Internment of Anthropology: Wartime Studies of Japanese Culture

3. How Rose Becomes Red: The Case of Tokyo Rose and the Postwar Beginnings of Cold War Culture

4. “A Mutual Brokenness”: The Hiroshima Maidens Project, Japanese Americans, and American Motherhood

5. “Out of an Obscure Place”: Japanese War Brides and Cultural Pluralism in the 1950s




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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2746-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2756-1
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