What It Means to Be American
A National Conversation

Identities

How a Segregated Regiment of Japanese Americans Became One of WWII’s Most Decorated

The About-Face Permitting Japanese Americans to Enlist Provoked Dissent, Anger—And the Remarkable 442nd Regiment

President Harry S. Truman reviews the Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team in Washington, D.C. on July 15, 1946. Photo by Abby Rowe/National Archives and Records Administration.

By Franklin Odo
January 19, 2017

In January 1943, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his War Department abruptly reversed course by allowing Japanese Americans to enlist in the U.S. Army in the fight against Germany and Japan.

This was not a foregone conclusion: The draconian mass removal and incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans had been justified as a military necessity—and continued to be enforced. Two-thirds of those incarcerated were American-born Nisei, second-generation citizens; one-third were Issei, Japan-born immigrants, prohibited by law from applying for naturalization.

In …

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Why I’m Still Talking About My Incarceration as an American Japanese

The Pain of Remembering Is Deep, But the Danger in Forgetting Is Far Worse

Japanese Americans attending a Sunday school class at the Poston War Relocation Center on the Colorado River in Arizona, about 1944. The author is not among those pictured. Courtesy of the Wada and Homma Family Collection/Densho Digital Repository.

By Chizu Omori
January 18, 2017

I am a member of a once despised minority group, American Japanese, who spent three and a half years incarcerated in an American concentration camp during World War II. Although that ordeal ended 72 years ago, the impact of that experience on my life and its broader implications for American society resonate deeply to this day.

In 1941, at the beginning of the war, roughly 10 percent of the adult “alien” men (Japan-born persons being ineligible for citizenship) were picked up …

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How Alpine Yodeling Mutated Into American Blackface Minstrelry

Vestiges of the Racist Entertainment Persist in Art and Politics

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By Daniel H. Foster and Anne Bramley
December 27, 2016

In 1822 the Austrian emperor Franz I and his ally Tsar Alexander I of Russia held a meeting in a remote valley of the war-torn Tyrolese Alps. They were entertained by the Rainers, a locally renowned family of singing farmers. When the visiting dignitaries heard the improvisational simplicity of the family’s performance of native Alpine songs, they encouraged the four Rainer brothers and their sister to leave the war behind and take their homegrown mountain show on the road.  …

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For Generations of Chicagoans, Marshall Field’s Meant Business—and Christmas

The Midwestern Mainstay Transformed Commerce Into a Communal Holiday Spectacle

** ADVANCE FOR MONDAY, DEC. 12 ** Jim Roetheli, one Marshall Field's Santas, takes an escalator up through one of the stores atriums level Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2005, in downtown Chicago.  For many Field's is synonymous with Christmas in Chicago and this will be the last season to celebrate it under the venerable department store's name. By next season the store will be renamed Macy's, which is decidely New York. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

By Leslie Goddard
December 20, 2016

Christmas has not been celebrated at Chicago’s Marshall Field’s department stores since 2005, but mention the name to just about any Windy City native, and it will plunge them back into the childhood wonder of the flagship downtown shopping emporium during the holiday season. Gazing up at the towering evergreen of the Walnut Room, glittering ornaments weighing on its boughs. Winding through lines for Cozy Cloud Cottage, waiting for a moment with Santa. Marveling at the elaborate holiday windows along …

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America’s Relationship With Russia Has Always Been Complicated

As Ambassador to St. Petersburg, John Quincy Adams Impressed the Tsar, But Kept His Ideological Distance

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By James Traub
September 29, 2016

A statue of John Quincy Adams stands outside of Spaso House, the residence of the U.S. Ambassador in Moscow. In 1809 President James Madison asked Adams, at age 42 already one of America’s most seasoned diplomats, to serve as the first American ambassador to Russia. The President needed a man with the prudence and the tenacity necessary to persuade the young Tsar Alexander to respect the interests of the United States, a neutral in the colossal battle between England and …

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The Man Who Explained the Soviets to America

How George F. Kennan's Passion for Russia Colored Our Cold War Strategy

George Kennan

By David Milne
September 27, 2016

The enduring irony of George F. Kennan’s life was just how much the architect of America’s Cold War “containment” strategy—aimed at stopping Soviet expansionism—loved Russia.

Kennan arguably played a larger role in shaping the U.S.’s view of a major foreign power, and thus our relations with that power, than any other American in modern history. That the power in question was the Soviet Union, and the time in question the crucial period after World War II, made his outsized …

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The Day Football Changed Forever

Twenty-Five Years Ago, a Little-Known Coach of a Tiny College Team Unveiled a Gridiron Revolution

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By S.C. Gwynne
September 20, 2016

Saturday, August 31, 1991. It was Labor Day weekend, the very definition of a sleepy, late-summer day in that simple, pre-digital world. H.W. Bush was president, the Gulf War was five months gone. The biggest news was that Kyrgyzstan had declared its independence from the Soviet Union. Precisely nothing was happening.

Well, not quite nothing.

In the gently swelling cornfields of southeastern Iowa bordering the Norman Rockwell-brushed town of Mount Pleasant, Iowa Wesleyan College, a 500-student school that had been a showcase …

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Daniel Boone’s Legend Defines the American Mystique

Why a Contemporary Canadian Author Fell in Love With the Tall Tales of the Famous Frontiersman

Hawley on Boone LEAD

By Alix Hawley
August 9, 2016

I’m not American. My childhood social studies curriculum covered Canada’s geography and indigenous peoples, in French (le Saskatchewan, les Iroquois).

So I didn’t grow up learning about Daniel Boone and his exploration of the frontier around the time of the American Revolution. If I’d heard of him at all, I probably thought, like many people, he was fictional. But go back to my British Columbia elementary school and there he is, in a 1985 copy of National Geographic on the …

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The Indian “Princess” Who Said What She Thought

As a Translator for the Northern Paiute, Sarah Winnemucca Was an Outspoken Critic of Their Harsh Treatment in the American West

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By Rosalyn Eves
July 21, 2016

For the first few years of her life, Sarah Winnemucca, who was born around 1844, did not know that she was American. Born Thocmetony (Shell Flower) among the Numa (known among whites as the Northern Paiute or “digger” Indians), she roamed with her people over western Nevada and eastern Oregon, gathering plants and fish from local lakes. But even during her early years, Winnemucca had learned to be afraid of the men with “white” (blue) eyes, who looked like owls …

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Lady Bird Johnson Wielded Power With a Delicate Touch

LBJ’s First Lady Was a Trailblazer Who Flew Under the Radar

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By Kate Andersen Brower
June 28, 2016

“Somebody else can have Madison Avenue,” Lyndon Johnson once said. “I’ll take Bird”—that is, his wife, Claudia Alta Taylor “Lady Bird” Johnson. (She got her elegant nickname as a toddler, when a nanny said she was as “purty as a lady bird.”) The president recognized her political acumen. Not everyone did—or does. When Robert Schenkkan’s play All the Way, about the fight for passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, appeared on Broadway, some friends and advisers said that Lady …

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