BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

In Defense of Our Neighbors: The Walt and Milly Woodward Story by Mary Woodward, foreword by David Guterson

In Defense of Our NeighborsIf such things are possible, this is actually (almost) a happy book about the Japanese American internment experience, as improbable as that sounds. Yes, the unfortunate Americans of Japanese descent who lived on Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound across from Seattle, Washington – who made up a substantial 10% of the island’s diverse population – were still forcibly removed from their homes and ended up sent to prison camps for three years during World War II.

But unlike some of their less fortunate inmates, Bainbridge Island’s Japanese Americans never lost touch with a loyal, supportive community led by a young couple, Walt and Milly Woodward, who together published the local paper Bainbridge Review. This dedicated pair, neither of them with any formal training in journalism, although Walt had been a Seattle reporter – used their island publication to condemn the rampant racism, the wartime hysteria, and when relocation proved inevitable, made sure that their Japanese American friends and neighbors stayed in contact with their island home. When over half of the Japanese American families returned home upon release – a substantially higher rate of return than the rest of the Northwest – island residents knew who had had babies, marriages, tragedies, and other such news, because the Woodwards had insisted on making regular updates of the prisoners’ everyday lives a priority in their Bainbridge Review.

In Defense is a heartwarming collage of stories from both sides of the barbed wire fence … and how that communication stayed alive and well through the three-year wartime ordeal and beyond. It’s historical artifact with some never-before-published photos. It’s lessons on immigration and unjust laws inserted in between the human experiences that bring that history to life. Most of all, it’s an earnest, necessary reminder of how people help one another, look out for one another, and find true humanity in the worst of times.

And the significance of that David Guterson foreword? Yes, he’s a Bainbridge Islander, but more importantly, the editor Arthur Chambers in his bestselling novel, Snow Falling on Cedars, is actually based on Walt Woodward himself.

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2008


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