Lawyer, Jailer, Ally, Foe

Complicity and Conscience in America's World War II Concentration Camps

By Eric L. Muller

304 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 11 halftones, notes

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-7397-4
    Published: May 2023
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-7398-1
    Published: March 2023
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-6344-7
    Published: March 2023

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It is 1942, and World War II is raging. In the months since Pearl Harbor, the US has plunged into the war overseas—and on the home front, it has locked up tens of thousands of innocent Japanese Americans in concentration camps, tearing them from their homes on the West Coast with the ostensible goal of neutralizing a supposed internal threat.

At each of these camps the government places a white lawyer with contradictory instructions: provide legal counsel to the prisoners, and keep the place running. Within that job description are a vast array of tasks, and an enormous amount of discretion they can use for good or for ill. They fight to protect the property the prisoners were forced to leave behind; they help the prisoners with their wills and taxes; and they interrogate them about their loyalties, sometimes driving them to tears. Most of these lawyers think of themselves as trying to do good in a bad system, and yet each ends up harming the prisoners more than helping them, complicit in a system that strips people of their freedoms and sometimes endangers their lives.

In Lawyer, Jailer, Ally, Foe, Eric L. Muller brings to vivid life the stories of three of these men, illuminating a shameful episode of American history through imaginative narrative deeply grounded in archival evidence. As we look through the lawyers’ sometimes-clear and sometimes-clouded eyes, what emerges is a powerful look at the day-by-day, brick-by-brick perpetration of racial injustice—not just by the system itself, but by the men struggling to do good within it.

About the Author

Eric L. Muller is the Dan K. Moore Distinguished Professor of Law in Jurisprudence and Ethics at the University of North Carolina School of Law.
For more information about Eric L. Muller, visit the Author Page.


“Vivid. . . . For readers interested in human rights, concentration camps, or the legal history of this period, this is an important work.”—Library Journal

"In a powerful yet easily read narrative, Muller documents with precision the tension these lawyers experienced attempting to do good while working in a fundamentally unjust system. Based on meticulous research . . . . a thought-provoking study of the role of the legal profession in society and the power of individual responsibility, even with its imperfections."—American Bar Association

"[A] brilliant book . . . . a masterpiece . . . . an important yet understudied topic."—Art Hansen, Nichi Bei News

"The book is beautifully written and consistently fascinating,and an example of his remarkable research . . . . in the vein of Robert Cover’s Justice Accused."—Gabriel J Chin, American Journal of Legal History

"[A] lucid and insightful historical narrative . . . . Recommended."—CHOICE

"Eric Muller has built a series of stories of novelistic detail and craft—he's got a gift for storytelling—that's firmly anchored in the primary sources and focused on life in the camps."—Kermit Roosevelt, University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School