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
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-7398-1
    Published: March 2023

Hardcover Available May 2023, but pre-order your copy today!

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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.


"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

"The questions Eric Muller raises can be applied to anyone who played a role in the forced removal and confinement of Japanese Americans, to the War Relocation Authority in general, and, more broadly, to anyone who takes part in an unjust endeavor, even with the best of intentions."—Brian Niiya,

"A fascinating and detailed account of one of America’s darkest chapters. Through the eyes and work of three dedicated lawyers we see the struggles of Japanese American citizens stripped of their dignity and rights and locked away simply because of their race."

—John Grisham

"Carefully researched and deeply imagined, Lawyer, Jailer, Ally, Foe is an important addition to the literature of moral witness and the history of the Japanese American incarceration. With a keen eye for detail and a natural feel for the texture of everyday life, Eric Muller effortlessly brings history to life on every page."

—Julie Otsuka, author of The Swimmers and The Buddha in the Attic

"A fascinating look into the morals, the ethics, the conflicted minds of three men who participated in the imprisonment of Japanese Americans. It’s impossible to read this book without asking yourself, “What would I have done?” The answers may haunt you."—Jamie Ford, New York Times best-selling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

"This astonishing and deeply researched look behind the scenes of one of America’s most egregious deprivations of civil rights is both an engaging read and a powerful argument for the relevancy of the legacy of my father, Fred Korematsu. Eric Muller brings deep expertise, skillful writing, and startling insight to this powerful and enlightening story about what’s at stake when lawyers lend their energies to racial injustice."

—Dr. Karen Korematsu, Fred T. Korematsu Institute