“Everyone remembers where they were when they heard the news.”
So begins Kermit Roosevelt’s marvelous and timely new legal thriller about a defining national moment that most of us, in fact, do not remember at all.
Allegiance follows a young Philadelphia born and raised law school graduate on the eve of WWII. The “news” referenced in the opening is the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese on December 7, 1941. The thriller follows Cash Harrison, who doesn’t pass the draft induction physical and instead ends up as the newly hired law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, replacing less fortunate draftees. Essentially, he’s second choice.
What happens next is the internment of 100,000 U.S. citizens of Japanese descent. Harrison finds himself in the center of a controversial move that pits presidential power against the U.S. Constitution and ends with the decisions in Korematsu v. United States and Ex parte Endo, two decisions that both authorized action in time of war to remove citizens from military zones and at the same time concluded that incarcerating loyal evacuees was not permissible. Kermit Roosevelt happens to be the great great grandson of President Teddy Roosevelt, former law clerk for Justice David Souter and related to Franklin D. Roosevelt through his wife Eleanor, who was Teddy’s niece. He’s also the fifth cousin, twice removed, from FDR.
FDR is, of course, the president whose executive order rounding up Americans of Japanese descent ended up in the Supreme Court. Though Kermit hasn’t said, one wonders whether family lore played any part in Allegiance.
Allegiance is fast moving and intelligent as well as timely. Harrison’s own loyalties are tested as he grapples with the morality of mass exclusions. The first person narrative voice choice is a good one, pulling readers into time and place with a real sense of immediacy. Highly recommended reading.
Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump may want to add it to his reading list. He’ll get a first hand look at how hard it was to intern 100,000 people during time of war, much less sending 11 million packing.