Paper for my English class
The American people and its government have not always been just and fair to minorities. Japanese Americans were not the only group of people to have been wronged by Americans. The racism that Americans showed towards Japanese Americans took place long before the Japanese Empire bombed the American Fleet at Pearl Harbor. Japanese Americans were innocent victims of political and social intolerance before and after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The first group of Japanese Americans emigrants arrived in the United States in 1885, these people were known as Issei. They settled in Hawaii and all along the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington. “It was a community inside a community. We had our own banks. We had our own churches. We had our own doctors. There was a section we weren’t allowed to go out of”, says Jean Nakatatani Yego in Time of Fear of the social norm expected of Japanese Americans during that era. When Issei came to live in America it was for a better life not for their self, but for their children, also known as Nisei. Even though Nisei were American citizens by birth they were not accepted by the rest of society, according to Time of Fear “but they too were treated as outsiders”. On December 7, 1941 the Japanese Empire launched an attack on the American fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. One Japanese American who witnessed the attack said “And I felt that by the world that I had known and had dreamt about and had planned for had come to a shattering end.” The attack fueled the racism that both American citizens and government had for Japanese Americans. While America may be known as the “the land of the free” minorities have struggled to gain equality legally and socially. In fact, African Americans suffered similar treatment in that era. They were still segregated from White Americans at that time and would continue to be for about 20 more years. The acts committed against Japanese Americans, while they are undeniable racist, were placed into effect when the world was much less tolerable of people who were different. America the portrait of liberty for more than 200 years will look back on these actions as a stain upon its canvas. It is important to note that not a single Japanese American was indicted for crime before or after America declared war on Japan.
Japanese Americans like many other minorities were not looked upon as equals by their fellow Americans. Even before Pearl Harbor Japanese-Americans were treated as second-class citizens. Japanese Americans who lived in larger cities were socially segregated to a certain section of that city. Jean Nakatani Yego said, “It was kind of understood that from K Street to Broadway and from maybe about Seventh Street down to First Street that was our area” about White Americans unwillingness to let Japanese Americans assimilate into American society. In 1902, almost 40 years before Pearl Harbor, after an earthquake Japanese Americans were a victim of vandalism. “White gangs assaulted Japanese shops and stores, despite the aid given to earthquake victims by Japan” wrote Sandra Taylor in Jewel of the Desert: Japanese American Internment at Topaz. The Japanese Association told them to act more American so it would be less likely that they would victims of white hostility. This suggestion did not help extinguish the hostility. What the Japanese Association did not realize was that no matter how much Issei and Neisi Americanized themselves, they could not change the color of their skin. Japanese Americans were victims of racism from the moment they stepped off the boat. The attack on Pearl Harbor gave Americans the excuse they needed to escalate the racial intolerance. Japanese lost in the court of public opinion. Fear began to accumulate among the citizens of the West Coast. President Roosevelt was forced to take action. On February 19, 1942 Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which gave the military the right to exclude anyone from military zones. The War Relocation Authority was in charge of relocating the excluded refugees. Milton Eisenhower’s plan of relocating Japanese Americans into existing communities or building new communities outside the military zone failed. Eisenhower failed to realize the racism white Americans had towards Japanese Americans. Americans did not want Japanese Americans in their communities, nor did they want them near their community. It was not until Eisenhower saw how much hostility White Americans had towards Japanese Americans that he realized the best option was interment. Japanese were allowed to leave beginning in July 1945. The return to society was not a welcomed one. While most Americans were indifferent on the decision to allow Japanese Americans to return to the West Coast there were some radicals who were still intolerant. While some may try to view these actions as justified they were nothing more than acts of racism and ignorance.
Thomas Jefferson states in the Declaration of Independence that men are all equal and should be guaranteed certain rights which should not be taken from him. Since the birth of America minorities have been the victims of intolerance. The government can be just as much to blame as their citizens. Japanese Americans are no exception to this. Just like African Americans they were not seen as equals in the eyes of the law. They tried numerous times to become American citizens, but the American government refused to grant them that right. The Issei were dealt a devastating blow in 1922 when Takiao Ozawa brought the fight to the Supreme Court and they ruled against him. The Supreme Court, echoed what majority of Americans felt at that time, reasoned that no matter how hard the Issei tried they could not change the fact that the place of their birth was Japan (Taylor 13). After Pearl Harbor the political intolerance escalated rapidly. According to Greg Robinson, in By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans, “The public announcement of Executive Order 9066… was greeted with joy and relief by West Coast newspapers and groups that pushed for evacuation.”.(125) The paranoia that struck the West Coast following the attack spread quickly. Even high-ranking public servants were affected by it, “California Attorney General Earl Warren warned of the danger of Japanese Americans saboteurs and maintained that the peril was too urgent for civil procedures.”(126 Robinson). Earl Warren, who is supposed to help maintain law in order for the State of California, wanted to forego their right to due process. Robinson also states that “Warren admitted to the committee that there had been no reported cases of sabotage of espionage by Japanese Americans.” The reason for some sort of action against Japanese Americans was not supported by any evidence. The Japanese Americans were not given the luxury of being innocent until proven guilty, but instead were just deemed guilty. The actions took against the Japanese Americans, which were speculative at best, were unjust and was supported by no evidence whatsoever. Robinson sheds some light on the government’s reasoning for the intolerance of Japanese Americans:
Some insight into the racist motivation of the
Joint Immigration Committee’s members can be gained from the report it
issued to the Tolan committee, in which it stated, “The Founding Fathers of
the Republic stipulated that citizenship should be granted only to free white
persons. But a grave mistake was made when citizenship was granted to all
born here, regardless of ﬁtness or desire for such citizenship. Another grave
mistake was the granting of citizenship to the Negroes after the Civil War.”
This report not only shows intolerance of Japanese Americans, but also African Americans. These committees both played a role in the exclusion of Japanese Americans. That excerpt oozes both racism and ignorance. The political intolerance shown by the leaders of the free world is horrifying. The Executive Order allows for the exclusion of anyone from the military zone. Although it was used to single out people who were of Japanese ancestry, technically, according to the order, it could be used to remove Italian and German Americans too. General Dewitt attempted to utilize the order for that very purpose. Dewitt tried to exclude Italian and German Americans from those same areas that the Japanese Americans were excluded from. However, the government refused to allow those actions to happen. (Robinson 128). Handling the relocation of Japanese Americans became too large a task for the Army to handle. Roosevelt signed an order on March 18, 1942 to create the War Relocation Authority, or WRA. Milton Eisenhower, bother of Dwight Eisenhower, was assigned to direct the WRA. Eisenhower’s goal was not to place the Japanese Americans in permanent war-time internment, but to assimilate them into another community in the country or to build a new community. However, Eisenhower did not account for the hostility that Americans had for their Japanese counterparts. This hostility forced Eisenhower to place Japanese Americans in internment camps for the foreseeable future. The interment of the Japanese Americans took its toll of Eisenhower and in June he resigned from his position with WRA. While the government is not completely to blame for the slights against the Japanese Americans, they did play a huge role. No one in the federal government who played a role in the exclusion of the Japanese Americans did anything to stop the events that transpired. The inaction of their leaders led to countless violations of inalienable rights that the founding fathers thought Americans should always be guaranteed.
Japanese Americans were excluded from society even before the attack on Pearl Harbor. No remorse was shown for the countless Japanese Americans that were forced from their homes and made to relocate. The political and racial intolerance shown towards Japanese Americans fueled each other and became increasingly worse as each day passed. While everyone was terrified of Japanese Americans and what actions they would attempt to commit on behalf of the Japanese Empire, no one bothered to look at the facts. Zero Japanese American were found guilty of terrorism or espionage before or after Pearl Harbor.