Monday, 2 August 2010

American GIs and the little told Japanese-American war story

Within any society, members of the majority community have many explicit and implicit advantages. While self-perception has much to do with individual behaviour and how society is embraced, certain conditions are beyond such powers.
Is it a coincidence that Hollywood created World War Two (WW II) movies often have Italian-American soldiers fighting the enemy but never Japanese-Americans? Yes, some Americans of German and Italian origin faced discrimination during the Second World War but it pales in comparison to the Japanese immigrant's experience during the 1900s.

Under Presidential Order 9066 of February 1942, the United States government forced all Japanese-Americans and Japanese residing on the west coast of the US mainland to relocate to 'War Relocation Camps.' Approximately 110,000 Japanese-Americans were 'imprisoned' in such camps – if one is permitted to use that term.
It is relevant to note that Japanese immigrants were concentrated mainly in the California region. In 1941, of the 127,000 recorded Japanese immigrants, almost 90% lived in California and 80,000 were American citizens by birth.
While it was the war against Japan which sparked the internment of Japanese-Americans, the legal frictions did not arise overnight. A discriminatory trend had been in place for many years prior to the attack on Pearl Harbour.
In 1905, California outlawed marriages between Caucasians and 'Mongolians.' Mongolians being the contemporary term used to characterize all persons of East Asian origin. A year later San Francisco barred Japanese Americans from attending 'Caucasian' public schools. Instead, Japanese students attended schools in the city's Chinatown.
(Many outside of South Asia cannot see the distinction between Pakistanis and Indians, while many outside East Asia cannot distinguish the difference between the Chinese and Japanese.)
With the passage of the Immigration Act of 1924, immigration into the US from Asia was effectively outlawed. Building upon the provisions or the Immigration Act of 1790, the 1924 Act barred all 'non-white' emigrants to the US as non-whites were ineligible to be naturalized as US citizens (solely on the basis of their skin colour).
The owner of the store, a US citizen and graduate of the University of California system, was subsequently rounded up and relocated to a camp. He spent the entire war years in detention

German and Italian Americans suffered much less hardship during WW II. A few thousand were detained and interned but given the size of their respective communities it was virtually impossible to implement 'Japanese' policies with them. Among other factors, it helps to be physically and culturally similar to the majority community.
In the post 9/11 environment, the world is once again seeing shades of behaviour based on racial and religious heritage. US war mentality, as epitomized by certain provisions of the Patriot Act, is dangerously close to war hysteria.
Sometimes the world needs reminding that injustices, here and now, are hard to unravel through Congressional resolutions in future decades.

NB – It is necessary to point out that in 1988, the US government apologized to Japanese Americans for its behaviour during WW II. The formal legislation stated that US government actions were based on "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership."

No comments:

Post a Comment