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American Racism Against Japanese Before World War II History Essay

1478 words (6 pages) Essay in History

5/12/16 History Reference this

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A careful analysis of primary data collected from newspapers and magazines published before the World War II show that whole of the American nation was racially motivated against the Japanese nationals living in their country. It is no hidden fact that Japanese Americans had to face overt and entrenched racist institutions and structures a long time before the World War II. From everyday newspaper reporting to Hollywood movies, from the viewpoint of common citizens to introducing changes in legislature at the federal government level, it seems now that the entire American society was swept by the storm to racially discriminate against the Japanese nationals living in the United States.

A few decades before the World War II surging incidents of racism were witnessed against the U.S. citizens of Japanese origin. Within a short span of time the case of racial profiling against Japanese nationals became so strong because it was provided support at the federal government level. Mass meetings, attended by mayors and other government representatives, in which racist agendas were propagated; extremely racist and prejudiced issues such as ‘No Japs in Our School’ were the point of discussion of such mass meetings(Bancroft Library). The United States government was itself involved in the racial discrimination of Japanese citizens living in the U.S. This was the reason various new laws were introduced in the U.S. legislature. These laws increased restrictions on the Japanese nationals holding valid American citizenship by curbing their right to buy or hold property on American soil along with introduction of various other anti-Japanese laws and imposition of restrictions on Japanese immigration to the United States. The key turning point in the United States-Japanese relations came with the passage of the California Alien land law act in 1920. According to this law the Japanese citizens were prohibited from acquiring, possessing, enjoying and transferring real property (New York Times).

In the mid 1920’s the anti-Japanese forces scored a strong victory with the passage of the Johnson’s Immigration Bill in 1924(Kohler), this bill established the passage of most restrictive immigration policy ever in American history. The immigration act excluded the ‘asiatics’ altogether from coming to America, although it is no hidden fact that the real target of this objectionable clause in the Johnson bill were the Japanese(Garner). Newspaper reporting, articles and editorials following the passage of the immigration act were strongly biased. One newspaper article reflects this mentality of the American nation when the writer states that Japanese should objectively understand the passage of the immigration act and should not get sentimental(A Japanese Quota). Rather than appreciating the importance of diversity, the writer, symbolizing the thinking of the radical 1920’s, opines that Japanese people should understand that there are vast differences of cultures and traditions that make amalgamation of the two nations impossible(A Japanese Quota).

Leading American newspapers including the New York Times were out rightly racist in their approach towards the Japanese nation. If some of the major headlines from the pre World War II are picked up this behavior becomes quite apparent. Headlines such as “Fascist Hiranuma is Tokyo Premier; Weak Regime Seen”(Byas), “Keeps out of Jap row”(Article 3 – No Title), “Send Us Some More Japs,’ Wake Marines Ask Navy”(The Associated Press), show that the journalism of that time was extremely racially motivated, and no attention whatsoever was paid to the normally accepted practices of good journalism. Japanese nationals were called “Japs” and the use of this derogatory term was repeated again and again in most of the newspaper articles of that time period.

A quick review of the opinion based articles published from 1920’s to 1940’s suggest that apart from everyday newspaper reporting, comprehensive articles were also published in various newspapers that used careful research to prove that America should cease all economic ties with Japan since it would badly hurt the economic interest of the Japanese (If We Boycott Japan) . The single biggest export of Japan during 1930’s was raw silk, one article discusses that by boycotting this most important cash generating export of Japanese nation, the United States can severely hamper Japanese economic progress(If We Boycott Japan). If a neutral opinion on this article is taken, this article would surely be termed as the outcome of a sick mentality that thrived and prospered only while discussing ways to hamper and hurt the Japanese economic progress without respecting ethical and moral codes of good behavior.

Another example of the deeply entrenched racist behavior of American nation is shown by the way Willard Straight expresses his views during the Russian-Japanese war of 1904-1905(Thomson, Stanley and Perry). He was a very popular news correspondent for Reuters who later on became a key policy maker when William Howard Taft became the President of the United States of America(Thomson, Stanley and Perry). Straight’s famous letter written to a friend in 1904 provides enough evidence that deeply ingrained hatred existed in the hearts of American people against Japanese nationals. He wrote, “For no particular reason and with no real cause for complaint I now find myself hating the Japanese more than anything in the world”(Thomson, Stanley and Perry). In the following year, 1905, he produced a more seething attack on the Japanese people when he wrote that, “The Japanese seem very much less human than the others”(Thomson, Stanley and Perry).

The racially prejudiced attitude of Americans touched new heights with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. The attack came on top of a century of anti-Japanese prejudice and discriminatory legislation, but it led to very serious consequences for the Japanese population living in America. The Japanese population already had to face extreme hostility, discrimination and prejudice at the hands of American population and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor made the Americans feel that they were justified in all their actions against the Japan. After the attack on Pearl Harbor President Franklin D. Roosevelt through his Executive Order 9066 paved the way for removal of around 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry from West Coast to hastily constructed concentration camps(Los Angeles Times).

The process of exclusion and incarceration of Japanese Americans began in March 1942, with the War Relocation Authority, WRA, established to administer the camps(Hersey). The Japanese internees were transferred to shabby, sub-human and temporarily prepared detention centers setup on race tracks, fairgrounds and livestock pavilions(Hersey). There was always a shortage of food and medicines at the detention centers and the food was often spoiled. The internment camps were guarded by barbed wires and guard towers(Hersey). Troops patrolling outside the internment camps were under orders to shoot anyone seen going outside of the internment camps(Hersey). The Japanese suffered greatly as a result of the relocation program, there entire life possessions were lost, their careers and education were interrupted(Hersey).

Hollywood also played a frontline role in inciting racial discrimination against the Japanese nationals living in the United States. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent war between America and Japan, many Hollywood filmmakers rushed to rewrite specific scenarios in movies where villains were turned into Japanese characters and Americans were shown as heroes at war (Brady). In 1923 Hollywood Protective Association was formed to keep propagate the racist agenda of American nation against the Japanese. Nationalist feelings were heightened by churning out war films at a rapid pace. As many as 12 film titles celebrating American heroism during the war were registered at motion studio pictures over one weekend(The New York Times Amusement Section). Most of the movies released during this time furthered the racist propaganda campaign of the American government; ‘Remember Pearl Harbor’, ‘Pearl Harbor’, ‘V for Victory’, ‘My Four Years in Japan’, ‘Pearl Harbor Pearls’ were some of the movies released during the America-Japan war(The New York Times Amusement Section).


The above mentioned facts, figures and historical evidences collected from primary data sources are enough to prove that American society during the early 1900’s to mid 1950’s was an extremely racial society which showed little tolerance towards colored people. Racial discrimination against Japanese that continued almost for half a century culminated with the incarceration of Japanese. The ugly part of the racism story is that it given full support of the federal government; introduction of discriminatory Alien laws, Johnson’s Anti-Japanese Immigration Bill are all examples of the how the American government supported racism against Japanese.

Appendix A

Figure : Print advertisement for a mass meeting for propagation of racial agenda against the Japanese (Bancroft Library).click to enlarge

Appendix B

click to enlarge

Figure : A Hollywood Protective Association representative pointing to a large racist banner in front of her house (National Japanese American Historical Society).

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