A different perspective on Pearl Harbor and World War II

“Growing up,” writes conservative blogger Erick Erickson, “I remember my parents never letting us have Asian food on December 7th. They were children of WWII.”

Given the vilification of Asians in the United States throughout the 20th century, it should perhaps not be surprising that some people stopped eating Asian food on the anniversary of the attacks on Pearl Harbor.

For instance, about a century ago, Organized Labor, the official publication of the San Francisco Building and Construction Trades Council, wrote: “Chinatown with its reeking filth and dirt … is a menace to community; but the sniveling Japanese … is a far greater danger to the laboring portion of society than all the opium-soaked pigtails who have ever blotted the fair name of this beautiful city.”

But that does not mean that the practice made any sense whatsoever, especially considering the sacrifices that Asian-Americans, particularly of Japanese descent, made during World War II.

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which authorized the forced relocation of over 100,000 individuals of Japanese heritage to internment camps.

John Rankin, a Democratic Congressman from Mississippi, said at the time: “Once a Jap, always a Jap. You can’t any more regenerate a Jap than you can reverse the laws of nature.”

Henry McLemore, a syndicated columnist, wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle in support of the internment camps: “I am for the immediate removal of every Japanese on the West Coast in a point deep in the interior. … Herd ‘em up, pack ‘em off and give ‘em the inside room in the Badlands. Let ‘em be pinched, hurt, hungry and dead up against it.”

In the words of Miné Okubo, a former internee in one of the camps: “We were suddenly uprooted—lost everything and treated like a prisoner with soldier guard, dumped behind barbed wire fence.”

Meanwhile, other Japanese-Americans, some of them having been recruited straight from the internment camps, were giving their lives for their country over in Europe by serving in the military to prove their innocence. Daniel Inouye, at the time an 18-year-old who would later become a U.S. Senator, explains: “I was angered to realize that my government felt that I was disloyal and part of the enemy, [an] enemy alien. And I wanted to be able to demonstrate, not only to my government, but to my neighbors that I was a good American.”

They served in the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, two military units that were comprised almost entirely of Japanese-Americans. The two units eventually became two of the most highly decorated and with two of the highest casualty rates in U.S. military history, earning a total of 18,143 individual citations, including eight Presidential Unit Citations, 21 Medals of Honor, 52 Distinguished Service Crosses, 560 Silver Stars, and 9,486 Purple Hearts.

General George Marshall said of the Japanese-Americans who served: “They were superb! They showed rare courage and tremendous fighting spirit. Everybody wanted them.”

Tim Tokono, who served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, had prior to fighting in Europe seen his parents been forcibly relocated to two different internment camps. He explains the exceptional bravery that his unit showed in the following way: “We all had the idea of proving that we were loyal Americans. And so everything was ‘go, go, go forward, go forward.’ And so I understand it, we never retreated. We never took a backward step. Always forward.”

Simon Hedlin

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